It is a run of football futility rarely seen around here, a collective era of mediocrity from the Jets and Giants that reminds us just how good things used to be.
Newsday colleague Neil Best, who has been busy chronicling the resurgent Islanders during their playoff run, provided the reminder in a tweet Tuesday morning while prepping for Tuesday night’s Islanders-Lightning Game 5 of the Stanley Cup semifinals:
"Since Giants won SB46 after 2011 season, #NYGiants and #NYJets have combined to appear in one playoff game. That is nuts."
Yes, it is.
In fact, the last time things were so bad with both teams simultaneously, there was no such thing as a hashtag or Twitter or Facebook or TikTok. ESPN was in its infancy toward the latter stages of the gridiron drought, and neither CNN nor Fox News had been launched. Ronald Reagan was about to begin his first term as President just as a light emerged after more than a decade’s worth of football misery.
History is repeating itself in a bad way, as anyone who lived through New York football in the 1970’s will remember: There were zero playoff appearances between the two teams. And if you were too young to remember, well, this is what it was like, although at least Giants fans did have a Super Bowl run to enjoy nine years ago.
And if the Week 1 performances by thenJets and Giants are any indication, this is what it might stay like for a while longer. Especially for the Jets, who started off with a 27-17 clunker in Buffalo that lay bare all the vulnerabilities we knew they had coming into the season. The Giants put up a good fight early on against the Steelers in Ben Roethlisberger’s first game back from a 2019 injury, but another critical Daniel Jones turnover led to a 26-16 loss.
Look, it can be a fool’s errand to make any sweeping judgements after one game, especially after an extraordinarily chaotic offseason and preseason limited by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. So don’t think this means that neither team can’t get better as time goes on, especially as the players get used to one another now that they’re in regular- season mode and become reacclimated to game day speed.
That said, this will be a heavy lift for both of them, particularly the Jets.
Sam Darnold looked miserable for much of Sunday’s game, missing what should have been easy throws and looking rushed on many of his dropbacks and progressions. He acknowledged afterward that he was out of sorts and, like the true professional he has been since becoming the face of the franchise in 2018, he vowed to work through his issues and be better in the future.
But the deck is stacked against him in so many ways. He’s playing behind a rebuilt offensive line that will need time to develop. He doesn’t have the luxury of a No. 1 receiver. And it’s even a stretch to say he has a No. 2 receiver, although Jamison Crowder is certainly a solid presence in the slot. Chris Herndon and Ryan Griffin are reliable tight ends, but certainly not game-breaking players. And now that running back Le’Veon Bell is out a couple weeks with a hamstring injury, the Jets are left with 37-year-old Frank Gore and, with any luck, rookie La’Mical Perine, who missed the Buffalo game with an ankle injury, and newly signed Kalen Ballage
Defense isn’t much better. No Jamal Adams, although Marcus Maye did an admirable job assuming Adams’ multifaceted role as a run-stopper, pass defender and pass rusher. No, what’s really missing from this team is a capable pass rush, and there’s simply no reason to believe things will get demonstrably better any time soon. The lack of a pass rush allowed Josh Allen to have a career day on Sunday, and it’s reasonable to assume most opposing quarterbacks can have similar success.
This is simply an undermanned roster at far too many positions, and continued floundering at the bottom of the AFC East is the likely outcome.
For the Giants, there were at least some glimmers of optimism. Daniel Jones had that horrendous interception in the end zone in the third quarter that was a killer, and that can’t be overlooked. But he did look poised in other areas, and there’s reason to believe he can improve as the season progresses. Saquon Barkley had an awful game, mostly because he didn’t get much blocking, but he’ll be OK long term. And the pass rush was at least viable, with Leonard Williams finally getting a sack and multiple pressures and Lorenzo Carter looking ready to have a solid year. But the secondary is a mess, and Roethlisberger easily solved the defense in throwing for three touchdowns.
I think the Giants are a well-coached team that will get better as the season goes along, but it’s still very much a work in progress. And figures to be that way for a while.
For New York football, it’s back to the future.