This is hardly the most consequential matchup in the long, albeit infrequent, renewal of the Jets-Giants rivalry on Sunday. In fact, the teams haven’t been this collectively bad since 1974, when Bill Arnsparger’s 2-7 Giants faced off against Charley Winner’s 2-7 Jets, a 26-20 Jets win during some of the darkest days of both teams’ history.
It is a similarly morose backdrop to this year’s game, just the 14th in the head-to-head series: It’s Adam Gase’s 1-7 Jets against Pat Shurmur’s 2-7 Giants as both teams lurch toward the finish line of a crushingly disappointing season.
Though there won’t be any significant playoff ramifications like their epic 2011 matchup, when Victor Cruz’s 99-yard touchdown catch-and-run sparked a 29-14 win and launched the Giants into the playoffs and toward a Super Bowl victory, there might very well be some fallout when it comes to the future of each team.
Particularly the coaches.
Gase and Shurmur already are on shaky ground, and a loss for either coach at MetLife Stadium could go a long way toward a premature end to his time here. Even a win wouldn’t assure Gase or Shurmur of coaching into next season.
Because the Jets are the home team Sunday, it will be particularly challenging for Gase, who has done himself no favors with the team’s miserable first half of the season. He had a built-in excuse for early-season failure after Sam Darnold’s mononucleosis diagnosis, but even after Darnold’s return, the team has been mostly abysmal. As has Darnold, whose disturbing signs of regression under a coach who is supposed to be a quarterback whisperer are hardly encouraging for Gase.
There were some chants of “Fire Gase! Fire Gase!” at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium after last week’s 26-18 loss to the winless Dolphins, and one can only imagine the vitriol if the Jets lose to the Giants.
Todd Bowles faced an insurrection among fans during last year’s 41-10 home loss to the Bills, and who can forget “Joe must go!” echoing through Giants Stadium in the final days of Joe Walton’s tenure in 1989.
Gase’s team did not fracture despite its first-half struggles, and he’s counting on that as evidence that he can right the ship before it’s too late.
“I think the fact that the locker room is doing a good job of sticking together and focusing on coming here and putting in the work and taking the critiques and making sure they’re finding ways to communicate better and get better every day at practice,” he said. “These guys are working hard to really turn things around, and that’s the number one thing for us . . . I think they’ve done a good job putting the practices together. We just have to do a better job on game day.”
It has been a similar theme each week, though. Gase likes what he sees in practice, and the Jets then make a series of mistakes that cost them in games. With the lone exception of a 24-22 win over the Cowboys in which Darnold looked terrific upon returning from his illness, the Jets have been an undisciplined mess. At times, they look as if they cannot function properly as a team, with penalties, missed assignments, poor technique — sometimes all of the above — leaving them non-competitive.
Good coaching can mitigate many of those problems, but Gase simply has not gotten the job done. Had he been a first-year coach still trying to adjust to the quantum leap from assistant, it would be one thing. But the fact that he was ousted after three seasons in Miami, with many of the same problems, makes his tenure with the Jets shaky even at such an early stage.
Jets CEO Christopher Johnson, who has remained publicly silent as his franchise burns, has shown patience before, particularly during the Bowles-Mike Maccagnan teardown of the 2015 team that went 10-6 but failed to reach the playoffs. And Johnson surely doesn’t want to pay three head coaches and two general managers if he moves on from Gase after one season. He still owes money to Bowles and Maccagnan, and Gase and current GM Joe Douglas signed multiyear deals before this season.
But this is no ordinary meltdown, and Gase must show something in the next eight games to warrant his return next season. Plenty of other teams have injury problems and remain competitive, including the Steelers without Ben Roethlisberger and the Panthers without Cam Newton. Injuries are a fact of life for every NFL team; it’s how you overcome them — or don’t — that often determines a coach’s competence.
Suffice it to say that Gase is not covering himself in glory here. And if things don’t turn positive at some point in the second half of the season, Johnson will be within his rights to make a change. In fact, the owner might be left with no choice.
Shurmur is having his own issues, and for the first time in his 25-game tenure as Giants coach, he is facing questions about his long-term viability. Shurmur has defended his work, saying the team is getting close to competitive despite the poor record. He also believes he’s still the right man for the job.
“I’m built for this,” he said. “I think we all coach and play with an urgency to win games and perform well. You coach and play every game like it’s a playoff game. You try to do everything you can to win. There is always urgency to perform well and win.”
But the wins simply haven’t come, at least not enough of them. After a 5-11 season in 2018, Shurmur took a calculated risk after an 0-2 start by benching Eli Manning and giving the offense to rookie first-round draft choice Daniel Jones. Two straight wins seemed to invigorate the team, but Shurmur now owns a five-game losing streak.
Giants president John Mara has alternately shown patience and urgency in trying to find the right coach since parting ways with two-time Super Bowl winner Tom Coughlin after the 2015 season. He thought offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo had the right stuff to succeed, but after an impressive rookie season in which the Giants made the playoffs, McAdoo melted down in 2017 and was shown the door after his ill-fated decision to replace Manning with Geno Smith.
Shurmur was his next choice after an extensive coaching search, and Mara and GM Dave Gettleman liked that Shurmur was “the adult in the room,” a settling influence after McAdoo’s chaotic reign.
But Shurmur, who lasted only two seasons as the Browns’ coach in 2011-12, has little to show for himself here. He’s a combined 7-18, and patience may go only so far. If the Giants don’t show clear signs of progress in their final seven games, it could be another two-and-done for the coach. A loss to the Jets surely would prompt Mara to consider a change.
He wouldn’t pull the plug as quickly as his father, Wellington Mara, did after the Giants lost to the Jets in the 1969 preseason. The elder Mara fired longtime coach Allie Sherman before the regular season.
Shurmur won’t be fired if the Giants lose Sunday, but it certainly wouldn’t reflect well on him.
Yes, the records are terrible, and neither team is going to sniff the postseason two months hence. But there’s still plenty on the line, especially for the two men whose jobs likely will depend on what happens this Sunday and beyond.
GIANTS CATEGORY JETS
2-7 Record 1-7
19.6/28.3 Avg. Pts. For/Against 12.0/26.4
326.7 Avg. Yds. Offense 223.5
102.1 Avg. Yds. Rushing 66.3
224.7 Avg. Yds. Passing 157.2
391.4 Avg. Yds. Defense 352.2
-10 Turnover ratio -7
28:43 Time of Possession 27:38