After another gut-wrenching loss that left the Giants 0-4 and unable to come up with any logical answers about how their season has gone so horribly wrong, Justin Pugh stood in front of his locker, put on a figurative pair of rose-colored glasses, and delivered his promise.
This was a few minutes after the Giants lost, 25-23, to the Bucs on Nick Folk’s 34-yard field goal as time expired, a week after Eagles rookie Jake Elliott kicked a 61-yard game-winner with no time left. With coaches and players getting dressed, mostly in stunned silence, Pugh made his jaw-dropping prediction.
“So, this is what I’ll say about 0-4,” the offensive lineman said. “How cool is it going to be when we make the playoffs? How cool is it going to be when we go on this run? That’s what you have to look at it as. We’re gonna go on this run, and it’s going to be epic, and you guys will be like, ‘(Expletive), Tampa Bay, Pugh was like, we’re gonna go on this run,’ and it’s gonna be awesome. Can’t wait until we do it.”
Understand that this was not a guy delivering wide-eyed optimism and not truly believing in what he said. He sincerely means it when he says there’s still a chance, that after one of the most miserable starts in franchise history the Giants can make it to the postseason.
Forget the fact that only one team — the 1992 Chargers — ever recovered from an 0-4 start to make the playoffs. Pugh is convinced there is still something to play for this season, despite the fact the Giants have turned into the NFL’s biggest early-season disappointment and one of the biggest disappointments in franchise history.
It boggles the mind that a team with what seemed to be legitimate Super Bowl expectations could have imploded this spectacularly a month into the season. My contention coming into this game was that this was a virtual must-win scenario.
They played well enough in spots to beat the Bucs, who frittered away a 13-0 first-quarter lead and let the Giants hang around long enough to take leads of 17-16 and 23-22. But by failing to stop the Bucs on the final drive, they are realistically without hope.
Pugh’s optimism notwithstanding.
“The guys we have in this room, the talent we have in this room, we can go out and win any week,” he said. “We can beat any team in the NFL.”
Only they haven’t beaten any team in the NFL. Not the Cowboys, Lions, Eagles or the Bucs. Already three games behind the 3-1 Eagles and two behind the Cowboys in the NFC East (the Redskins are 2-1 heading into Monday night’s game against the Chiefs), the Giants are already in mathematical tatters when it comes to even thinking about getting back into the race.
Or about getting into the race in the first place.
Pugh’s optimism is admirable, if misguided. But there is nothing about this team that makes you believe there is a shred of possibility that it will give this season any meaning — other than to call it one of the biggest disappointments imaginable.
Think of it. Here we are, a month into a season of New York football, and it’s the Jets who are the ones creating any interest at all after a surprising 2-2 start. This plucky team of mostly young players already has defied expectations, and even though they’re not doing much to assure themselves of a high draft pick and potentially drafting a franchise quarterback in 2018, they’re overachieving to the delight of a beleaguered fan base.
Giants fans had hoped this might be the beginnings of a fifth Super Bowl champion. Instead, it has turned into a dumpster fire the likes of which they have rarely seen. Second-year coach Ben McAdoo, who presided over an impressive 11-5 effort last year that got the Giants into the playoffs for the first time since Tom Coughlin’s Super Bowl run in 2011, has pushed all the wrong buttons this year.
He wouldn’t even allow after this latest debacle that he was surprised by the slow start.
“I’m not surprised. I’m not shocked,” he said. “I’m disappointed, irritated.”
What does he do now?
“We need to go to work,” he said. “That’s how you fix it.”
But with all that has gone wrong, it doesn’t seem fixable. Even if Pugh’s defiant belief in his team suggests there really is a way out.
“We’re just going to go out there and keep fighting,” Pugh said. “I love the guys in this room, and we’ll keep our heads up. It’s hard to win in the NFL, and we’re going to keep going to get this right, get one win.”
Pugh says to mark down the time and place of his proclamation that the Giants will make a run, and we’ll do just that.
Unfortunately for the wide-eyed lineman, the reality is that Tampa Bay is where their season just died.