The Giants finally had a day off with their very late bye on Sunday. In what has become typical of 2023, they couldn’t even enjoy it.
Oh, sure, there probably was some schadenfreude watching the Eagles get manhandled by the 49ers in the rematch of last year’s NFC Championship Game at Lincoln Financial Field. By definition, anything bad that happens to the NFC East rival is good for the Giants, and this 42-19 loss certainly qualified as awful news in Philadelphia.
But whatever sliver of joy the Giants were able to derive from witnessing a game in which the Eagles led early but gave up touchdowns on six straight drives, had one of their high-ranking staffers tossed from the game after a sideline spat with 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw, and left the suddenly spoiled fans down the Turnpike booing their 10-win team, must have been overshadowed by the sobering realization of just how far away they are from competing at this level.
The Giants entered the season hoping to close the gap on the Eagles and Cowboys. With a month left in the regular season, it’s almost laughable to recall that there was a point during the summer when they thought they had. They’ve already been humiliated twice by Dallas, and even if they have managed to gain inches on the Eagles, a team they will face in two of the final three weeks of the season, they certainly are the counterweights at the opposite end of the top-heavy NFC.
The Giants can’t compete with the Eagles (10-2) or Cowboys (9-3), and the 49ers (9-3) beat the two of them by a combined score of 84-29.
Anyone who had spent this season watching the Giants’ struggles might have gotten the bends coming up so quickly from those depths to tune into Sunday’s game. Who’ll win the NFC crown is unclear, but only a handful of teams still have a shot at it. The Giants are not on that VIP list. They are so far behind the top contenders in the conference — San Francisco, Dallas, Philadelphia, Detroit — they can barely see them from where they are.
San Francisco offensive lineman Jon Feliciano was with the Giants last season and a key part of their playoff run. After this game, he rattled off the ingredients that his new team has going for it, from a defensive line that is “probably the best in the NFL, probably one of the best in the last few years” to “all these weapons on offense” who can “take it to the house at any moment.”
“Just look at our roster,” Feliciano marveled.
He’s still close with the Giants’ coaches. He still has optimism for them, too.
“Obviously, it’s not the season they wanted to have,” he said when asked about the Giants and noting their many injuries. “When stuff like that happens, it’s easy to jump ship and start pointing fingers. You need to just hunker down and continue to work together and you can definitely build something for the future.”
Certainly no one else on either of these teams was thinking too deeply about New York football on Sunday (unless the Eagles were still trying to figure out how their only other loss of the season came against the Jets).
The game was so physical and feisty that it featured an only-in-Philadelphia moment as the Eagles’ head of security, the guy who is supposed to be maintaining the peace, was ejected for getting into a sideline kerfuffle with Greenlaw. Dom DiSandro put his hands on Greenlaw after the linebacker body-slammed DeVonta Smith in front of the Eagles’ bench, which drew a traditional personal foul. Greenlaw took a swipe at DiSandro’s face and was ejected as well.
DiSandro left the field to a standing ovation, but the league almost certainly will review the incident and issue a punishment of some kind against him or the team. “I can’t believe how someone not involved in a football game could taunt our players like that and put their hands in our guy’s face,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said.
As for the on-the-field action, it was a domination by the 49ers. They totaled 456 yards to the Eagles’ 333. Brock Purdy, who suffered an elbow injury in last year’s title game, threw for 314 yards and four touchdowns.
Besides opening eyes to the chasm they must overcome, there may have been several lessons for the Giants from this game . . . assuming they were able to look closely enough.
It showed that a top quarterback doesn’t have to come from the first or second overall pick. Jalen Hurts is a second-rounder and Purdy famously was taken with the last selection in the 2022 draft. At various points and for various reasons, both teams on Sunday had to use their backups at the position; the Eagles’ Marcus Mariota and the 49ers’ Sam Darnold were the second and third overall picks in their respective draft classes.
If the Giants are going to take a player in April who might be able to usurp Daniel Jones, it doesn’t have to come from a single-digit selection. Dig deep and find that gem.
It illustrated how important having strength at the line of scrimmage is. Both teams generally were able to protect their quarterbacks (two of the three sacks against Hurts came after several full seconds of time in the pocket). The 49ers’ defensive front held the Eagles without a rush of more than 7 yards. Build up in the trenches.
It demonstrated how unstoppable speed is when used properly and creatively, as 49ers receiver Deebo Samuel scored touchdowns of 12, 48 and 46 yards, all on handoffs and short passes. Get the ball in the hands of the dragsters.
If the Giants were able to digest those and other elements from their bye week viewing, then maybe, just maybe, they’ll soon have a chance of being on the same figurative field as the two teams they watched.
Until then, the Giants will figuratively be what they literally were on Sunday as the top two teams in the conference went at it: spectators watching from home.