Brian Daboll was peppered with questions on Wednesday regarding the short- and long-term availability of his franchise quarterback, the level of patience Giants ownership has for his team’s slow start, the potential for multiple practice squad players to have significant roles on an ineffective and injury-riddled offensive line, and a newly disclosed injury to the tight end who was supposed to be an offensive game-changer this season but has thus far produced very little.
Unasked topics on this particular day included the Giants having been outscored 94-15 in their three previous primetime appearances this season with Sunday night’s game once again in front of a national audience, the inability of the Giants’ offense to score an offensive touchdown in roughly two and a half games, the 14 1 and potentially growing point spread on the contest, and how his defense will be able to contain a quarterback who he himself described as a “one of a kind” player and virtually unstoppable.
No, this is not how Daboll envisioned his return to Western New York.
It is, nonetheless, the team and the circumstances he’ll be bringing back to the region where he grew up and the town where he made his bones as an offensive coordinator, using success with the Bills as a springboard to the head coaching job with the Giants.
He was essentially the kid voted Prom King and Most Likely to Succeed when he graduated from Buffalo’s perpetual playoff contender academy two years ago. Now he crawls back for the class reunion like this, the reigning NFL Coach of the Year, sure, but with a non-competitive 1-4 team barely hanging on to any possibility of turning their season around as his date. That must sting.
“Look, it's the next game,” Daboll said this week, downplaying the homecoming storyline. “I’ve been in this league a long time, played against a lot of different teams that I've worked for or players that I've coached… But our focus is always on us, first and foremost, getting ready to play a game.”
He has no choice. The Giants are in such a dire position that it’s almost impossible for Daboll to worry about anything besides the countless issues crumbling around him.
Daboll isn’t the only one in such a position. General manager Joe Schoen was the assistant GM in Buffalo before he came to the Giants and brought Daboll with him. There are several players on the roster who are one-time Bills, most of them not promoted out of Buffalo the way Daboll and Schoen were, but cast aside and picked up by these dumpster-diving Giants.
“There is definitely a different level of excitement, intensity, ready to go back there and try to re-prove myself to everybody there,” wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins said, having been waived by Buffalo last season and claimed by the Giants. “You can feel it in the air from people who have been there… It’s a game a lot of people in this building want to go win. It’s important to us.”
All that shared DNA is why the Giants will, for the next several years at least, be compared to the Bills. That was the case when the Giants made the playoffs in their first season under the new leadership and ended a long postseason drought… just as they did in Buffalo in 2017
Now it’s the case when the Giants seem to be taking a step backward in Year Two… just as they did in Buffalo in 2018.
Spoiler: The Bills have since made the playoffs four straight years, won three straight division titles, and seems on track to do both again this season. Perhaps that is a fleck of hope that these former Buffalo architects and players can cling to as they get their first look as outsiders at the operation they helped build. It probably won’t help on Sunday, though.
The biggest difference between the two teams right now is, of course, their quarterback situations. The Giants have Daniel Jones, whose neck injury may prevent him from participating in this coming game. The Bills have Josh Allen.
Daboll and Schoen were instrumental in the decisions regarding both players as franchise anchors, as well as overseeing their developments.
“You could put him in any offense and he’s going to produce,” Daboll said. “He’s a heck of a player. You put on the tape and he is exceptional at everything. He can run, but he can throw it and throw it wherever he needs to throw it. Eighty yards down the field he can drop a dime. On the move to the right, put it back across his body, scramble, back up, scramble around, throw it out, throw it on time… He makes you better as a play-caller too. He’s one of a kind.”
Which of the two quarterbacks was he talking about? Not the one he currently coaches.
If Daboll has any pangs for the good ol’ days in Buffalo, he may have tipped his hand as to the reason with those flowery remarks. That this is the second game in a row he has been effusive in praise for the opposing starting quarterback, last week discussing his close relationship with Tua Tagovailoa whom he coached at Alabama, only makes his often tepid remarks regarding Jones (“He does everything we’ve asked him to do,” is his go-to phrasing) stand out in their brevity.
Those aren’t the quarterbacks he coaches any longer and those aren’t the teams he coaches any longer.
Sunday may wind up being a very stark and personal reminder of that.