There are days upon which seasons turn.
There are games when the fate of a franchise reaches a fork, with the organization proceeding on one of two pathways, depending on the outcome.
There are results that count for more than just a tally in the win or the loss column, impacting how a team sees itself if it chooses to look deeply and honestly, how it evaluates its immediate future, how it reassesses its goals and the steps it must take to achieve them.
Sunday is such a game for the Giants.
It is not overly dramatic to call this contest against the Commanders at MetLife Stadium the most important, self-defining, season-altering matchup they have played in some time. The stakes are enormous, and everyone in the building understands that when the result is final, the Giants will have a much clearer picture of their team, their roster and their legitimate aspirations for the coming months.
It’s Oct. 22, 2023.
It is the date when the Giants’ season can belatedly and unofficially start with a win, or quickly and unofficially end with a loss. There is nothing in between.
“I feel like it could go one way or the other,” Saquon Barkley said this past week of the bifurcation he and his teammates face in this single afternoon. “It can go really well, we can continue to fight, [or] continue to keep losing games. It’s that simple.”
Simple, but oh so complicated at the same time.
Here’s what’s on the line:
If the Giants win — whether it’s by a point, by a field goal, by a missed field goal, by a blown call, by a rout, by a late comeback — they can stay the course.
They will be 2-5, which is not ideal, but they will be 1-1 in the division, will have been able to build on their strongest effort of the season last week in Buffalo, will go into next week’s game against the Jets with some measure of confidence and can start peeking down their schedule at some winnable games against Las Vegas, Washington again, and New England before their late bye the first weekend in December. They’ll have a heartbeat. They’ll have opportunities. They’ll have hope for this season.
If the Giants lose — same scenarios, by a point, field goal, etc. — everything is up for discussion. They will be 1-6 and 0-2 in the NFC East, a division in which they spent the offseason aiming to close the gap the top teams had on them but instead found themselves leapfrogged by the one team they thought they were ahead of.
The future of the head coach and the coordinators, two of whom had multiple interviews for head coaches in January when they were coming off a playoff season, will be in question. The security the Giants felt about having a franchise quarterback, whether he plays on Sunday or not, will be less stable. And with the trade deadline approaching at the end of this month, the Giants should start exploring exactly what they might be able to fetch for the functional stock of players that they have in exchange for picks that will help a future that is about to turn into a full-blown rebuild.
Barkley? Leonard Williams? Xavier McKinney? Fixtures, captains, players the team sees as cornerstones. If the Giants lose this game, none of them should prepay their November rents or mortgages. If the Giants can’t top Washington and can start to accumulate assets that will help the 2024, 2025 and 2026 teams, this may very well be their final home game for the team.
Same for Darren Waller, Adoree’ Jackson and anyone else who might be able to help a playoff-bound team push toward a title, because they certainly won’t be doing that here.
They’ve all said they don’t want to go, and Barkley did it in the strongest of terms when he spoke to reporters at his locker on Thursday. But they also know that they don’t have much of a say in that.
At least not after they leave the field Sunday.
“Business is business,” McKinney told Newsday.
Dexter Lawrence, who signed a five-year extension during the offseason, understands that without a win over the Commanders, the locker room could look very different next week. It was a trade from a floundering team that brought Leonard Williams to the Giants from the Jets just a few years ago and began their close friendship on and off the field. It could very well be a trade from a floundering team that ends that relationship in the coming days.
“We just have to go out there and fight and believe and not quit,” Lawrence told Newsday. “I think I’m playing to just show my brothers that I have their back. That’s why I play this game. Whatever comes with that comes with that.”
There will be a lot of old-school elements to Sunday’s game. The Giants will be wearing their throwback uniforms and decorating the building to look the way it did when they played at Giants Stadium. They’ll have a traditional rival in the house. The legendary Meadowlands winds are predicted to be swirling. They’re even playing their first non-prime time home game of the season with a scheduled kickoff that screams grueling, grinding NFC East football: 1 p.m.
And by about 4 p.m., just as the sun begins to set on the crisp fall day, we should know what the rest of this season will look like.
Will there be cautious optimism, promise and maybe some renewed faith?
Or will there be another display of dysfunction with a side serving of tear-it-apart despair?
Only the Giants themselves can decide that. On Sunday, they will give us their answer.