Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Brandin Cooks (3) fights off a...

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Brandin Cooks (3) fights off a tackle by Giants safety Xavier McKinney (29) in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023, in Arlington, Texas. Credit: AP/Roger Steinman

Xavier McKinney is just trying to win games.

He made that abundantly clear on Thursday.

It was his go-to answer as he conducted his first locker room interview since the loss in Las Vegas, after which he questioned the communication between the players and the coaching staff. He seemed to quell that tempest just a few days later when he suggested he and defensive coordinator Wink Martindale had ironed out their differences, but then Martindale spoke with reporters last Thursday and tore the stitches from that wound.

From that point until Thursday McKinney had been mum.

He might as well have remained so because he wasn’t up for giving any thoughtful responses this time around. Instead, he said over and over again that he and the team are “just trying to win games.” It was his spin on the old Marshawn Lynch “I’m just here so I don’t get fined” routine.

Asked about Martindale and those week-old remarks, he said: “Uhh, who are we playing this week? Oh, Washington. I’m just trying to win. It’s that simple.”

Asked how his teammates are handling the losing, he said: “I think we all just trying to win games. That’s the message.”

Asked if it had become difficult for the defense to change the momentum when things start to nosedive on them during games, he said: “We’re just trying to win games.”

That’s cool. You won’t get the lecture here about players having an absolute responsibility to address the media (and thus the fans) at our command or a tirade about McKinney flaunting the spirit of rules that are baked into his and every other NFL players’ contract about required availability. You wouldn’t care about that anyway.

But McKinney should know that his words and his silence, his actions and his inactions, all come with consequences. They are illustrative of a personality he is trying to project. And right now they are pointing him toward the door.

It’s impossible to know the true source of McKinney’s frustrations without him voicing them. Perhaps he feels reporters twisted his words, the failsafe defense for deliverers of critical quotes. They may stem from Martindale verbally spanking him last week or his teammates not backing his argument about communication when confronted by it (per Martindale at least). It may just be disgust at the state of a team that had high aspirations and now sits at such lowly depths.

There isn’t a player on the Giants’ roster who exemplifies the sudden and precipitous collapse of this team from a playoff-game-winning up-and-coming squad a year ago to the dour, disappointing, 2-8 collection of discontented folks better than McKinney. When Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll and even Martindale arrived he was seen as a cornerstone.

Now he is a pebble in their shoe.

His play could justify such discomfort. It does not. He has zero interceptions and zero sacks and zero tackles for a loss this season. He has played every defensive snap through the first 10 games of the season — he and linebacker Bobby Okereke are the only ones who can boast that — but barely made an impact.

Coaches always say that difficult times bring out true character and these Giants have made it clear they are watching closely to see who reacts how during this patch of adversity. Maybe behind closed doors McKinney remains fiery and energetic and a leader. But essentially abdicating his public role as a captain of this team, and with his free agency just months ahead of him, McKinney is signaling that he has checked out on 2023 and wants out for 2024.

Oh, he was asked about that, too, whether he is thinking about his future with this team or elsewhere.

“I’m thinking about this game and I’m just trying to win,” he said icily. 

Players much better than McKinney have stood at lockers in that very room under much tougher circumstances and answered questions about their play, the team, the past, the future and all the ancillary antics that swarm around football seasons. Eli Manning, Justin Tuck, Antrel Rolle. Just a few feet away from McKinney’s “interview” on Thursday afternoon teammate Saquon Barkley was surrounded by cameras and reporters trying to plumb the depths of his soul for twice as long as McKinney’s interactions lasted. He answered all of those questions with professionalism, integrity, introspection, and as much honesty as he could.

McKinney is normally smart, bright, positive, and insightful, too. He opted not to be so on Thursday.

Fine. No offense taken.

But it’s becoming clearer by the rote and repetitive answer that winning games, McKinney’s lone vocalized desire, probably won’t be enough of a tonic to fix the discontent that exists between him and whomever or whatever is bugging him.

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