There was only one thing that could have prevented the Giants’ quarterback situation from arriving at the nebulous anti-conclusion that it seems to have reached. Just one way that Eli Manning could remain the undisputed, undeniable, uncontested starting quarterback of the franchise, with rookie Daniel Jones on the bench behind him.
All they had to do was win.
Two weeks and two losses into the season, they have yet to do so. And so, on Monday, Pat Shurmur joined the conversation that many Giants fans and observers have been having ever since the draft in April. He unlocked a door that had been bolted tight in public comments by the team. He left open the possibility that Manning could be benched for the Week 3 game against the Bucs on Sunday, with Jones installed as the starting quarterback.
“We’re going to talk about everything we’re doing moving forward,” he said in his news conference Monday, the day after a 28-14 loss to the Bills. “I think that’s fair at this point. We’re 0-2, we have to get better, so we’re going to address all areas and try to find a way to put a winning performance on the field.”
What Shurmur did not do is provide a definitive stance on the most important position on the field. He essentially has left the Giants without a starting quarterback, at least until he and the organization come to a decision on it. When the team returns to practice on Wednesday morning, either Manning or Jones will be taking the first-team reps. As of Monday afternoon, though, it was unclear to everyone who it will be.
“Obviously, Eli has been our starter to this point,” Shurmur said. “I’m not really ready to get into any of those conversations about any position.”
At least not publicly. Behind the scenes, Shurmur said he, general manager Dave Gettleman and co-owner John Mara have weekly discussions about personnel deployment and game plans.
Last week, Shurmur’s comments about an opposing quarterback were, he thought, misconstrued. He left no such ambiguity about what his lack of naming a starter for his own team meant on Monday.
“I understand that,” he said. “I understand that. I do.”
So does Manning, to a certain degree. When the Giants drafted Jones, Shurmur said the mandate for Manning was to win games and keep him off the field. That was the hope, that Manning could guide this team to success and Jones would not play. Mara called it the best-case scenario.
“Hey, we’re 0-2 and you’re looking for answers,” Manning said. “I get it. You draft a guy early and you’re not winning games, these [conversations] are going to come up. I just have to keep working and do whatever my job is.”
As of Monday, he didn’t really know. Manning said he had no discussions with Shurmur about who will be starting on Sunday and described their talks on Monday as “business as usual.” He said it is not important to him that there be clarity regarding the issue by any deadline (though Shurmur said he will have a decision made by Wednesday, if not sooner).
“Hey, I have to get ready to play a game,” Manning said. “Nothing changes. Get ready for Tampa and figure out a way to get a win . . . Again, the mindset for me is to prepare and to work and to do what I’m told to do.”
Whenever he is told, too.
Manning defended his play as best he could.
“We’re 0-2,” he said. “There is always room for improvement, I feel like I’m not missing — I may have missed one throw to Evan [Engram on Sunday] — so just have to obviously figure out a way to score more points and do better on third downs. Figure out a way to get completions and convert on those third downs.”
Shurmur said that Manning is “doing a good job.”
Maybe not good enough, though.
“I think we need to do more, all of us, everybody, to win football games,” Manning said. “That’s why when I say that we’re doing what we can do each week to put a team on the field that is going to win a football game, that falls on all of us.”
Perhaps some more than others. Perhaps the Giants believe they’ll have a better chance to win Sunday with Jones.
The rookie certainly looked capable of being an NFL starter during his preseason appearances. He played a mop-up series in Dallas in his regular-season debut and did not play Sunday against the Bills.
The Giants, too, must start to weigh the future of the team. Spinning their wheels with a 38-year-old quarterback does little to advance the franchise toward the Daniel Jones era.
“We’re always trying to do what we can to win this next game,” Shurmur said. “And then we’re always behind the scenes having those long-term discussions. But that’s the challenge each week, doing what you can to win the next game. That’s really my focus as the coach and certainly that’s what the players’ focus is.”
If the Giants decide to go with Jones . . .
“Let’s just stay away from the ifs,” Manning said, cutting off a question about what seems like an inevitability at this point.
Too late. The “if’’ already had been tossed in the air by the head coach. It already was answered by the two losses and a season quickly slipping away. It already had been contemplated in January, when the Giants decided they wanted to draft a quarterback, and in April, when they did.
The Giants are beyond ifs. The only thing left is when.