There was an unsettling familiarity to the Giants' loss to the Cowboys Sunday night: the offense that sputtered and died at the worst possible moments, the sense that this team simply did not have the tools to be competitive, and that disturbing picture of Eli Manning, sitting stunned on the ground after yet another sack.
In many ways, it was as if last year’s 3-13 record simply carried over to this season. The problem wasn’t only that the Giants were 0-2 again, but that to fans, it felt a whole lot like 3-15. The key there is “to fans,” because it became clear Monday that Pat Shurmur and Manning completely disagree.
“I haven’t heard of that,” Manning said of talk that this season is just more of the same. “I think guys are fighting hard. Guys are competing and everybody is learning.”
The Giants have been 0-2 in four of the last five seasons, and of those four slow starts, all ended in a losing record and short of the playoffs. It would be one thing if they were rebuilding, but the Giants, much like last year, are in win-now mode. At 37, it’s unclear how many years of football Manning has left. Odell Beckham Jr. just signed a blockbuster contract to make him the highest-paid wide receiver in the sport. And Saquon Barkley, the rookie running back, is considered the future of the franchise.
Except that hasn’t exactly worked out as planned during the first two weeks. Manning hasn’t been able to compensate for an offensive line that has struggled repeatedly to protect him, and on Sunday, Beckham had only four catches. Barkley had only 28 yards on 11 carries, and all of Manning’s checkdowns meant Barkley actually had more catches than rushes (14 for 80).
But Shurmur said Monday that he wasn’t thinking about the failures of yesteryear, and had no intentions of changing around his personnel – essentially whistling past the 2017 graveyard that has former coach Ben McAdoo’s career as its primary gravestone.
“We’re trying to grow away from that the best we can, and put all our efforts into beating Houston,” Shurmur said. “That’s where we’re at. A question [about last year] just kind of brings it into focus when that’s not something that we think about.
“I think what’s important is we stay the course, get the players that we have playing better, and try to make more plays to do what’s necessary to win the game."
Manning acknowledged nothing was going to get better without a change, but like Shurmur, he thought it was a case of having players step up and better fulfill their roles.
“Every week we’re going to learn and get better and make improvements, and that’s what we have to do,” Manning said. "When you have a new offense and new players and new guys coming in, there is a learning curve to it. So we’ve just gotta keep grinding, keep preparing and don’t get down. We have the desire to get better. We all want that. We all have that. We’ve gotta make the improvements that the coaches are giving us and give us a better opportunity to win a game.”
He said this group is very different from last year’s team, and because of that, he’s not too concerned that players will be plagued with the worst sort of déjà vu.
“I don’t think there’s a concern about that,” Manning said. “We’ve gotta just come to work and have a great attitude that we’re going to get better. This doesn’t get fixed with hoping to get fixed. It’s gotta happen – the mindset, the commitment and the attitude that we’re going to play at a better level is what’s going to fix it.”
It’s something they couldn’t quite manage last year, and it’s yet to be seen if this year will be all that different after all.