Every bad era of Giants football has a personification of its failures.
There were the "Bye, bye Allie" chants that serenaded the end of Allie Sherman’s coaching tenure in 1969, the intense rage toward owner Wellington Mara in the late 1970s, and let’s just say no one has kept their Ray Handley-style sweater around as a memorabilia from his time at the helm.
Now, like it or not, deserving of it or not, it is Evan Engram’s turn to bear the brunt of a frustrated fan base. He did so on Sunday when, after he fumbled late in the second quarter, he was booed … and it got worse. By the time the contest was winding down in another Giants loss, this time to the Falcons, Engram was being cheered not for anything he was doing in the game but for coming off the field when the Giants adjusted their personnel groupings.
It was a harsh treatment that will now forever be included among the other indignities such punching bags of Giants futility have received throughout the years.
So how does it feel to be the symbol of an era of losing football and have a decade worth of frustration come crashing down on you?
"Obviously, it’s not ideal and it’s something you don’t want to see or hear," Engram said on Monday, the day after he made his 2021 debut and, most likely, had the worst experience of his career at MetLife Stadium.
In many ways unrelated to himself Engram does symbolize the recent rash of losing. Sterling Shepard is the longest-tenured Giant but at least he had the good fortune to be a rookie on a team that went to the playoffs in 2016. Engram is the second-longest serving Giant and since he arrived as the first-round pick in 2017 the Giants have a combined record of 18-49.
There are others who get raked over the flaming embers of Giants fans’ distaste these days, from ownership to the general manager to the offensive coordinator. With the momentary exception of John Mara’s appearance on stage to retire Eli Manning’s number on Sunday, though, they are mostly out of the actual sight during games. Engram has the misfortune among them of trotting out onto the field and, occasionally, to the apparent delight of fans, jogging off it.
Engram said he tried his best to block out the tsunami of vitriol on Sunday.
"Actually, I think I handled it pretty well," he said. "I was able to stay focused and stay locked in on my job on the field. It definitely was an opportunity to be a distraction, but I didn’t let that get to me and I just stayed focused on my task at hand and playing the game and finishing the game.
"I’ve been playing football for a long time, I’ve played in front of a lot of fans for a good amount of time," he added. "We’re trained to stay focused in between the lines. That’s the best way I tried to handle that [Sunday] was to stay in between the lines and stay in the game."
Joe Judge, who is only starting to get a sense of the Giants fans’ lack of patience himself, was smart enough not to tell those at games how they should react. That never works out.
"It’s our job to give the fans something to cheer about," Judge said. "We talk about it all the time, about you better embrace the pressure and the atmosphere in New York because it’s absolutely great. You’ve got to work for the respect of people here, but it’s that much more valuable when it comes."
But he did say he spoke with Engram at various times to address the situation.
"I talked to him [Sunday] on the sideline, I talked to him in the locker room," Judge said. "I’m always going to make sure our players stay focused throughout the game and understand that when things aren’t going right externally we’ve got to make sure we show internal support for our teammates and our players and keep it moving forward."
Engram made no excuse for his fumble. He said he needs to protect the ball better. He finished the game with two catches for 21 yards on six targets, including one in the fourth quarter that looked like a drop and drew further ire but was actually tipped away from him. He also knows he has been in the middle of some of the most disappointing Giants plays in recent years, whether they were drops or tipped balls that turned into interceptions.
"The fans deserve to see good football," he said. "They deserve to see winning football. They’re honest fans, they’re passionate fans and they deserve to see a good product on the field."
Until they do, they’ll likely continue to take their displeasure out on Engram.
Notes & quotes: Judge said there were "a number of plays" the Giants submitted to the league for rule clarifications after they were penalized eight times for 53 yards on Sunday. "There is that fine line between turning something in to complain and whining about it," Judge said. "My thing is always: Just tell me how you are officiating it so I can teach the team properly." Judge would not say which plays he sought such information on, but the personal foul calls against Gary Brightwell and Xavier McKinney were almost certainly among them … Judge said WR John Ross and LB Elerson Smith, both eligible to come back from the injured reserve list this week, will be evaluated for return over the coming days … LB Azeez Ojulari is the first rookie to have at least one full sack in each of his first three NFL games since Myles Garrett in 2018 … The Saints will be without LT Terron Armstead, one of the top linemen in the league, when they face the Giants after he suffered an elbow injury on Sunday.