Eli Manning isn’t worried about how the Giants will come out for the beginning of Sunday’s game against the Colts. Everyone should be fired up, everyone will be ready to play. It’s a Sunday in football season, and this is what they all love to do.
But when the smoke clears from the pregame pyrotechnics and the initial adrenaline rush of the opening kickoff starts to wear off, that’s when things can get dicey. Especially for a team like the Giants who have been eliminated from playoff consideration. It’s easy to be excited when the game is just starting, and it’s easy to remain that way if the Giants can take an early lead ans catch the scent of potential victory.
The hard part, Manning said, is maintaining that if things don’t go right from the get-go. If the Colts score first or come up with some big first-quarter plays.
That’s when the game can start to feel a way that the players and coaches are spending the entire week trying to avoid while the rest of the world keeps using the same terminology: Meaningless.
“Ideally you want to get a fast start,” Manning said. “That’s important. Get some momentum, get something going early. Get that excitement… If you can get off to a good start, I think that helps.”
Otherwise, the game can easily snowball into a horrid afternoon.
“That’s what you’re worried about,” Manning said. “You try to eliminate that.”
Manning has played in plenty of these types of games in recent seasons. Clearly more than he would have liked. There have been 14 quote-unquote meaningless games played by the Giants since 2013, with two more coming before this season is through. That’s an entire season of games with no mathematical impact on the Giants’ standing in the past six years.
Some of those games turned ugly, like last year’s 23-0 loss on the road in Arizona on Christmas Eve. Others showed some spirit, like an overtime win against the Lions in Week 16 of 2013. Last year the Giants beat the Redskins in the finale. The Giants’ record in games with no chance to reach the postseason since 2013 is 6-8. In games immediately following their having been knocked out of contention during that span they are 0-4.
Manning has started 13 of these impactless games since his last Super Bowl appearance (last year’s Geno Smith start against the Raiders fell within that category). He said he doesn’t plan to address the team, which consists mostly of younger players, before taking the field against the Colts.
“You talk to the guys a little bit but you don’t have to have a speech,” Manning said. “It’s more about how you conduct yourself. You’re energized, you’re coming in with plays to get the guys excited about the opportunity to go play. I think they see that, they build off that. Just make sure guys have the right attitude this week in their preparation and go out there and play to win.”
The Giants have been saying all the right things.
“We have two games left in our season,” rookie Pro Bowl running back Saquon Barkley said. “Two games to the rest of this year. The guys on the team, the guys you work your tails off with all year, to get to this point, you have to go out there and continue to fight for yourself and for your teammates.”
Defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson conceded it can be “pretty tough” to keep playing hard when eliminated, but noted there isn’t much of an alternative.
“You can’t just give up and quit,” he said. “You can’t treat it like it’s meaningless because it’s not. . . . That’s your team going out there. You just show how much heart you have.”
And how much heart the team has, too.
Pat Shurmur was asked about whether he had plans to shut down injured wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. for the rest of the season (he does not) and bristled at the implication that now would be the time to do it.
“I guess that question leads into that these two games aren’t important, and I don’t believe that,” he said. “I think what’s important is that we as a team do everything we can to go out there and play the game and try to win the game. This team is trying to learn how to win again.”
A fast start on Sunday may be the key to that lesson.