For most of this decade, the next word when it comes to the Giants has been an emphatic “No!”
This is an organization that has lost seven of its past eight Week 1 games. Seven of eight. In other words, there has been only one season since 2010 that started out with a positive feeling and a sense that things could work out for the team. Only once in that span have they been able to exhale at 1-0.
Sometimes it doesn’t mean anything. In 2011, the Giants lost the opener and went on to win a Super Bowl. Most times, though, that early loss has come to define the season that looms ahead of it.
Let’s be honest: If the trailer stinks, the full-length movie usually does, too.
The Giants have started five of the past six seasons with at least two losses in a row. They were unable to turn any of them into a winning record by the time Week 17 rolled around.
So here we are again, ready to embark on another season of Giants football. They play in Dallas on Sunday afternoon, ushering in a season that few expect to differ from the gloom that has befallen the franchise in recent years.
“Certainly, the first game is important,” Pat Shurmur said. “Any time you can get an opening day win, it helps build confidence with your team. But you have to play the game, do everything you can to win it and then react to the outcome after that. Obviously, we’re looking forward to playing Dallas.”
This time, however, it seems as if there is more at stake than just the one game and just the season. For the Giants, this year seems to be beginning with an existential urgency.
It is imperative that they get off the line as briskly as possible before they plummet into the pit of here-we-go-again despair. It is vital that they play well early on, especially on offense, if they hope to fend off calls for Eli Manning to be replaced by Daniel Jones. It is crucial that they hit the 2019 season at full stride to prove this roster is what it thinks it is (a winner) and not what many others believe it to be.
There are plenty of questions that need to be answered, some of which exist within the walls of the Giants’ training facility.
Somehow the Giants need to find a way to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
“I can’t tell you 100 percent as we sit here today who’s going to be the sack leader, the disruptive player,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said this past week. “To me, I kind of like that, because there is a little bit of unknown for people that are prepping for us. There’s a lot of guys that have something to go play for and prove and establish themselves.”
The Giants are relying on a number of young players in big spots, too. Many are rookies, but others are young veterans who have never had such responsibilities and expectations and pressures put upon them.
“There’s a lot of new, and we had a lot of young players play last year, so there’s a good bit of this roster that I feel like I know how they’re going to react to adversity as well as success,” Shurmur said. “We just build on that. I feel like I have a good feel for them.”
And of course, there is Manning.
Many of the faces have changed during this period of ennui, but the primary one at quarterback has remained the same. The Giants are betting that the 38-year-old, surrounded by an improved offensive line, a superstar running back and a stable of, well, more stable receivers, can regain his championship form.
Even in Manning’s glory years, though, he was never about fast starts. His two championship runs came in seasons that started slowly and built toward the Super Bowl. With Jones waiting to play, he might not be given the leeway to have that happen again this year.
Shurmur said this past week that he likes the players the Giants have assembled for this journey.
“They’ve come together as a team,” he said. “Now we’ll galvanize ourselves as we go through the season. I’m looking forward to this group, as you go through the ups and downs of a season, because I think it’s a really good group and I think they care about one another. I’m looking forward to watching them work.”
Watching them win would be better. Especially early on.
Whatever happens against the Cowboys, it will be just one game of 16. But it will feel like a whole lot more.