Dexter Lawrence of the New York Giants pursues Dak Prescott...

Dexter Lawrence of the New York Giants pursues Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium on Nov. 4, 2019. Credit: Mike Stobe

The Giants lost their first four games, but their season starts on Sunday.

That’s when they begin play in a division that is so bad that no team has more than one victory and even the winless last-place doormat considered to be one of if not the worst teams in the league is within striking distance of coming out on top and can dream about hosting a postseason game.

The Giants begin the string in which they will play five of six games against NFC East foes on Sunday, facing the Cowboys in Dallas. After that it’s a home game against Washington, a Thursday night game at Philadelphia, a home Monday night game against the only non-division opponent in the stretch in Tampa Bay, then Washington and Philadelphia again.

"Every game is important in the NFL, but it’s no secret that when it comes to the NFL it’s about your division to start with," Joe Judge said on Monday. "Obviously we have to do a good job coming out here and being ready to roll. Look, they’re going to be tough games. There are not going to be any easy opponents right here. But definitely this is coming in on Wednesday and making sure we start fresh and start fast."

That’s right. After four games Judge is talking about starting. It’s an indication that the first weeks of the season were football throat-clearing. Who says the Giants didn’t play any preseason games this year? In some ways, they may have just went through all four of them.

That’s not to say they weren’t trying to win against the Steelers, Bears, 49ers and Rams. But it’s clear in retrospect that Judge and his staff saw those games as part of a process that led up to this point. They couldn’t be sure that the rest of the division would be as horrific as they turned out to be, but they knew they could use the first month of the regular season to put themselves in a position to pounce once they entered division play and hope to catch up whatever ground they ceded in the final three quarters of the season. Especially in these next six weeks.

It’s why they have used much of their young personnel the way they have, almost mimicking the snap counts that middle- to late-round draft picks would receive in a typical August slate. In Sunday’s game against the Rams, rookies Matt Peart, Shane Lemieux, Tae Crowder and Cam Brown all saw their playing time ramped up and their roles broadened. First-year cornerback Ryan Lewis seemed to assert himself as a potential starter at the second cornerback spot, a position that has been in flux since the spring and the arrest of DeAndre Baker. Safety Adrian Colbert, an afterthought on the roster, showed himself to be an essential part of the secondary.

"A lot of these young players are eventually going to have to play for us and we wanted to get them involved as much as we can, get them game action, and progress them in what they’re doing," Judge said. "We have a lot of young guys on the roster who are starting to come around. You can kind of see a difference in their eyes, which is kind of natural as they get some experience on the field. They’re acclimating not only to the speed of the game on the field but the speed of the game in the classroom, the speed of the game carrying it from the classroom to practice. It’s kind of slowing down for them a little bit. I’m pleased with the way Tae and Cam Brown and other young guys are really coming around right now and making progress."

Right on schedule, one might say. Right on the Giants’ 16-game schedule that they have consciously trimmed to 12.

So maybe they have been handling other aspects in preseason ways, too. The vanilla play-calling the first four games could be ready to be replaced by the real playbook. The reliance on one-on-one wins, few as they have been, might begin to be minimized in favor of more complex schemes. They may have spent the past four games establishing a fake identity on film, ready to spring forth on the division with a reinvented persona. The real Giants, perhaps?

Even their travel plans to play the Rams were formed with the Cowboys in mind, Judge deciding to keep the team in Los Angeles on Sunday night to give them a better night’s sleep and avoid jetlag issues that come from flying across the country in the wee hours.

Judge smiled wryly when asked on Sunday night after the heartbreaking loss to the Rams whether the season for this team really begins next week against the Cowboys.

"I think it's important for us next week as we start our division run that we play our best football," he said through that almost knowing grin.

We may have just witnessed the greatest rope-a-dope in NFL history over these first four Giants games of 2020.

Then again, maybe they are the terrible team they have so far shown themselves to be.

Either way, we’ll find out for sure starting on Sunday.

More Giants

Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months