The Giants’ 2019 season ended with a 34-17 loss to the Eagles at MetLife Stadium on Sunday evening. It was the most inconsequential part of their day.
That’s because the Giants’ 2020 season began as soon as they left the field through the tunnel, the players and coaches jogging through the rain and into the fog of uncertainty.
The organization swiftly began the process of sorting through the rubble of a 4-12 season that brought both stomach-churning losses and glimpses of promise. It brought one fewer win than a year ago, but there was a sense of improvement in less concrete ways.
“There was a lot of growth on this team,” second-year defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson said. “I just feel like we are moving in the right direction and in a positive way.”
Yet when they next take the field, compared with this crew, the Giants might be barely recognizable.
First of all, the players’ next contest at MetLife almost certainly will be their first ever without Eli Manning in uniform for the team. His contract is officially up, and his 16-year tenure with the team likely ended Sunday without his taking a snap.
Then there could be a new head coach to replace Pat Shurmur, whose two seasons on the job brought little off-field controversy (mission accomplished!) but even less on-field success (mission failed).
General manager Dave Gettleman? The Giants could decide that his dismantling of the roster was too large of a step backward, that the rebuild should have been further advanced by now. It sounds as if he will stay, but only two Giants employees should have walked out of the stadium on Sunday feeling secure that they’ll return: Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley.
For the rest of them, in uniform or otherwise, the hours, days and months ahead will be tenuous times.
“I’m not sure what to expect,” wide receiver Golden Tate said. “Whatever happens, regardless if we’re 16-0 or where we are now, this locker room is never going to be the same, ever, ever.”
The Giants — and at this point “the Giants” means co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch — will begin meeting to digest what they have seen in the past four months . . . and the past two years. They’ll try to chart a course for the future of the organization.
On some decisions they will concur; on others they will have to iron out their ideas and wrangle through their preferences. Resolution may not come as swiftly as some would like, and decisions might not be reached until later in the week.
Eventually, they’ll settle on a blueprint for the next phase of Giants football.
And hope that whatever they come up with is better than the one that just ended.
“I feel like this team has more wins in it, but this year is over and it’s time to move forward,” guard Kevin Zeitler said. “Whatever happens happens. We’re going to figure it out because if we stay here, we’re just going to be sad again and again. And nobody wants that.”
This game was similar to so many the Giants played this season. Their defense was overmatched, their young offensive stars made some big plays and big mistakes, and they lost.
A 20-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Tate and a 68-yard TD run by Barkley tied the score at 17 heading into the fourth quarter, but with the ball at the Giants’ 27, Jones fumbled — twice — and the Eagles ultimately took over at the 2 before scoring to go ahead 27-17. Then Jones threw an interception and the Eagles added another touchdown.
The final result may have been an afterthought for the Giants, but the Eagles (9-7) clinched the NFC East title with the victory and will host a playoff game next week.
The stadium was filled with fans who made the short trip up the Turnpike to root for the visiting team.
The Giants and their fans? Their journey seems much longer at this point.
After the game, there were lots of hugs and shared emotions. A lot of appreciation for each other and the miserable season they just shared. Shurmur spoke briefly to the team.
“We just have to get better,” guard Will Hernandez said of the head coach’s message. “This is a production business. Either you do it or you don’t; it’s that simple.”
These Giants haven’t. But it’s more complicated than that.
“I do think we have something here,” Barkley said. “We have something special here. We just have to continue to stick to the process and believe in it.”
Whether or not ownership feels the same soon will be clear.