The New Year already is looking up for the Giants.
Of course, compared with the old one, things almost have to get better by the time the team takes the field for its next competitive contest in early September. They almost can’t get worse.
The Giants made certain that when the ball dropped on 2017, it closed the year with an emphatic thump — sealing it up and burying it like contaminated waste — by making a series of moves in the final days and hours of the calendar. They hired new general manager Dave Gettleman on Thursday and began the process of reshaping the organization with a high-profile firing from the front office (Marc Ross), the cutting of a disappointing starter (Bobby Hart) and the absence of another first-round pick (two of them, Ereck Flowers and Eli Apple, were inactive on Sunday under eyebrow-raising circumstances).
Add to that an 18-10 win over Washington in the season finale with a haphazard lineup of mostly practice-squadders, backups and street free agents surrounding Eli Manning, and at least there was something for Giants fans to toast at midnight.
“Peace of mind,” safety Andrew Adams said of what the win gave the players. “A great feeling. Go out on a high note.”
They could sing an extra chorus of “Auld Lang Syne,” too, after the Colts beat the Texans, 22-13, to lock the Giants into the second pick in this spring’s draft. For many, that was the most important development of the day.
“It’s nice to win a game,” co-owner John Mara said. “It’s also nice for the Colts to win.”
The victory allowed the Giants to avoid their first winless season in division play, which began in 1933. It also avoided breaking the record for losses in a single season, which they set last week in Arizona. And the 18 points gave them 246 for the season after they came perilously close to becoming the most futile offensive unit in franchise history (the 1979 Giants scored 237 points, which is their record low for a 16-game season).
The win also was the first for interim coach Steve Spagnuolo in his current role.
“We’ve been chasing the feeling of being in a locker room on Sunday, an NFL winning locker room,” Spagnuolo said. “Prior to this, it hadn’t been great, but this feels good, and I think the organization can carry this into the next season.”
Next season is a long time from now. A long time to reflect on what went wrong, what needs improving and what needs replacing.
“You can’t justify the season off of one win,” defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. “Obviously, we lost all the others. To me, this is just one win. I’m not satisfied with the season.”
For many players, though, Sunday was all about the present. Not the past, not the future.
“Everybody knew this was the last week and we were like, let’s put it out on the line and let it all hang out,” linebacker Devon Kennard said. “We had nothing to lose. We know we’re not playing after today, so let’s try to freaking get a win. We deserve it.”
The Giants scored 12 points in the first 2:18. Orleans Darkwa ripped off a 75-yard touchdown run on the second snap of the game, and after Kelvin Sheppard had the first of his two interceptions of Kirk Cousins, Manning hit Hunter Sharp for a 16-yard touchdown.
They missed the extra point after the first score and failed on a two-point attempt after the second, reminders that it was still 2017.
The game ended with the Giants at the doorstep of a final touchdown but declining to go through. Rookie running back Wayne Gallman ran to the 1 with two minutes remaining and the Giants took a knee three times to end the game.
The fans booed. They wanted one last score, preferably one from Manning, whose name they were chanting and who may have played his final game for the Giants.
The quarterback, though, was just as happy to end this misery with a play he’s had rare occasion to use this year: the victory formation. “It felt good just to get the win,” he said.
“It might not mean a whole lot when you look at it to get the third win, but it does mean something to the players. Guys have been working hard, they’ve been competing, they’ve been giving great effort all year, and just to get a win and feel good in the locker room and have some cheers and have some hugs and kind of end this tough year on a good note is special.”