There are some calling this a must-win game for the Giants. That’s not the case. There is no such thing in September, no matter how important a victory may seem to be.
This game is something different than a must win. It’s a mustn’t lose.
Especially coming off a Week 2 loss at Washington in which the Giants were doomed by a series of self-inflicted mistakes and costly unforced errors, they need to rid themselves of the parts of their game that have led them to their 0-2 record. If they can do that, they should easily beat the rebuilding Falcons team they face at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, a winless squad that will be without its best cornerback and second-best receiver because of injuries.
If they can’t, then they’ll fall to 0-3 and be firmly entrenched in the conversation over which is the worst team in the NFL. As bad as things have been for them in recent years, that’s a pit they have always managed to stay at least one or two paces away from. Fall to the Falcons, though, and into that abyss they go.
A victory Sunday won’t elevate them all that much beyond such rankings. They’d still have to show they can win consistently to completely escape the dregs of the league. They’d still be just 1-2. And they might still be in last place in the division.
But it would at least allow them to breathe before they head into an October in which they play at New Orleans and at Dallas followed by home games against the currently unbeaten Rams and Panthers. It would let them keep pace in the NFC East for at least one more week. And it would spackle a lot of the cracks that are starting to show in the team’s cherished character-driven locker room.
Not that the team is thinking about anything other than this game.
"Our only focus right now is the Atlanta Falcons and getting better as a team," Joe Judge insisted. "There are a lot of things that are big picture outside of this. You can’t do anything to affect three months from now and you can’t go back in time and replicate what happened. So, you’ve got to fix mistakes that happened and build on what you did successfully.
"Our target’s got to be small."
Whether or not they can hit it will determine what kind of day they have on Sunday, a day when they’ll put Eli Manning in the Ring of Honor and retire his number.
These Giants could certainly use a little of that Manning Magic, the kind that always seemed to rise to the occasion and help pull the team off the mat when they were knocked down. Manning himself reflected on how important the Giants’ 2007 title run was to his legacy — as well as a lot of other people, some still in the organization and others elsewhere — when they were able to overcome an 0-2 start to their season and finish with the Lombardi Trophy in hand.
"I don’t know why we always seemed to try to make it more difficult on ourselves than it had to be," Manning said. "But that was kind of our style."
So far, the style of this current team is nowhere near as gritty, resilient or successful as those Manning-led rosters often were. Maybe they will be eventually. Maybe they will be this season.
Beating the Falcons on Sunday won’t bring them any closer to proving that they have that in them.
Losing, however, will almost certainly show that they do not.