When Eli Manning walked off the field at MetLife Stadium on Dec. 31, he had no reason to believe he’d ever be back. The team finished 3-13, he’d had his streak of consecutive starts halted a few weeks earlier, and the winds of organizational change were gusting like Meadowlands winds often do.
But on Sunday, Manning will be back on that same field in a Giants uniform, in a stadium where only he has ever been the starting quarterback for the Giants.
“I’m just excited about this opportunity to be here and start the season,” Manning said, reticent to relive the coulda-beens of the offseason. “That’s the great thing about the NFL. Every year is a brand new year. Last year does not matter, whether good or bad. It’s about what you can do this year… It’s a new group of guys, a new scenario, and a new opportunity.”
But the same quarterback.
AND IT'S BARWIN'S HOUSE, TOO
New linebacker Connor Barwin said he is “excited to have my first game here” on Sunday when the Giants host the Jaguars.
It may be his first home game at MetLife Stadium, but it’s not his first game. He was a regular guest as a member of the Eagles and last year with the Rams.
“I’ve had a lot of good games at MetLife Stadium,” Barwin said with a sly grin, a reference to his 4-1 record against the Giants as a visitor. “And now I expect to keep that going, just with the right jersey on this time.”
Barwin will have a chance to contribute. With linebacker Olivier Vernon unlikely to play with a high-ankle sprain, Barwin will be part of the committee that takes Vernon’s snaps and tries to replace his production.
In his five games against the Giants at MetLife he had a total of eight tackles and one sack.
It was mentioned to Barwin that fans probably did not appreciate those efforts at the time and they elicited more groans than cheers.
“We’re gonna turn that around on Sunday,” he said. “I’m excited to see what MetLife is like to be the home team. It’s gonna be fun.”
While the Giants are trying to forget about last year, so are the Jaguars. But for a very different reason.
They were a handful of plays away from reaching the Super Bowl in January, going toe-to-toe with the Patriots in the AFC title game. That was a huge step for a relatively young team that is no doubt looking to take the next one. In a league in which the only thing harder than finding success is sustaining it, coach Doug Marrone has been trying to focus his team on its current record of 0-0 rather than any recent accomplishments.
“My philosophy has kind of been to go back, start at the bottom, build a foundation up and make sure that we don’t overlook things and make mistakes where there may be some cracks in the armor,” Marrone said. “I think if you try to go too fast and build upon maybe some of the past success, sometimes you can overlook some things. We really try to start from the bottom and keep going.”
Fifteen percent of the Giants’ opening day roster was not with the team a week ago. That’s a huge turnover in a short amount of time and a challenge to get the newcomers assimilated.
“You’ve got to get up to speed fast,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “Guys come to teams and have to compete quickly. Typically they’re in shape because they’ve been in training camps and they’ve been on a lot of teams that have talked about the same types of things. You just put a blue bow around it and there you go.”
Giants safety Michael Thomas said he’s been using a concrete example of how a player can make a quick transition. Himself. He was on the 49ers’ practice squad for almost two years when he was signed by the Dolphins on Dec. 10, 2013.
“Shoot, nobody knew my name,” Thomas said. “I just had to go in there and make a play. I was claimed on a Tuesday and practicing on a Wednesday and playing on a Sunday.”
In a 24-20 win over the Patriots he had three tackles, broke up a would-be touchdown pass from Tom Brady in the end zone in the fourth quarter, then sealed the victory with an interception.
“I made a great first impression,” he said.
THE X FACTOR
Anyone who thought moving Ereck Flowers to right tackle would make his job easier wasn’t looking ahead to this Week 1 matchup. For his first NFL game at the new position Flowers gets to line up across from Calais Campbell. Last year Campbell came screaming out of the gates with four sacks in the opener against the Texans and had 14.5 by the end of the season. Flowers should get some help – TE Rhett Ellison can line up next to him with Nate Solder handling the left side by himself – but at points in the game he’ll have to block one of the NFL’s top pass-rushers one-on-one. His ability to do so will play a key role in how the Giants’ offense will function.
SHURMUR: ANOTHER MOMENT HAS ARRIVED
Pat Shurmur said his approach as he crept toward his first game as head coach of the Giants this week has been to “stay in the moment.” On Wednesday, he said, he was focused on “Wednesday things.”
But like all weeks, Sunday things eventually roll around. For Shurmur, this one will mark his debut with a new franchise. The Giants open their season at 1 p.m. against the Jaguars. To prepare for it, Shurmur said he’s relying on a routine.
“I don’t think game day ever gets old,” he said. “I love the whole process of everything. I love the process of as we get closer, the mock game, I like the meetings that are before a game, the team meals, and the buildup in the morning to the game. I have my own little process that I go through.”
Shurmur said he encourages players to find their own routine.
“I think that’s the thing that players miss when they can no longer do this,” he said. “Fortunately, I’m able to do it in my 50s.”
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THE HITS KEEP COMING
It’s not a catch or a touchdown that will let Odell Beckham Jr. he is back from an 11-month layoff. When he plays in his first game since last October on Sunday, it will be the first time he is tackled that will let him know he’s returned.
“I haven’t been hit,” Beckham said this week. “I mean, I was getting tackled in the offseason, but not by these guys. Get you that first one, get that hit, it’s kind of like you shake it off, and then you keep going from there. You need that first one.”
The last hit Beckham took in a game fractured his ankle.
“It’s not something that I’m so much afraid of,” he said of the next time he’s tackled. “This is football. It’s always going to be football, regardless if you haven’t taken a hit in years or whatever it is. It doesn’t feel good to get hit. But it is what it is.”
Years since the Giants opened a regular season at home. They lost to the Cowboys in that game, 24-17, on Sept. 5, 2012. They haven’t won an opener at home since they beat the Panthers, 31-18, on Sept. 12, 2010.