FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Oshane Ximines figured Thursday’s game would be one he’d be able to tell his kids about someday.
The rookie linebacker said earlier in the week that it would be an “honor” to be able to just line up on the same field as Tom Brady when the Giants faced the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
“He’s a great player, the greatest of all time,” Ximines said. “Just being in his presence is going to be great and I’m looking forward to it.”
And that right there was the biggest obstacle the Giants faced in this game. Not Brady the quarterback, but Brady the icon.
For many of the Giants — particularly the young ones who comprise the bulk of the starters — this was their first time facing a player who they grew up watching win Super Bowls. Players such as Ximines, who is 22 years old, have no memory of a world before Brady was the championship quarterback of the franchise that has won six titles and played in nine Super Bowls in the past 18 seasons.
It was a challenge not to get starry-eyed, difficult to walk onto the field and not gaze in awe at the championship banners and the hoodie on the sideline and, of course, the quarterback with the half-dozen rings.
“We still have a job to execute and I still have to go out there and play football,” Ximines said.
Even if the opponent is a football god.
Ironically, the one player on the Giants roster who has no cause to kowtow to Brady and Bill Belichick started the game on the bench. Eli Manning beat the Patriots in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI, but he’s their backup now. Daniel Jones was the starter for the Giants against a team that had not lost a home game to a rookie quarterback in 11 such contests.
"I think you certainly respect what they’ve done and you acknowledge the fact that they’re a good team," Jones said. "But I don’t think we can let that affect our confidence or the way we kind of attack the preparation, or when we get there, the play of the game. And I don’t think it will.”
The Giants were not only without their Patriots kryptonite in Manning, but their own Superman. Saquon Barkley was ruled out for a third game with a high ankle sprain.
Giants defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson played at Alabama… basically the Patriots of college football. He said he never felt as if opponents cowered at the prospect of facing the Crimson Tide when he was there. To the contrary, he said, they felt like they always got everybody’s best game.
“I guess you could say we were the top dog at Alabama, so everybody wanted to come knock us off the pedestal,” he said.
Still, even Tomlinson had a sense of the significance of this opponent.
“It would be amazing to sack Tom Brady,” he said.
A chance to not only touch history, but tackle it.
Michael Thomas knows that feeling in a way. In his first NFL game in 2013, freshly promoted off the practice squad as a special teamer and thrust into a defensive role because of in-game injuries, the safety intercepted Brady for the Dolphins.
“It meant everything,” Thomas, now a safety for the Giants, said of that play. “That was my first game in the league ever. It was a great moment, a story I can tell my grandkids.”
But, Thomas said, at the time he wasn’t thinking about spinning yarns for future generations. He was focused on what he thought might be his one and only opportunity to play in the NFL.
“It didn’t matter who I was playing, man,” he said.
It was only afterward that he allowed himself to recognize the piece of NFL history he had caught.
It was up to veterans like Thomas and others to make sure that the young players on the Giants weren’t so awed by the opponent that they lost sight of the goal, which was to beat them and not fawn over them.
“I don’t think we have a locker room full of fanboys,” 10-year veteran receiver Golden Tate said. “I think we understand we’re all in the NFL, we’re going out there to do a job… Just live in the moment, enjoy having the opportunity to go play in a very hostile environment against a great team, and go out there and shock the world. It’s as simple as that.”
And tell the stories afterward.
Notes & quotes: Shorthanded at running back, the Giants promoted Austin Walter from the practice squad and released third-string quarterback Alex Tanney before the game. Tanney, who was not going to be active for the game anyway, could re-sign with the Giants by early next week, especially if the Giants believe Barkley will be healthy enough to play against the Cardinals a week from Sunday . . . LB Tae Davis, who was cleared from the concussion protocol earlier in the week, was inactive for the Giants …