Expectations for this Giants team were extremely high when the season started, both inside and outside the organization. While the coach and players were talking about winning a fifth Super Bowl trophy for the franchise, analysts and fans also were expecting them to deliver. They had a defense coming back almost entirely intact, an offense that added more dynamic playmakers, and a second-year coach who took the team to the playoffs in his first season.
Everything was spelling out success.
Maybe, Jerry Reese said Tuesday, a little too much.
As the Giants enter their bye week with a 1-6 record in a season that easily could turn into one of the most disappointing in team history — and one of the biggest flops in recent New York sports history — the general manager who put the team together said that the biggest missing ingredient has not been in personnel or play-calling, but in more intangible areas.
“We came out of the gate, there was a lot of chatter about how good the team looked and how good it looked on paper, some talk about Super Bowl, things like that,” Reese said. “But in this business, the 11 games we won last year, that’s over with. You have to start over every time and you have to earn wins and you’ve got to do it the right way. You can’t walk out there and people are just going to lay down for you because people are saying good things about you.
“I think we bought into some of the hype of ‘this is a good-looking football team,’ ” he said. “We just didn’t go out and strain as hard as you have to strain to play in this league. We have to do it every Sunday. We just didn’t come out with that fight that I saw from us last year. I have seen it at times, but it hasn’t been consistent enough for us to win games.”
Reese put the blame on himself. Sort of.
“This is the roster that I put together, OK, I’m the reason we’re 1-6,” he said. “But we do have to play better as a team . . . I believe everybody is accountable here for what goes on. Our coaches are accountable. Our players are accountable. We’re 1-6 together, but you can put it all on me.”
Regarding his job security, he said he is “always on notice.”
“I’ve been doing this for over 10 years now and . . . I’ve been left for dead a lot of times since I’ve been doing this job,” he said. “But that’s just part of it. It comes with the territory. It’s a high-performance business.”
Could not having a high-performance team force co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch to make a change? The Giants have not fired a general manager since they booted Andy Robustelli in 1978 and replaced him with George Young.
“You can ask them that if you like,” Reese said. “I just know that I come to work every day and I know people come in here and they work their behinds off every day. So that’s a question I think you should ask ownership.”
As for Reese’s specific decisions as architect of the team, he defended them.
“I do believe we have good players on the roster,” he said. “We just have to play better. We have good players in better positions than we had, and when we put them in position, they have to make plays. You can point to a lot of different things.”
Reese, it seems, wants to point to the inability of the players — and perhaps the young coach — to handle their success. They became a victim of their own prosperity.
“When you have a young team, which we have, a relatively young team, you have to protect against winning,” he said. “When you win 11 games, you’ve got a little bit of a swagger about you, then you come back: ‘Well, this is pretty easy. We won 11 games, and we won 11 games with a rookie head coach.’ So you come back and think, ‘Well, we’ve already got 11 wins.’ And that’s just not how it works.
“You have to start over. You have to put in the work. You have to play with some passion out there. So, that’s what I’m getting at . . . You have to earn wins in this league. Sometimes you have to learn that the hard way. I think this is a hard lesson for us to learn to go out and play the right way.”
As for his own passions, Reese kept them bottled up.
“You guys want me to get up here and have a tantrum, I’m not going to do that,” he said. “It’s frustrating. Anytime you lose games and you’re 1-6, there is some frustration. But I’m not going to get up here and fall on the floor and kick and scream. I’m not going to do that.”
Instead, he chose to look forward with some optimism.
“I get it, we’ve been left for dead by a lot of people, but don’t count us out yet,” he said. “We’re going to go into the second half of the season, give it everything we have, do some self-evaluation, figure out what we can do better, what things that we’ve done good, what we’ve done bad. How can we win football games? That’s where our focus is moving forward right now.”
There is one problem they already have fixed. At least from here on out, the Giants won’t have to deal with any more hype.