It was just a few short weeks ago that everything was so shiny and new, it was hard to not get excited about the Giants.
They seemed to have all the pieces in place to execute a quick turnaround from the 3-13 season in 2017 and become one of those worst-to-first teams that the NFL provides just about every year. With top players at wide receiver and running back, different faces on the offensive line, and a college of coaches who had found success elsewhere with seemingly less talent than the Giants were providing, of course they would improve. How could they not?
Six weeks later, they’re at the exact same place record-wise they were last season, 1-5. The year already feels like a massive disappointment, with no real signs that it will get better soon.
But that disappointment is based on what were, in retrospect, inflated expectations.
It’s fine that the players and coaches espoused optimism. That’s what they’re supposed to do. They always believe they can win. Management and ownership, too. They were hopeful they could provide enough pieces to put together one more run with their two-time Super Bowl MVP at quarterback.
But it’s time to refer to 2018 as what it probably should have been called from the beginning: a rebuilding season.
It looked like a win-now effort. In reality, the Giants probably should have hung up a sign that read “Please pardon our appearance during renovations.” At least they would have garnered some patience from the fan base rather than a sense of stagnation.
“I don’t know anything about expectations,” Pat Shurmur said. “I know there’s reasons why there’s new coaches — I happen to be one of the new coaches in the league from last year — and you’ve got to do what you can to get your locker room right, get everybody playing the right way and coaching the right way, and do it in a way where you can win games.”
That takes time, and not only one offseason of it. That word — rebuild — makes coaches and players cringe.
“When you come into a new situation, you don’t know what to expect because every situation is different,” Shurmur said when asked if the expectations of 2018 need to be redefined. “I don’t know what my expectations are. I expect us to win every week, and I think we have a team that can go out and win every week if we play the right way. That’s what I expect.”
Getting them to meet those expectations is the next step.
“We’re playing hard. We’re just not executing throughout the game at the level that we need to, up to our standards,” he said.
Manning dismissed the idea of this becoming more of a rebuilding season than he had hoped.
“As a player, I don’t think you ever use that term,” the quarterback said after the latest Giants loss, a 34-13 flop against the Eagles. “That’s something I don’t think athletes use in talking about your team, so no.”
But the rest of his comments actually back up the premise.
“I think it’s just about everybody coming together, everybody learning the ins and outs, and unfortunately it could take a little time to get that,” he said. “You hope that you can kind of make enough plays or win some tight games in the meantime until all of a sudden you kind of hit your groove. We just haven’t been fortunate enough to win some of those close games early on before we get things going exactly how we want to do it.”
That’s practically the dictionary definition of a rebuilding year.
“It’s a new scheme, a lot of new players, and it’s just a matter of everybody just making improvements,” he said.
One of the reasons Manning is reluctant to call 2018 what it is — or what it has become — is that he is in the twilight of his career (and some would say well beyond it). At 37 years old, he doesn’t really have time to wait for the improvements to kick in, and he likely won’t be given an opportunity to stick around for the next few years of draft picks and free agents that it could take to complete the project.
There was a lot to clean out from the mess left behind by the previous regime. The new decision-makers have done that. Of the 53 players on the Giants’ active roster for the Eagles game, 33 were not with the Giants a year ago. General manager Dave Gettleman and Shurmur probably would have gotten rid of more had they been able to from a financial standpoint.
In a few months, after Week 17, they’ll start the second wave of their project. Maybe it will include Manning. Maybe it won’t. It’s become highly unlikely that the next Giants championship-caliber team will have the same starting quarterback as the last one. That’s something the Giants are coming to grips with.
In the meantime, the current Giants have 10 games left. It may feel as if they are a continuation of misery — with the same problems that plagued the past while wearing different jersey numbers — but that’s only if they are framed as the immediate antidote to those failures.
“We’re trying to grow away from 3-13,” Shurmur said of last year's record, which he and so many with the Giants had no hand in. "We want to try to help forget that and keep moving.” It’s a process.
“The record doesn’t speak to that right now, I get that,” Shurmur said. “But you just keep playing and keep working.”
For how long? Who knows? But clearly longer than six weeks.