In the NFL, there is only one yardstick that matters: winning.
The Giants haven’t done that this season. Sunday’s shutout by the Titans saddled them with their fifth losing season in the past six and mathematically eliminated them from postseason contention. So as the players and coaches came to grips with the finality of that on Monday, knowing that everything they aspired toward when they first came together in mid-April is now, for the first time, an impossibility, they were forced to reflect on what 2018 has meant.
Was it a success, even if the Giants’ on-field performances were not good enough to be one?
“Not making the playoffs, we didn’t reach our goals,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “We didn’t do enough to compete to win the Super Bowl. We didn’t reach our goal. Does that mean we’re failures?”
It was a rhetorical question that different people might answer in different ways. Shurmur’s answer to his own query: “No.”
“What it means is we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “I want to finish this year in a way that shows that we’ve grown, that we’re at a different spot than we were a year ago, to make some more of that growth that we all know needs to happen.”
In that regard, the Giants believe they have made progress despite winning only five of their 14 games so far this season.
“There’s only one team that is happy at the end of the season, and that’s the team that wins the championship,” Eli Manning said. “Obviously, you want to feel like you’re going in the right direction and you’re a team that’s close.”
Are the Giants those things?
“I think we’re a better team than we were last year,” Manning said. “I think we’re doing a lot of good things. We have a lot of good players, a lot of the right pieces. When you have a lot of turnover and a lot of new guys who come onto a team, it takes a little time for everybody to get on that same page . . . I think we are close and starting to build that winning culture back here.”
Manning said the 2018 season feels like “a start.” There are many others who sense that for him, it may be more like an end. Manning has expressed his desire to finish his career with the Giants, and on Monday Shurmur said he wants Manning back in 2019.
Shurmur also said he wants all of the players from this team back, which isn’t going to happen. There is going to be plenty of change in the 8 1/2 months between now and the start of next season. It’s unlikely to be as much as there has been in the past 12 months, but there are plenty of players who have been part of this year’s season — for better or for worse — who will not be around to see the next chapter in person.
For now, then, all these Giants can do is play out the final two games of the 2018 season.
“Playing and coaching football is what we do,” Shurmur said. “There will be some point in the winter when we’re not doing it and we’re all going to miss it. I know from my standpoint, and I know our players in the locker room, we’re going to try to get the most out of these next two weeks and try to win two football games. That joy that you feel from winning, even though we’re not going to be able to go on this year, that’s something that we want to feel.”