The Giants will play their first prime-time game of the season without several of their prime-time players.
Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard — the team’s top running back, tight end and wide receiver, respectively — have been ruled out for Thursday night’s game against the Patriots. So was Wayne Gallman, the backup running back who started in place of Barkley before suffering a concussion early in Sunday’s loss to the Vikings.
Shepard, who also suffered a concussion against the Vikings, was not expected back in time for the game against the Patriots. But there had been some hope that Barkley and/or Engram could recover in time to face the defending Super Bowl champions. Both were limited in the half-speed practices the Giants held in preparation for the game.
“Time is your friend when you’re coming back from an injury,” Pat Shurmur said earlier in the week.
It ran out on the Giants’ playmakers.
Barkley spoke before the preseason about how much he was looking forward to facing the Patriots in Foxborough. He’d had an offseason conversation with Tom Brady that inspired him to sustain his Rookie of the Year production as he entered his second NFL season.
On Tuesday, though, Barkley said the opponent did not play into his desire to return to the field.
“It’s not just the prime-time Patriots,” he said. “We could be playing Whitehall High School, I just love playing football, I just love playing this sport. I love being out there with my brothers . . . I get to come out and live out the dream that I had since I was a little kid. For me, that’s the biggest thing. That’s why I want to be out there. Just go out there and play the game that I love and go out there and compete with my teammates.”
He'll likely get that chance next Sunday against the Cardinals. Engram, who reportedly sprained his MCL, might be back for that game too. Shepard and Gallman could miss more time than that.
So the Giants face the best team in the NFL with a rookie quarterback and a cupboard bare of established playmakers. They’re a 17-point underdog, which is the largest point spread for any Thursday game in NFL history and the largest ever for a Giants underdog (the old record for both was when the Giants were 15-point underdogs to the Cowboys on Thanksgiving in 1992 and lost, 30-3).
Bill Belichick’s affinity for the Giants and respect for the Mara family may be the only thing that keeps the game from being a historic blowout.
But the Giants who will be on the field don’t want to be embarrassed. This is the first time the Giants — and Jones — will be playing in a game that the rest of the country and the rest of the league will get to watch.
What do they want to show that audience?
“That we’re a real team,” rookie wide receiver Darius Slayton said on Tuesday. “That we’re here to compete and win games. That we’re a competitive team.”
Said linebacker and defensive captain Alec Ogletree: “We’re looking to go up there and win the game, obviously, but you have to go out there and play well. We want to go up there and put on a good show, for sure.”
They’ll have to try to do so without their top showmen.