Sunday’s loss felt like the end.
It had all of the earmarks of the way past eras have come to a conclusion, whether it was Joe Pisarcik’s infamous goof in 1978 that led to a franchise-altering top-to-bottom change (for the better, it should be noted), or the awful loss to the Jaguars in 2014 that signaled the departure of Tom Coughlin (even though it preceded it by a full year).
Maybe it will turn out to be that way. Maybe John Mara stomped out of MetLife Stadium with so much smoke coming out of his ears that there is no way for any of the architects or directors of this team to salvage their jobs. “Third-and-33” may become this generation’s “Fumble,” a play so humiliating that it needs no further description and forces the owners into action.
But until then, the Giants have another problem.
Sunday wasn’t the end. In fact, it was only the midway point. The Giants have eight games remaining in this wretched season, and they’re expected to show up and play each of them. That includes three home games against division opponents – one of which is currently the hottest team in the NFL – and three trips to the West Coast.
This is the two-month warning.
There still is a long slog ahead. In a week when it feels like the Giants should be cleaning out their lockers and conducting their exit physicals, they instead have to prepare for the 49ers. Ignominy of ignominies, by the way, the Giants opened as 1-point underdogs to a winless team in San Francisco.
There is no blueprint for this, at least not in the collective experiences of the players and coaches. But it seems as if they have two choices at this point. They can stay together. Or they can start dismantling now.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the 10-year veteran cornerback, seemed to be arguing for the latter when he spoke at his locker after the 51-17 embarrassment on Sunday.
“You’ve got to be self-motivated at this point,” he said. “If you can’t get up to play, you know, at the end of the day it’s your job on the line. So, you go down there and continue to do what you do, we’re all going to be home watching somebody else play.”
Rodgers-Cromartie made it clear that the coaches should not be faulted for the team’s 1-7 record.
“You can’t put that on the coaches,” he said. “Not the way we’re playing. Blown coverages, people wide open, you can’t fire no coach for that.
“Fire a player,” he added. “Something’s got to give.”
The Giants may be leaning in that direction. While not pointing to who would be shown the door, Ben McAdoo noted after the game that he is leaning toward “getting some players some reps in the game” to “take a look and see if there’s any players that we can give reps to that have a chance to be a part of our future.”
That, he said, includes the quarterback position.
While Eli Manning was sternly against that idea, every player in the Giants locker room should understand what Rodgers-Cromartie expressed.
“Everyone’s [job is] on the line,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “I look at it at 1-6, 1-7, how we came in here, we’ve been in jeopardy.”
The younger players have a little bit more innocence to their approach. Rookie tight end Evan Engram, one of the few offensive bright spots for the team, said the key to moving forward is unity, not culling the slackers.
“We’ve got to stick together,” Engram said. “We’ve got to stick together and got to put the work in when we get back on Tuesday. Look ourselves in the mirror and keep working, keep fighting and staying together.”
That may be a rational battlecry for a team that is, say, 3-5 at the halfway point in their season. At 1-7, though, and with such high expectations at the start of the season for the Giants, sticking together seems to be about the most illogical thing this franchise can do.
Rodgers-Cromartie was one of many who said he did not think the Giants gave up on Sunday. He even said that he could envision the Giants winning out, finishing the season 9-7, and sneaking into the playoffs.
“All you can do is take eight games and finish how we should have started,” he said.
They have half the season to go.
“That’s what’s frustrating the most is knowing you still have to go out there, you still have eight games left,” he said. “You can’t just lay down. That’s what hurts the most, knowing that we’ve got nothing to lose and we don’t come out swinging-swinging. We have our times when we come out looking like, man, that’s the Giants we’re supposed to be. But it should be like that all the time.”