Giants' bright future untarnished by playoff loss in NFC Divisional Round

Jan 21, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) in the huddle against the Philadelphia Eagles during an NFC divisional round game at Lincoln Financial Field.
Jan 21, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) in the huddle against the Philadelphia Eagles during an NFC divisional round game at Lincoln Financial Field. / Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

PHILADELPHIA — The Giants needed help. That’s if they wanted a chance. Something, anything, to level the playing field against the All-Star Eagles.

If Jalen Hurts was far from 100 percent? If Lane Johnson’s torn groin made him a shell of his normally-dominant self? If the rest of the Eagles roster, which had been in cruise control the better part of a month, was more rusty than rested? Then maybe, just maybe, New York could pull the upset in the City of Brotherly Love on Saturday night.

None of that happened, though. And so the Giants' Cinderella-like season came to a close. But even as the Eagles pulled away in their 38-7 victory, you couldn’t help but feel like this was the start of something special with the Giants.

They’re not there yet, no.

But, finally, you see a team headed in the right direction.

“The future of the team is bright,” quarterback Daniel Jones said. “We have a lot of young, core guys who made a lot of plays, stepped up, been huge all year. I think there is certainly a bright future here.”

It will be easier to marvel at what the Giants accomplished this season once time passes and the stench of this loss wears off. Right now, this feels like just another loss to the Eagles — the Giants are 12-31 against Philadelphia since 2003. But context is needed when you begin to assess this team.

The Giants were not supposed to be good. Actually, they were supposed to be a complete and total disaster. The predictions of this team winning just three, four or five games weren’t written in jest. The paper seemed to paint an undeniably bleak outlook of what was to come: The Giants were on Stage 1 of a full-on rebuild.

The journey from where they were, to where they wanted to be, would be one difficult to watch in its infancy stages.

“Nobody thought we were going to be here,” said linebacker Jihad Ward.

But then this season began. The Giants shattered virtually all expectations when they jumped out to a 7-2 start. Their roster still had its issues. Most weeks the Giants were at a talent disadvantage from their opponents. But Brian Daboll’s coaching and Jones’ steady hand not only kept New York in games, but had them pulling out victories in the end.

Was it always pretty? Hardly ever. That didn’t matter, though. The Giants embraced the ugly. They made that their identity. That brand of football helped New York reach its first winning season since 2016. It’s why they won their first playoff game since 2011.

For the first time in a long time, the Giants gave their fans something to be proud of.

Nothing that happened Saturday night changes that.

“I’m proud of where we came from,” said safety Xavier McKinney. “These last two years, just to see the growth that we’ve made as a team. It’s been great to see. It’s been great to be a part of.”

The clock did finally strike midnight for the Giants. They were snapped back to reality. This year won’t end like 2007 or 2011. But the way this team came together is invaluable. The experience these players got is invaluable. More importantly: You saw cornerstone pieces of this franchise come together.

Interior defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence is a star. Pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux will soon join him. Left tackle Andrew Thomas established himself as one of the best in the business. Running back Saquon Barkley returned to form. You saw glimmers of brilliance from receivers Isaiah Hodgins (late in season) and Wan’Dale Robinson (before landing on Injured Reserve). That’s just to name a few.

This team needed to remake the interior of its offensive line. This team needed an infusion of playmakers outside. This team needed to rebuild its secondary. This team needed to fix its linebacking unit. But this was more than just a promising start for GM Joe Schoen. Now he needs to build on it.

He’ll have another draft class. He’ll have money to spend in free agency for the first time.

You’ve already seen what Daboll can do with the Island of Misfit Toys. You know the should-be Coach of the Year has what it takes. It breeds optimism for what he can do with legitimate talent around him.

“He’s elite,” safety Jason Pinnock said of Daboll. “He can take, I don’t like, politically, to say ‘no-name guys,’ but he can build a strong team with late-round picks, free agents. He’s a great coach. For me, personally, coming in late, to be able to watch him work, see his connection with each guy, it was very unique and different.

“When you have players who want to play for their coach — it’s a big difference.”

The Giants didn’t waste much time retreating to the visiting locker room of Lincoln Financial Field after the clock hit triple zeroes. The game was over well before that. They seemed to know that. As Daboll said at his postgame news conference — the Eagles beat the Giants in every facet of the game.

Despite this, though, the mood in the locker room wasn’t that of an eliminated team despondent in trying to come to grips with their elimination. The majority of those players tucked inside the visiting locker room, while disappointed with the results, were fixated on not only what they had accomplished, but what the future holds.

This, in a way, was the ushering of that future one step closer.

And finally there’s legitimate reason to believe that will be brighter than today.