NEW YORK — The battle for New York will be real between the Giants and Jets this season, whether Brian Daboll’s team downplays it now or not.
Woody Johnson’s Jets are national media darlings thanks to Aaron Rodgers’ arrival, HBO’s Hard Knocks cameras and Robert Saleh’s Super Bowl talk.
John Mara’s and Steve Tisch’s Giants have built excitement and expectations coming off a surprise 2022 playoff berth.
They could both succeed. They could both fall flat. Or one of New York’s NFL organizations could elevate while the other slips by the wayside.
So the result of Saturday night’s preseason finale technically won’t mean anything. But the fact that Rodgers is playing will build some buzz for what is to come in Week 8 when these teams meet for real on Oct. 29.
There will be gamesmanship and misdirection on Saturday because the teams are playing in the regular season, too. There will be a feeling-out of the high stakes to come, even if Daboll won’t publicly play along.
“Really, I’ve got my team to worry about,” Daboll said this week. ‘[Rodgers] is a heck of a player, one of the best to ever do it. All that other stuff, I’m not a storyteller or a writer. So I just try to focus on our football team getting better.”
In fairness to Daboll, he and the Giants do have bigger priorities at the moment than worrying about the Jets.
They finished 1-5-1 in the NFC East last season and are opening a difficult regular season schedule on Sunday Night Football against the Dallas Cowboys.
There is no room to focus on anything other than assembling the best roster possible for that monumental Sept. 10 showdown at MetLife Stadium.
Still, it was interesting to hear Daboll claim he hasn’t watched ‘Hard Knocks,’ and to hear Kayvon Thibodeaux say of the Jets’ preseason spotlight: “I’m happy for them. I hope they get everything that they work for.”
These teams will be at each other’s throats in two months, both on the heels of brutal early-season schedules, possibly needing a win badly in that Week 8 matchup.
And that is absolutely in the back of the Giants’ minds, even though most of their starters are expected to sit.
Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka acknowledged that Saturday’s preseason finale is an obvious opportunity to gather — and maybe even save — play calls and information for a future opponent.
“You’ll try and take any bit of information you can get, whether it was a matchup, whether it was a formation, a front, a look,” Kafka said. “You’re trying to constantly learn from the past and learn if there’s things you can do for future matchups. … We’ve certainly thought about it as we’re putting together the game plan for this week.”
Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, who called Rodgers one of the “titans of the league,” is still going to blitz the four-time MVP on Saturday.
“We’ll see,” Martindale said with a smirk.
And even though the Jets will “probably sit him down early,” in Thibodeaux’s words, Rodgers will give the Giants a good opportunity to let rookie starters like corners Deonte Banks and Tre Hawkins get a look at what they’ll be facing in October.
“I know if I was a rookie, I would be jacked — you know, like the two corners — to go against Aaron Rodgers,” Martindale said. “Because it’s one of the best of the best.”
This is only a primer, but the real thing is only two months away. Bragging rights in the Big Apple matter. And jobs are on the line on both sides Saturday night.
Let the Battle for New York begin.
Daboll downplays Gronk
Retired former Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski created a stir on FanduelTV’s Up & Adams show by saying: “Brian Daboll wants me on his roster. I know it.” He also said Daboll was the NFL coach that had the best chance to get him out of retirement.
“I mean, he can’t get me out of retirement, but he would have the best chance of getting me out of retirement,” Gronkowski said with a grin.
Gronkowski admitted he “can’t” play anymore.
“I’m washed up,” he said. “But I just like to pretend.”
Still, Daboll was asked if he would call Gronkowski, whom he once coached in New England.
“Well, I am close with Rob, so [I’ve] got a lot of respect, admiration,” he said. “Coaching him for four years, he’s a good friend, we’ve talked. I’m not saying we talked about that, but he’s a close friend. When you coach someone for four years and he’s a very productive player for you and really a good person, we are from the same town, so wouldn’t read too much into that.”
Asked if Gronkowski has any football left in him, Daboll said: “I don’t know. I wouldn’t read too much into that, is what I’ll say.”
Gronkowski still enjoyed dreaming of an alternate universe that featured him and Darren Waller on the same offense.
“That would be pretty wild,” he said. “I always believe that having two tight ends makes the defense have the most difficult times. If you have two tight ends, I think that can make an offense unstoppable. And it’s rare. If you go back to my days when I had another tight end [Aaron Hernandez] with me, it just makes the offense prolific, unstoppable. It gives you so many more options.”
To be continued?
Martindale interestingly said on Wednesday that he was in the dark on which players were going to play in Saturday night’s preseason finale. “I think you just go to play the game with who you have in there,” Martindale said. “I don’t know who we are playing yet either, so don’t feel like you are all alone on that. That’s going to be between [Daboll] and Joe [Schoen]. But I think that you call the game to win each game you have.” Schoen has helped Daboll assemble the gameday roster, not just the 53, since they arrived last season. And Saturday’s lineup will provide more clues on who is on the bubble, who they need to see more from and who is getting rest as a player whose spot is safe … Special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey backed rookie running back Eric Gray and said he has been “making good decisions” as a returner, but McGaughey also said of whether Gray can handle regular season duties: “You don’t know until till it happens.” It’s a strange dynamic here. Running back Jashaun Corbin, who has burst as a returner, isn’t working there at all. Veteran Jaydon Mickens, who won a Super Bowl as the Bucs’ 2020 returner, is working behind Gray, who is still feeling it out. Maybe the Giants are simply planning on fair-catching kickoffs in the regular season and feel like they’ll figure it out on punts.