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Three weeks ago the Giants were in first place, flying home from a stunning victory in Seattle. They were playing meaningful December football. They had a real shot at the playoffs. And their future suddenly looked very bright.
Three weeks and three blowout losses later, the Giants have been reminded of how far they still have to go.
Maybe they didn’t need a reality check, but they got one anyway in a brutal, three-week stretch that ended on Sunday when they were pounded by the Ravens in Baltimore, 27-13. In this last game in particular they were outclassed on both sides of the ball. The talent gap was obvious from the first moments after kickoff until the very end.
It was worse, but similar, to their 26-7 loss to Arizona two weeks ago and their 20-6 loss to Cleveland one week later. It was a step up in class for the Giants, but they simply couldn’t make it.
If they were as good as they hoped they were, they would’ve had more fight and better efforts. Because truly good teams don’t come up so small in the games they really need to win.
“The results of the last three games are what they are,” Giants coach Joe Judge on Sunday. “We’re paid to win games. We have to do a better job of coaching, a better job of playing.”
Yes. And they need better players, too. All of that is accurate and obvious now that the Giants (5-10) have crashed back to Earth. There was perhaps a false sense of security coming from outside the organization when they had a 5-2 midseason run to mostly erase an 0-5 start, especially about the state of their defense. There was some excitement that maybe with one more offseason, a few more pieces, the Giants truly could be a contender next year.
Then came what they always knew would be a rough December stretch, and that springboard off their big win in Seattle only led to a long dive. In three games against Arizona, Cleveland and Baltimore – three legit playoff contenders – they lost by an average of 15.7 points. And their offense, which has struggled all season, only made it into the end zone twice.
Yes, they were playing without starting quarterback Daniel Jones in one of those games and with him battling injuries in the other two. That matters, but it was hardly the source of all of their problems. Their offensive line collapsed. Their pass rush disappeared. And nobody emerged as a playmaker on either side of the ball when they needed one the most.
It was as if all of their holes, which they had done a decent job of covering up for 12 games, were exposed over the last three. And it became clear against three contending teams who are not even among the NFL’s elite teams, that the Giants weren’t a team on the verge of contention. They were only contenders because they played in a truly awful NFC East.
Now, they certainly are in better shape than they’ve been, even though they’ve lost at least 10 games for the fourth straight season (and sixth in the last seven). But it’s clear their rebuilding is only beginning.
What do they still need? Well, for starters they clearly need a dominant pass rusher who can change the game, since they had no one who could get near Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson on Sunday. And on offense the list is seemingly endless considering they’ve scored just two touchdowns in the last three games and haven’t topped 20 points in a game since way back on Nov. 15.
They need a true No. 1 receiver. They have good play-makers in receiver Sterling Shepard and tight end Evan Engram, and a promising one in receiver Darius Slayton, but no one player that demands the extra attention of a defense. Saquon Barkley would be that player when he’s healthy, but he needs a top receiver to complement him too.
There’s also still work to be done along the offensive line, though they finally do have a corps of promising young players. And most of all, they need better play from their franchise quarterback. Because if the Giants were wrong about Jones, they’re in a deeper hole than anyone imagined.
Yes, they knew all that, if they were being honest. It’s why Judge kept de-emphasizing the playoff race, and why he insisted that the Giants’ playoff fate wouldn’t be what determines whether this season is a success.
But a reminder is still good, as the Giants head into the offseason. It helps to see how they measure up to the NFL’s better teams, even as it hurts when they fall so far short of the bar.
“There are no moral victories and to not get the result we wanted is disappointing — by no means is anyone OK with that,” Jones said. “But there are positives we can take from today, positives we can take from where we’ve improved throughout the season as an offense and as a team. We’ll continue to look at those things.”
“In terms of where this team is headed and what we have been able to accomplish this year, in terms of the foundation, the culture – we have improved a lot across the board,” Judge said. “I feel that we are on the right track and moving in the right direction.”
They are. But it’s also very clear that there’s still a lot more work left to do.