In the first two weeks of the season, there was undeniable progress for the Giants, even though the result was all too familiar. The defense looked so much better. The team looked tough and didn’t make a ton of mistakes. There were reasons for hope all over the roster.
Then on Sunday, Joe Judge’s team threw all that away.
What happened on Sunday, when the Giants were blown out by a badly depleted 49ers team, was as bad as anything that’s happened over the previous two years. They were humiliated, 36-9, by a team missing eight starters, including it’s quarterback, running back, No. 1 receiver, it’s All-Pro tight end and two of the best pass rushers in the league. Yes, the Giants were hurting too and winning without Saquon Barkley won’t be easy.
But they figured to put up much more of a fight. Everyone hoped they’d put up much more of a fight.
Instead, they reminded everyone of just how far away they still are.
“We’re not look for excuses,” Judge said. “We’re not pointing fingers. We’re not looking for shortcuts. We’re working on building this thing and building this thing the right way.”
That, of course, is what his bosses want to see. “Progress” is the bar co-owner John Mara set to convince him not to fire GM Dave Gettleman and blow up the entire organization. And it really looked like they were starting to build things the right way in the first two weeks of the season.
But nothing looked right on Sunday. The offense could never get going, holding the ball for only 20 minutes total. Daniel Jones played one of his worst games as a pro, misfiring often and throwing a terrible interception. The defense wore down, especially late, putting on a clinic in how not to tackle. Nick Mullens, the backup quarterback, with an array of replacement weapons around him, somehow threw for 343 yards. And if there’s any hope of the Giants developing a run game with Barkley out, on Sunday it was hard to see how.
But it was the lack of fight that was most concerning. That’s the hallmark Judge is trying to build his program around, that they’re tough and they’ll show it all the way to the end. That had opened up some eyes around the NFL about the Giants in the first two weeks of the season. People could see they were a team that played hard, played tough and might be difficult to beat.
Against the 49ers, though, that toughness disappeared. It’s not surprising for a young team early in the season.
But it’s definitely concerning.
“I think about toughness in how you respond to things,” Judge said. “Obviously we have some adversity we need to respond to right now.”
Yes they do, because at 0-3 they are in great danger of not giving Mara his one wish -- for meaningful games in December. At this point, he might be lucky to still be watching meaningful games by Halloween. The Giants travel to Los Angeles next to take on the high-scoring Rams. Then, they go to Dallas to face easily the best team in their division.
They are 0-3, staring at 0-5, with a young team, a rookie head coach and a GM on the hot seat. There is the potential for things to get really bad if this game turns out to be the true measure of this team.
“We know we're capable of playing a lot better than we did today,” Jones said. “A lot of things happened that are uncharacteristic of who we are and what we can be.”
That’s nice, but it has to be more than words. If it’s true, the Giants have little time to show it. Yes, they need wins, but it really is the progress that’s important. Maybe nobody wanted those moral victories that they earned the first two weeks, but it sure is better than the alternative, which unfortunately is what they’re left with now.
Leonard Williams said he feels like the Giants are “right there,” though it’s hard to imagine what he sees to reach that conclusion. Maybe in the first two weeks that was true, but this loss was a huge step in the wrong direction.
What happens next will be telling. It’s the first huge test of Judge’s young coaching career. If they show that fight against the Rams on the road against a team miles better than them, the entire organization will breath a little easier, win or lose. If they don’t, if it’s another lackluster disaster, there’ll be real concern about the future, and which way this ongoing mess will go.
Because if Judge is really going to build a winning culture, he can’t let things harken back to the bad old days. That’s what happened Sunday. It was a reminder what the Giants have been in recent years.
Now they can only hope it’s not a sign of what they still are.