The Giants have earned this.
The next time they take the field, it will be December, and that Week 13 game against the Commanders will be oozing with importance and implications. There will be none of the manufactured motivation of years past: Playing for pride, or a better draft choice, or to save the job of the head coach, or to achieve some statistical achievement.
The Giants are still playing to get into the postseason. They are squarely in the playoff mix in the NFC, despite currently being the proprietors of their first two-game losing streak of 2022. Getting dominated by the Lions in Week 11, then overwhelmed in the second half by the Cowboys on Thanksgiving are body blows that stung and staggered the Giants, but did not knock them out. At present, there is cause for concern. But all that good work and all that late-game execution in September and October has not been wiped away because November was a downer.
This is a rare weekend off for the Giants. In past years, the arrival of winter and the holidays ushered in the tune “ ’tis the season for more folly,’’ with all the lousy football that turned the stretch run into four-quarter ordeals that had to be undertaken, because the schedule does not allow for early withdrawals.
Yes, the Giants went from 7-2 to 7-4, and that downward tilt needs to get straightened out. The record does not look as gaudy as it once did, but as the Giants sat out the weekend while Week 12 continued with the full slate of games, there were just three teams in their conference with better records: the Eagles (9-1), Vikings (9-2) and Cowboys (8-3). There are worse places to be than where the Giants are.
“I mean, certainly, the whole season obviously is in front of you right now,’’ head coach Brian Daboll said. “We have a long way to go. Obviously, the rest of December here and the early part of January. So, we have to focus on getting ready to play Washington, but you’re sitting at 7-4. You put yourself in a position to play meaningful games in December, which is important.’’
Daboll pointed out that last season, when he was the offensive coordinator in Buffalo, the Bills were 7-6 after 13 games.
“Look, anything can happen in this league,’’ he said. “I’ve said it before, it’s a humbling league. You can be on the top of the mountain one week and fall off the next week.’’
The Bills, in 2021, were saddled with a two-game losing streak before they won their last four regular-season games, rolled over the Patriots in a wild-card game and hooked up with the Chiefs in a divisional round clash that turned into an instant classic. Buffalo lost 42-36 in overtime in a game that featured 25 combined points in the final two minutes of regulation. The late-season surge unquestionably made Daboll a more attractive head coach prospect.
The Giants hired Joe Schoen to lead the franchise as the general manager. Schoen, having seen Daboll’s approach and handiwork in Buffalo, summoned Daboll to steer the Giants’ ship. Daboll is certainly in the discussion for NFL Coach of the Year. He has cajoled seven wins in the first nine games out of a roster that most observers believed incapable of attaining seven wins all season.
That was then. This is now. What comes next represents Daboll’s greatest challenge: Two games against the Commanders, two against the Eagles, one against the Vikings on Christmas Eve in Minneapolis, and one at home against the Colts, the only remaining opponent barely on the fringe of playoff positioning.
The Giants are 0-2 in the NFC East, the Cowboys showing their superiority in meetings in late September and late November. Coaching matters, especially inside the division in two-game season series. Obviously, the Giants cannot get swept by the Commanders. Ideally, they do not want to get swept by the Eagles.
Daboll has done more with less. Now he has to do more with what he has. At least his injury-riddled team is getting healthier.
“The players that we have in our roster, we’re confident in,’’ Daboll said. “It’s our job to try to put them in the best positions we can. Certainly, we can do a better job at that. And trust the players that we have.
“We’ve all been in this league a long time. There’s no excuses. Everybody goes through injuries or losses, things like that. You come back, you stay mentally strong. You look at the things you need to fix. You stay consistent with your approach, with improvement in mind. You own what you didn’t do well, and you move on to the next week.’’