A win Thursday night over the Philadelphia Eagles could turn around the Giants’ season. A loss to the reigning Super Bowl champions likely buries Big Blue for good and shifts the focus from winning now to rebuilding more wisely for the future.
The Giants (1-4), despite all the early-season wreckage, heartbreak and drama, still have legitimate reason to believe a playoff charge is possible given the weakness of the NFC East.
But they have to beat the Eagles (2-3) at MetLife Stadium to get there. They have to win.
And Hall of Fame Giant great Michael Strahan, FOX’s Thursday Night Football host, agrees.
“This game, in my opinion, is the game,” Strahan, sixth all-time with 141.5 career sacks, said on a conference call Wednesday. “You’ve got to win this game in order to still feel you have a chance in this division … The Giants are still in it. The challenge for these guys will be do they believe they’re still in it? And it’s hard because they are losing games they very easily could win.
“But in sports — I used to always tell guys this — there comes a point in every game where you have to make up your mind: ‘Are you gonna win or are you gonna lose?’ For both teams,” continued Strahan, the single-season sacks record-holder at 22.5, set in 2001. “That’s just where the Giants are: they have to decide are we in it to win it or are we just out here to go through the season and hope for another high draft pick.”
Harsh words accurately describing a harsh reality. It’s now or never for Lil Wayne’s new favorite NFL team, and they know it.
“This is a game that we need to win against a division rival,” Odell Beckham Jr. said Tuesday.
But the Giants did seem loose on this short week despite that pressure, the crushing last-second loss in Carolina on Graham Gano’s 63-yard field goal, and the Beckham drama that threatened to fracture them if not squashed properly.
Part of that may be because Pat Shurmur has not wavered from his day one message to players that if they take care of their business, they’ll eventually get an opportunity to make noise. And now that opportunity, even after so much disappointment, is here.
“It just reinforces that you just keep playing because you never know,” Shurmur said Tuesday. “You never know where this thing is going to go, so you just can’t get down on yourself, you can’t worry about what’s happened in the past. You just keep worrying about getting better and putting a winning effort on the field.”
And for the Giants to win, Shurmur knows the trio of Eli Manning, Beckham and Saquon Barkley must lead them there, which is why he “spent a few minutes sitting with (Barkley) on the plane” after Sunday’s loss at Carolina.
Manning is the captain and two-time Super Bowl winner. Beckham is the mercurial star with all the weight of the world on his shoulders. And Barkley, while only a rookie, is just as critical to this team’s fate.
“Coach Shurmur sat down on the plane with me and said some great things that I needed to hear,” Barkley said Tuesday.
Unspoken but important, in relation to Barkley, is that the Giants drafted him No. 2 overall to stand out in matchups like Thursday’s against a less-heralded, shorthanded Eagles backfield.
Barkley needs to be the trump card against the likes of 2016 Eagles fifth-round pick Wendell Smallwood and undrafted second-year Wisconsin product Corey Clement, whose 108 yards and 55-yard TD catch in Super Bowl LII make the opposite argument on running back value.
The Eagles, though, boast the NFL’s second-best run defense at 66.4 yards allowed per game.
“That’s going to be the challenge for us initially,” Shurmur said, “(to) block the front four so that we can run it and throw it.”
But the Giants know this isn’t going to be easy, and they know what Thursday’s stakes are: