Of course this is crazy.
Of course this is absurd.
Of course a team that loses two-thirds of its first 15 games in a football season has no business spending the last week of that season with a chance to sneak its way into the tournament. But here the Giants are: 5-10 and breathing. Here they are, a win and some help away from hosting — hosting! — a playoff game at MetLife Stadium.
We can argue about the logic and the logistics of all of that all week. The Giants might not have deserved the 4 o’clock parlay that fell their way — Cowboys win, WFT loses — but that’s what they get. And so they get another week of football season. They get another crack at trying to elbow their way into the 14-team extravaganza. Beat the Cowboys next Sunday in Jersey, hope for the best in Philly, where the freshly eliminated Eagles will try to spoil things for Washington.
Of course, before you get too sweaty with excitement …
“We have to do things,” Giants coach Joe Judge had said earlier Sunday afternoon, “fundamentally better.”
See, the Giants didn’t spend the afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium looking much like a playoff team. In truth, they barely looked like a professional team. If the ultimate goal isn’t just to scratch and claw to stay alive in an outlier playoff race, and to actually be a team worth of January and February, that was a chilling report card.
Lamar Jackson toyed with them on one side of the ball.
Wink Martindale’s defense clobbered them on the other side.
In a game that meant everything to both teams, only the Ravens played that way, seizing a 17-0 lead and all but downshifting into cruise control the rest of the way, settling on 27-13 as the final score. Those numbers felt awfully kind.
“We didn’t do enough to get the job done,” Judge said.
“That’s not the kind of team where we can afford to get off to the kind of slow start that we did,” receiver Sterling Shepard said.
“That’s not us,” lineman Dexter Lawrence said. “We don’t accept that.”
But that was the Giants Sunday afternoon, and in truth that’s been the Giants ever since they headed to the deep end of the pool a month ago. They did go into Seattle and, quite inexplicably, flew home with an improbable win in the first game of that stretch. But then the Cardinals, Browns and Ravens have rolled the Giants, ransacked them, frankly exposed them.
And let’s be very clear about something:
When these Giants are noncompetitive — as they were up and down Sunday, as they’ve been most of the past three weeks — they aren’t exactly easy on the eyes. The quarterback, Daniel Jones, didn’t make any brutal errors but he spent most of the afternoon running for his life, and doing so on legs that are still somewhere south of 100 percent.
The defense — the pride and joy of so much of the season, the fuel for so much team-wide overachievement on so many other Sundays — looked less than ordinary. Now, Jackson can do that to even very good defenses. It isn’t a felony to be made to look pedestrian by the reigning MVP of the league.
Still: it was so easy. It was 7-0 in a heartbeat, 14-0 in an eyeblink.
And before long, the Giants had to turn to the out-of-town scoreboard, had to look for help from their most detested and detestable rivals as they made the commute north, back home. Washington was fully compliant, falling behind Carolina at home, 20-0, losing 20-13. And after spotting the Eagles a 14-3 lead, the Cowboys came roaring back in Dallas, keeping their own improbable ride alive with a 37-17 romp.
In many ways, the day was a perfect microcosm of the season. There is no way, given the brand of football we’ve seen out of the Giants for 16 weeks, that they should be this close to paradise. There is no way, given how dreadful they looked from 1 o’clock to 4 o’clock on Sunday that by the time the “60 Minutes” stopwatch started ticking there should’ve be something left to play for Sunday.
And yet, here they were. And here they are.
“We have guys who fight to the end,” Shepard said, and if 99 times out of 100 it is unseemly for professional athletes to take comfort in the fact they actually behaved professionally, that has been a theme for these Giants for so much of the season. The Giants do fight. They do bleed. And they were still breathing long past the point where any of it made sense.
Make sense? This year? In the NFC East? At this point, just close your eyes and wait for Sunday. Someone is going to finish first. And the Giants a 1-in-3 shot. Crazy. Absurd. True.
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