Some call this a game you have to win for the Giants. That is not the case. There is no such thing in September, however important a victory may seem.
This game is different from a must win. It is a must not to lose.
Especially after a Week 2 loss in Washington in which the Giants were doomed by a series of self-inflicted fouls and costly unforced errors, they need to get rid of the parts of their game that led them to their 0-2 record. If they can, they should easily beat the rebuilding Falcons team they face at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, a win-less side that will be without its best cornerback and second-best receiver due to injuries.
If they can’t, they drop to 0-3 and become firmly entrenched in the conversation about who is the worst team in the NFL. As bad as things have been for them in recent years, it’s a pit they’ve always managed to stay at least a step or two away from. However, fall for the Falcons and into that abyss they go.
A win on Sunday won’t take them much further than such a classification. They would still have to show that they can win consistently to completely escape the dregs of the competition. They would still only be 1-2. And they may still be in last place in the division.
But at least it would allow them to breathe before heading into an October where they play in New Orleans and Dallas, followed by home games against the currently undefeated Rams and Panthers. It would allow them to keep pace in the NFC East for at least another week. And it would smear a lot of the cracks in the team’s cherished character-driven locker room.
Not that the team is thinking about anything other than this game.
“Our only focus right now is the Atlanta Falcons and getting better as a team,” Joe Judge insisted. “There are a lot of things that fall outside this big picture. You can’t do anything in three months and you can’t go back in time and repeat what happened. So you have to fix mistakes that happened and build on what you did with have done successfully.
“Our target must be small.”
Whether they can hit it will determine what day they have on Sunday, a day when they will put Eli Manning in the main ring and withdraw his number.
These giants could definitely use a bit of that Manning magic, the kind that always seemed to take the opportunity and help pull the team off the mat when they were knocked down. Manning himself reflected on how important the Giants’ 2007 title run was to his legacy – as well as to many other people, some still in the organization and others elsewhere – as they managed a 0-2 start to their season and finish with the Lombardi Trophy in hand.
“I don’t know why we were always trying to make it harder on ourselves than it had to be,” Manning said. “But that was kind of our style.”
So far, this current team’s style isn’t nearly as gritty, resilient, or successful as those Manning-led rosters often were. Maybe they will eventually. Maybe they are this season.
Beating the Falcons on Sunday doesn’t get them any closer to proving they have that in them.
However, losing will almost certainly show that they don’t.