The season starts now. The push begins immediately. The Commanders will visit MetLife Stadium next Sunday, and that is when we will learn for certain who the New York Football Giants are.
Are they the team that blitzed to a 6-1 start?
Are they the team that is 1-3 for their last four games?
We will learn for sure starting in nine days. The Giants, despite their 28-20 loss Thursday to the Cowboys in Arlington, Texas, are still in fine shape for the playoffs as long as they can get some of their injured players reasonably healthy and if those players play as they did for most of the season’s first half.
It’s difficult to judge what the Giants are, who they are, based on what we saw at AT&T Stadium on Thanksgiving Day. We saw a lot of heart and a lot of effort in the first place, and a lot of regressing to the mean in the second. The Giants played close to perfectly in the first half, turning the Cowboys over, playing smart with the ball, seizing a 13-7 lead.
It was a fine 30 minutes.
But across the full 60, the Cowboys reaffirmed who they are, and who they can be, rushing back to claim the victory and sweep the Giants in both games this season. They electrified the home crowd and reestablished themselves as the co-favorites (along with the Eagles) to do some serious damage this year out of the NFC East.
The Giants were decimated by injuries, and then devastated by the Cowboys’ resilient second half, and they are now 7-4 after that 6-1 start. So the season can go one of two ways from here, depending on how the Giants respond at this crossroads:
They can play a complete game against the Commanders next week, a game that can vault them into the bell lap of their season and keep their playoff aspirations alive.
Or they can let the losing get the better of them. They can succumb to the contagion of injury, and hop onto a slippery slope that could take them clear out of the playoff picture.
It’s up to them.
“Guys competed,” Giants head coach Brian Daboll said. “We just didn’t do enough.”
The Giants knew they needed to play pristine football to have a reasonable chance against the Cowboys, and they started out doing just that. They were feisty on both sides of the ball the entire first half. They harassed Dak Prescott and forced the Dallas quarterback into a couple of picks. Graham Gano’s field goal at the halftime gun put them up 13-7, and it felt like a splendid piece of football craft.
But there were still 30 minutes to go.
“It was a tough game,” said Daboll, who sounded significantly more irritated than after any of the season’s previous 10 games. “Give Dallas credit. I think we missed some opportunities and that starts with me. We just didn’t get a whole lot going. We didn’t do enough.”
And not only did the Cowboys play much better, the Giants played significantly worse. They had 10 men on the field when they misfired on an easy pass on their own fourth-and-1 on their side of the 50. There were a couple of ill-timed penalties. The Cowboys scored touchdowns on three straight possessions. For a second straight game they got almost nothing out of Saquon Barkley (11 carries, 39 yards).
The Giants simply weren’t going to win that way — and they didn’t.
“We’ve got to find a couple or more plays in there,” quarterback Daniel Jones said.
“They were a better team than us today,” Barkley said.
“We knew we had a shot, we played hard and played fast,” Giants safety Julian Love said. “We let the game slip away.”
But they don’t need to let the season slip away. They will have a long week. They will face Washington two of the next three weeks, with Philadelphia sandwiched in between. The Commanders are playing well, and the Eagles are the class of the division. But the Giants have showed that they can play at a level high enough to emerge from this in good shape.
They just need to get back to that level. They can do it. We’ve seen it. They are in a lull, and good teams find ways to emerge from lulls. If the Giants are as good as they looked not so long ago, they will find a way, too. Starting next week.