It is almost uniformly incorrect to say an NFL team quit. The physical and financial stakes are too high for individual resignation. The violence of the sport and the businesses of the league forces players to care, which means teams cannot collectively give up. Effort may wane in practice, but on Sundays it is almost always a given. When it’s declared a team gave up, it’s usually a lousy excuse, or a lazy attempt to explain a deficient performance.
Let that stand as a caveat. It is inconceivable to explain the New York Giants’ showing Sunday afternoon any other way than this: The Giants quit. They quit on their coach, their season, their fans, each other. They were playing at home, off a bye week, and they didn’t show up.
The question after the Giants’ 51-17 loss to the Los Angeles Rams at half-empty, rain-soaked MetLife Stadium, which dropped the Giants to 1-7, is not whether changes will happen. It is how radical the changes will be, and when they will begin. The NFL is a week-to-week league, and overreaction is often too easy. But the Giants’ performance Sunday was so terrible, so shameful, that it felt, at least in the moment, like a day that should and will rock a franchise to its core.
Coach Ben McAdoo will almost certainly be the first casualty. The first question he was asked in his postgame news conference was, “Did this team quit?”
“No, the team didn’t quit today,” McAdoo said.
What did he think of the effort?
“They were playing hard,” McAdoo said.
Then how could it be so ugly? How could a team at home give up a touchdown on third and 33, yield a touchdown on a blocked punt, surrender 473 yards and commit three turnovers?
“We have it in us,” McAdoo said. “It’s my job to get it out of us.”
He’s clearly not. Whether he survives the season is the only question. The Giants hired McAdoo for his history as an offensive coach. Even when the Giants stormed into the playoffs last season, they did so on the strength of their defense. As Odell Beckham Jr.’s continued antics proved before his season-ending injury, players don’t have enough respect for McAdoo to listen to him. Sunday showed they don’t have enough respect for him to play hard for him.
“Everything falls back on my shoulders,” McAdoo said.
One play summed up the Giants’ apathy, a perfect encapsulation of their nadir. In the first half, the Rams faced third and 33 at their own 48. The Giants had to guard against the Rams gaining enough yards for a field goal, but it was essentially a free pass off the field. Since 1994, as far back as the data goes, teams had faced exactly a third and 33 on 36 occasions, according to the Play Index at Pro Football Reference. They converted no first downs and averaged 4.56 yards. Until Sunday.
Quarterback Jared Goff threw a quick screen to his left to Robert Woods. Giants defenders slowly converged, none of them with a speck of urgency. Woods romped untouched through the middle of the field, unbothered by a disorganized Giants defense, for 52 yards into the end zone for a touchdown.
How pathetic was it for the Giants? Offenses had faced third or fourth down and at least 30 yards on 418 plays and converted just three first downs, or 0.7 percent of the time. Make it four of 419, courtesy of the Giants. Credit Woods for making a play, but it’s not like the Rams ran a tricky play — it was a quick pass, to a receiver standing in front of the entire defense.
“We got to rally to the ball and get him down,” McAdoo said. “It’s been a problem.”
The Giants’ performance Sunday furthered clarified the team’s need to change quarterbacks by Week 1 next season. Eli Manning has won the Giants two Super Bowls, and he may make the Hall of Fame. As an NFL starter, at least with the talent around him on the Giants, his days appear numbered, if there are any left. As his peers age gracefully into their late 30s, Manning is falling off a cliff. Pro Football Focus rated Manning as the NFL’s 28th-best quarterback, between Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer, entering Sunday.
Coming off consecutive weeks in which he failed to crack 150 yards passing, Manning threw for 220 with two interceptions before he was benched late in the fourth quarter for Geno Smith. Manning is in a tough situation, playing behind a terrible offensive line and throwing to a banged-up receiving corps that no longer includes the injured Beckham. Manning said some throws he made Sunday were the first time he had made them to certain receivers, due to working in so many new players.
But Manning is part of the problem. His foot speed, never a strength, has eroded to the point where he cannot avoid even a modest rush. He could always throw deep well. Sunday, he missed two open receivers on possible deep passes.
“It’s disappointing,” McAdoo said. “It’s the National Football League. We’ve got to cash in on those.”
“We’re going to keep grinding,” Manning said. “We’re going to keep fighting. It can only get better. It can only go up.”
The phasing out of Manning at quarterback could begin sooner than expected. Asked specially about Manning’s playing time, McAdoo spoke in generalities, but tellingly. He said the Giants needed to look at young players “that have a chance to be part of our future.”
Does that include Manning?
“That includes everybody,” McAdoo said.
The Giants, a playoff team a year ago, are undergoing change on the fly. A day like Sunday, when an entire team declined to show up, will only hasten and deepen the changes.
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