What’s worse at this point: Eli Manning’s deteriorating play or Odell Beckham Jr.’s immature behavior?
It’s a very close call, which tells you just about all that you need to know about the current state of the New York Giants.
The Giants’ season is in ruins. That became evident Thursday night at the Meadowlands. The Philadelphia Eagles got well. The Giants didn’t, as their record dropped to 1-5 with a dreary 34-13 loss to the Eagles.
It’s difficult to be noncompetitive in this season’s NFC East, not to be mistaken for the rugged division of its glory days — or even for last season’s version, which produced a Super Bowl winner in the Eagles.
But the Giants have managed it. They are a mess.
“We didn’t do anything well enough to win,” Coach Pat Shurmur said at his postgame news conference Thursday.
They fell apart last season, going 3-13 on the heels of reaching the NFC playoffs in 2016. Ben McAdoo made an unforced public relations error by benching Manning late in the lost season, ending Manning’s lengthy consecutive games streak and unnecessarily humiliating an all-time franchise great who won two Super Bowls for the team. The Giants undid that mistake, giving the starting job right back to Manning and then performing an organizational housecleaning in which McAdoo was fired as coach and Jerry Reese was dismissed as general manager.
Surely things would be better this season with the new brain trust of Dave Gettleman as the GM and Shurmur as the coach.
Not so much.
The team’s new decision-makers took a major gamble by betting that they could have success in what’s left of Manning’s tenure with the franchise. The Giants could have taken a quarterback — Sam Darnold, Josh Allen or Josh Rosen — with the No. 2 overall selection in the NFL draft. They didn’t. They went with running back Saquon Barkley. The Giants figured that the presence of Barkley and the happiness of Beckham, signed to a new contract before the season to make him the NFL’s highest-paid wide receiver, would change the equation for the 37-year-old Manning.
It hasn’t worked.
Last season, Manning deserved better from the Giants.
This season, it’s rapidly reaching the point at which the Giants deserve better from Manning.
Yes, his offensive line is bad. But by now, it’s clear that Manning’s play is part of the problem. The football simply does not arrive to receivers on time or on target. Manning too often settles for short check-down passes on plays in which he might be able to buy himself some time to deliver a throw down the field. A Fox camera appeared to show Shurmur saying, “throw the ball” on the sideline following one first-half play Thursday night.
Charley Casserly, the former GM of the Washington Redskins and Houston Texans, wrote on Twitter during the first half: “Seems to me Eli was bailing out of there instead of standing in there.”
Barkley is tremendous. He had 130 rushing yards and 99 receiving yards Thursday. He turned one screen pass from Manning into a dazzling 55-yard catch and run. But that doesn’t mean that the Giants necessarily were right to bypass a quarterback with the No. 2 choice.
“You just simply cannot pass up on one of those players,” Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman said on the Fox broadcast Thursday, speculating that Gettleman perhaps did not believe there was a legitimate franchise quarterback available after the Cleveland Browns selected Baker Mayfield with the No. 1 pick.
What do the Giants do now? There is no viable immediate alternative on a roster that includes backup Alex Tanney and rookie third-stringer Kyle Lauletta. Another lofty draft choice could be in the offing next year. But will that quarterback be as promising as Darnold?
The other issue is whether the Giants might be having buyer’s remorse about the Beckham deal. His talent is undeniable. It’s not only the otherworldly catches; he has been consistently productive in the NFL.
But he also has been persistently immature. That continued Thursday night when Beckham was shown on camera head-butting and punching a large fan on the Giants’ sideline.
He left the field with time remaining on the clock in the first half. He reportedly returned to the sideline after the second half had begun. Shurmur said after the game that Beckham went to the locker room to receive an IV.
He is being paid not only to be a great player but also, at this point in his career, to be a team leader and a professional. Passion for the game is fine. But it’s time that Beckham learns how to properly channel it.
Nothing that he said during his ESPN interview last weekend, with Lil Wayne seated at his side, was off base. The Giants’ offensive scheme should be questioned. Manning’s play should be scrutinized. But Beckham shouldn’t necessarily be the one to do it, not by calling out individuals on national TV. The Giants reacted by fining Beckham, Fox reported Thursday.
It’s stunning that it has gotten this bad, this fast, in the new season for the Giants.
And there’s little to no reason to believe that it will get better from here.