The two teams will take a combined record of 3-14 into the not-so-showy showdown. The proud Giants (2-7) are at a low ebb. The little-brother Jets (1-7) seem to be perpetually stuck there.
“I know how important it is for obviously the city of New York, things like that,” Jets running back Le’Veon Bell said at a news conference this week. “So it’s going to be a fun game.”
Little has been fun in 2019 for these two. The Jets took a win-now approach after hiring Adam Gase as their coach when they made big-splash moves in free agency by signing Bell and linebacker C.J. Mosley. They already had Darnold, the would-be franchise quarterback taken third in last year’s draft.
The Giants traded star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in the offseason but did not commit then to a rebuilding project, entering another season with Eli Manning as their starter at quarterback. Maybe Manning could summon one last dose of well-timed quarterbacking excellence in an uneven career highlighted by two Super Bowl triumphs. And even when the Giants sat Manning two games into the season in favor of prized rookie Daniel Jones, there was a temporary boost during which Jones seemed capable of leading the team back toward respectability.
But Jones’s rookie-year magic quickly faded, and there is again room to wonder about the big-picture approach being taken by General Manager Dave Gettleman as he attempts to return the Giants to their customary place among the league’s most stable franchises.
“Dave is a competent guy, and that’s a great place to work,” a front-office executive from another team said. “It just hasn’t worked out to this point.”
These woes are the norm for the Jets, they of the lone Super Bowl appearance — and win — in the 1968 season, of Joe Namath victory-guarantee fame. They last reached the playoffs in 2010 with Rex Ryan as their coach and Mark Sanchez as their second-year quarterback. It’s not supposed to be this way for the Giants, with their four Lombardi Trophies divided between the two secured with Bill Parcells as their coach and the two upsets of the New England Patriots crafted by Manning and former coach Tom Coughlin.
The Giants are a flagship NFL franchise overseen expertly over the years by the Mara and Tisch families; co-owner John Mara is one of the league’s most respected and influential owners. But this will be their seventh non-playoff year out of the eight since the second Super Bowl upending of the Patriots capped the 2011 season. Their approach under Gettleman has not always been clear since he was hired as GM in December 2017.
Gettleman, who was the GM of the Carolina Panthers when they reached the Super Bowl in the 2015 season, seemed to take a win-now approach before last season when he stuck with Manning, signed Beckham to a contract extension and used the No. 2 choice in the 2018 draft on tailback Saquon Barkley rather than on Darnold. But the Giants went 5-11, and Gettleman appeared to reverse course, setting the stage for a rebuild by sending Beckham to Cleveland and using the No. 6 selection on Jones, a Duke product with a Manning-like calm.
The Giants, oddly, began the season with Manning still in place as the starter and then went to Jones after only two games. The Giants won Jones’s first two starts, beginning with a dramatic comeback against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But they have gone 0-5 since, and Jones has become a turnover machine, with eight interceptions and eight lost fumbles for the season. The second-quarter feline delay during Monday night’s 37-18 loss to the Dallas Cowboys seemed appropriately unlucky.
“I feel like if we play the right way, we have the ability to beat anybody we play,” Giants Coach Pat Shurmur said at a midweek news conference. “But when we don’t play well or coach well, then we certainly have the ability to get beat. So it’s up to us to play better.”
The Jets’ season was summed up when the microphone that Darnold was wearing caught him saying, “I’m seeing ghosts” on the sideline during a five-turnover performance in a 33-0 defeat to the Patriots 10 days before Halloween. Gase was hired, after being fired by the Miami Dolphins, to speed Darnold’s development. Instead, Darnold has six touchdown passes, nine interceptions and an unsightly passer rating of 70.5 in a second NFL season that was interrupted by a case of mononucleosis. The Jets are last in the league in passing offense, total offense and scoring offense.
“I understand that it’s not ideal the way everything is going this year,” Bell said. “But I still [am] optimistic.”
Bell, signed after sitting out last season in a contract stare-down with the Pittsburgh Steelers, is averaging a career-low 3.3 yards per carry. Standout safety Jamal Adams was miffed when his name surfaced in trade speculation, necessitating a clear-the-air meeting this week with Gase and General Manager Joe Douglas. It’s all very Jets-like, and the possibility of Gase being a one-and-done coach has become a trendy topic after last weekend’s loss to the previously winless Dolphins.