EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Leave it to Eli Manning to perfectly summarize the empty feeling all the Giants shared today, less than 24 hours after their season-ending defeat.
Back then, no one was sure what to expect of the Giants, who had hired Ben McAdoo as coach after a second consecutive 6-10 season. But the new-look Giants went 11-5 and earned the franchise’s first postseason berth in five years. They believed they could ride the wave all the way to the Super Bowl, but their high hopes evaporated yesterday in a 38-13 NFC Wild Card loss to the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field.
The record this season was certainly superior to those of recent years. But it still left the Giants with a mostly empty feeling today.
“I wish it ended a different way,” defensive end Olivier Vernon said. “You just have to look forward to all we accomplished this year and just build off of that. We have a lot of guys coming back.”
“I think we made some progress,” McAdoo said. “We didn't reach our goal and there's only one team that's happy at the end of the season, and we're not going to be that team this year. We're going to have a bad taste in our mouths here for a little while. And when we come back here in April, and hopefully before then, within the rules, we'll get better and have a chance to evaluate everything and use that for fuel for success for the future.”
Instead of planning for a third meeting with the Dallas Cowboys, the NFC East champions they twice defeated, the Giants today stuffed their belongings into boxes and plastic bags, underwent physicals, and had exit interviews with McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese before heading into the long offseason.
Despite the 25-point final margin, the Giants believe they could have postponed those discussions at least another week. They had numerous opportunities to score points in the first half yesterday. On their second possession, Odell Beckham, Jr. and Sterling Shepard were each unable to secure potential touchdown passes, the second from the Packers’ 8-yard line. They later had a first down at the Green Bay 28-yard line, but settled for another Robbie Gould field goal. On two other possessions, they punted in Packers territory.
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“We missed (opportunities),” running back Rashad Jennings said. “We didn’t execute here and there. First down and 10 turned into first-and-20. Those are hard to overcome. Then we fall short by one yard. You have the what-ifs. What if we didn’t jump offside? What if we didn’t do this or that, and what if we did this? It’s a lot of things. That was the story of the game.”
“This one hurts when you look back and see that we had some chances,” Manning said. “We had a good plan and had good plays called at the right time to take advantage of what they’re doing. We just couldn’t make the throw, catch or block. Just too many, not mistakes, but didn’t make the plays at the right times.”
Perhaps they will next time. The Giants believe that. They have improved their core group of players, and will add to it this offseason. The feeling throughout the organization is that this is a team that will continue to rise.
“(We) talked about making progress, that we have a solid foundation built,” McAdoo said. “We have talented men of integrity in the locker room, which is important. We didn't reach our goal and we all know what the goal is and we need to keep working towards that goal and use this last game as motivation.”
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The players are excited about what lies ahead.
“We have done some really good things this year - 11-5 is the best season that I have ever had in the NFL,” guard Justin Pugh said. “There are some things to be proud of, and there are some guys in here that deserve a lot of praise and have done a lot of good things. Our coaches have been unbelievable. I say it every time I talk to you, this is the most fun I have had playing football. So that is what I am sad about today, but I am going to be happy tomorrow, I will be happy to go talk about these guys and the things that we went through and how much fun we had playing this year.”
“Not many teams got this far,” said All-Pro safety Landon Collins. “We’re a young group with a new coach. Just the opportunity to be there was a blessing. Like every other team, we have to fill in some holes. At the same time, the team that we had this year, we got it that far. We have to continue to push ourselves each and every week. When we come back, we have to continue to push for something.”
We gave Manning the first word. Now we’ll let him wrap it up.
“I think you can’t forget the feeling that we’re having right now and the feeling that we had last night,” he said. “You have to understand that you can’t just think it’s going to happen again and you’re going to make the playoffs again because it’s hard. You have to win close games and you have to catch breaks. A lot of things have to go your way. That comes from the commitment to get better.
“I truly believe that when you have a nucleus of guys that start their training early that they’re going to get better and work hard. Just truly commit and sacrifice for the better of the team. Those are teams that find a way to win games. I thought our guys were committed to getting better last year. That’s how you win close games. We didn’t win in the end, but I don’t think it was a lack of commitment. We have to stay, keep that hunger and commitment and make improvements.”
It should be an interesting offseason.