EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** No NFL regular-season game is a must-win for any team unless a loss will eliminate it from the playoffs. So the Giants' season will continue for 14 more games, no matter what hboys in Dallas last Sunday. Defensive lineappens Sunday in their MetLife Stadium opener against the Atlanta Falcons.
But let's face it, the Giants still need a win. They're 0-1 after an unfortunate series of late-game events saddled them with a 27-26 loss to the Cowman Cullen Jenkins, a 12-year veteran, called it the most difficult defeat of his career. And his was not a singular opinion in the Giants' locker room.
Jenkins and the team's other veterans know that disappointment and galling losses are unwanted companions that can surface at any time in the NFL. But they also realize it's just one game. And a victory Sunday will brighten everyone's outlook.
The Giants had no trouble this week forgetting about the Dallas defeat and pouring their energy and effort into their Atlanta preparation.
"I think you play in this league long enough to know that's what you have to do," quarterback Eli Manning said. "There are going to be good games, bad games, but it's all about moving on to the next one. You have to learn from every game and you have to get ready. I (feel) like we have a good game plan, going against a team that's good; they played well on Monday night and got a big win (vs. Philadelphia). They'll be coming in fired up and we have to play better and find a way to win."
Manning is composed in any situation, and he's certainly not going to panic after one loss, even one as disheartening as that suffered in Dallas. He could point out that the Giants lost their opener in both 2007 and 2011, seasons that ended with Manning-led Super Bowl victories.
A more recent example some players have cited is the success of the 2014 New England Patriots, who fell to 2-2 after getting hammered last Sept. 29 in Kansas City, 41-14. Pundits in print, on the internet and in broadcast studios predicted the defeat signaled the end of New England's reign as an NFL power, and perhaps Tom Brady's as an elite quarterback.
Uh, not quite. The Patriots won 13 of their next 15 games, including a victory over Seattle in Super Bowl XXIX. The moral: one game does not a season make.
"It's a long season," defensive end Robert Ayers said. "To a lot of people, the opening game is the indication of how things are going to be. So if you lose, people think, 'Oh, this is how it's going to be.' If you win, then people say, 'Oh, such and such is the favorite.' People like to jump to conclusions, but it's a long season; it's 16 games and anybody can turn it around. Teams that start off good can finish bad. You look at the Patriots last year. My rookie year in Denver (2009), we started 6-0, finished 8-8 and didn't make the playoffs. People were talking about us like we were the best thing on earth, but we didn't finish the season strong and injuries hit, and it went downhill. I've seen both sides before."
Running back Shane Vereen played for New England last season, so he is well aware how a team can prosper after absorbing a tough loss.
"There's definitely been a lot of motivation," Vereen said. "Me personally, I can't wait to get back out there and get another game under the belt. And get back to doing things we want to do them, and get the taste of defeat out of our mouths."
Vereen was asked if the Giants feel pressure to avoid a 0-2 start.
"It's still so early in the season," he said. "I don't think there's really much pressure. I think more or less, we just want to be able to play the way we're capable of playing."
Offensively, the Giants are capable of more than they showed last week, when they gained 289 yards, held the ball for just 22:50 and scored their lone offensive touchdown after defensive takeaway put the ball at the Dallas 1-yard line.
"We had some opportunities," offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo said. "We had some accuracy things that we can improve on. In the run game, we kind of got better as the game went on. But we need to start that, we need to start running the ball well. We don't have to warmup in a game. We need to start with our hair on fire and be productive from the beginning. Dallas controlled the ball too much for my liking. We want the football, we want to control the ball, we want to be balanced. We don't want to be standing there watching so when we get our hands on the ball, the best thing for us to do is to control that thing."
The Giants' defense must contend with a high-scoring Atlanta offense that features quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White.
But perhaps most important, the Giants must prove what they said all week, that what happened in Dallas will not restrain them going forward.
"It's very important to try and get back on the winning side," cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. "It's a home opener, you always want to win your home games. But just to get that feeling back of winning and getting back on the right path, and going in the right direction."
So does that make it a must-win?
"I would say every game is a must-win game," cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "We were close last week, and our job is just to get a one in that wins column. And (secondary/safeties) coach (David) Merritt always says, 'We're always trying to go 1-0 every week.' That's our plan this week."
"We just have to keep things in perspective and understand it's a long season," Ayers said. "Continue to grind, continue to get better, continue to try to execute. It's definitely a long road, and I'm excited about it."