EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The 2018 Giants had perhaps the most fittingly frustrating end to a season than any of the 94 teams the franchise has fielded since 1925. In losing to Indianapolis (28-27) and Dallas (36-35), the Giants became the first team in NFL history to lose each of their last two games by a single point.
Last year, the 5-11 Giants were no strangers to close games. Twelve of their 16 games were decided by seven or fewer points, tying them with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh for the most in the NFL. The record of 13 games decided by seven points or less is shared by six teams.
Unfortunately for the Giants, staying close too often didn't lead to a happy ending. They were 4-8 in games decided by seven or fewer points. The eight losses in such games were an NFL high. The Giants held a fourth-quarter lead in four of those games. They were 2-3 in games decided by three points or less.
Today, the 2019 Giants gathered for the first time with the opening of the offseason conditioning program. And in his address to the players, coach Pat Shurmur attacked the late-game shortcomings head on.
"I talked to the team about finishing," he said on a conference call with the media. "I felt that we did some things throughout the games that were good. We just have to do a better job of finishing."
They can't do that until September. But everyone agrees they are starting from a better place than they did a year ago, simply because of familiarity. This is Shurmur's second year as head coach. He knows the players and their capabilities. They know him and are accustomed to his system and coaching style. Everyone can pick up where they left off, instead of engaging in a getting-to-know-you phase.
"Well, we certainly know the players much better," Shurmur said. "By playing a season, we know the areas we need to improve. … The schemes and the systems, things we like to do schematically, are more ready to go for the players. They can watch themselves on the cut-ups. Anything you do on the second time around, you will be smoother. The idea is that you get off to a better start starting next season."
"Going into that second year, you have an advantage because you know what the offense is a little bit and what the coaches like," quarterback Eli Manning said. "Things you want to improve on, certain plays and concepts in the offense that you have some time to work on. I think it is just a mindset to work on the things that you need to improve on to help the team. Keep doing the things that you were successful with."
The Giants report back to the Quest Diagnostics Training Center
Shurmur said it is a "huge advantage" to know the strengths and weaknesses of his players.
"To be able to know what the players can do, we have a lot of really good players," he said. "A lot of players that were young last year had an opportunity to play more than they typically would. You get a chance to watch them and see their development, you can project and see the improvement they are going to make this year. It really helps, also, if you have not worked with a player, I think back to the offensive line and how we had it structured last year. We made changes to it. Having worked with players, seeing their strengths and their weaknesses, it helps you more even as we get ready for the draft."
*Three players who started a total of 39 games in the secondary – cornerback B.W. Webb and safeties Landon Collins and Curtis Riley – are no longer with the team.
"We have made a lot of changes, especially bringing in Jabrill (Peppers) and Antoine Bethea," Shurmur said. "But we still have Michael Thomas, Kenny Ladler is still here, Kamrin Moore and so is Sean Chandler. There are some guys that were here a year ago. Michael Thomas is a special teams captain and he probably played more safety a year ago than we anticipated, so he has some experience. Kenny is an experienced player and then we have the young players Moore and Chandler, they have done some good things for us. At safety, we have brought in two guys that we anticipate being starters for us, Jabrill and Antoine. They are bright guys and they will get going here quickly. At corner, we have Jackrabbit (Janoris Jenkins, who started every game), who looked good today, and I am anticipating he will have a great offseason. Sam Beal is here and we signed Michael Hunter. Then we got Antonio Hamilton, Tony Lippett and Henre' Toliver, along with Grant Haley. It is a good group. A lot of young players that have a lot of experience. We just have to see how it comes together so we can determine who our three corners will be in the starting rotation and then really our two starting safeties and the primary backup."
*Shurmur said he expects to see continued improvement from fourth-year wide receiver Sterling Shepard, who signed a four-year contract extension last week.
"He still is a young player," Shurmur said. "I saw some things from him last year that were improvements. He is very durable, very sturdy. He is good in all phases of the game. He blocks well, catches the ball well and is very competitive. In all aspects of playing receiver, you have to continue to improve and ascend. We really like the football player in him, too. The competitive nature and the durability. All the things that he brings to a receiving corps. I am not saying that in comparison to anyone, that is just what we have appreciated about him."
*For the first time in his 16-year career, Manning will play in the final year of a contract. Shurmur is unconcerned.
"I don't feel the need to talk to him about his contract," Shurmur said. "Eli does a great job of staying in the moment. He was here today and we got going. He is excited to get into this, the second year of our system and build on what we did the last half of the season. Eli is really terrific at staying in the moment. Right now, it is offseason training. Just trying to get comfortable with his receivers and try and master his decisions. I think that is where he is at. I don't feel the need to talk about that with him."
*The Giants announced they re-signed wide receiver Russell Shepard, who had been a free agent. Last season, his first with the Giants, Shepard played in 12 games and caught 10 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns, including a career-long 49-yarder from Odell Beckham, Jr. in an overtime victory against Chicago.
Shepard is entering is seventh NFL season. He previously played four seasons for Tampa Bay and one with Carolina. Shepard's career totals include 57 receptions for 822 yards and six touchdowns.
The Giants are back at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center to begin offseason workouts