EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – When the great John Madden passed away last week, Joe Judge noted the Pro Football Hall of Famer "talked about the importance of every game and every opportunity in the National Football League," The Giants' coach also said, "I hear people say all the time, 'Meaningless games.' What's a meaningless game?"
The 4-12 Giants will finish fourth in the NFC East no matter the outcome. Washington is 6-10 and will be the division's third-place team. The Giants have lost five consecutive games, Washington four in a row. Since Dec. 12, they are a combined 0-6 against Dallas and Philadelphia, the NFC East's playoff-bound teams.
Other than exiting the season with a long-awaited victory and positioning in the NFL Draft, little is at stake. But to Judge, it is no less important than the season opener.
"I expect to see the effort from the opening kickoff to the final whistle from our team," Judge said. "That's how we play around here . . . These guys have gone through a lot of adversity this year. There have been a lot of times that they could have tapped out, but this team has emptied the tank every week in preparation. They emptied the tank for each other and for the fans, to represent them every time they take the field."
The players said they will do exactly that. Despite their record, they insist they have not checked out on the season and are eager to end the season with their first victory since beating Philadelphia on Nov. 28.
"We get paid to go out there and play the sport that we love," running back Saquon Barkley said. "That's the mindset that we've got to have to be professionals, to go out there knowing that we only have one more opportunity left as a team, try to go out there and finish strong with a win just so we can for ourselves."
Defensive lineman Leonard Williams has not played on a winning team since the Jets were 10-6 in his rookie season in 2015.
"I've definitely been on teams before in general or I've been around guys in general, especially older vets, who sometimes tap out when things start to get hard," Williams said. "We pretty much know we're not going to the playoffs now and a lot of people would be saying we're playing for nothing at this point, whereas these guys are still breaking down the huddle after practice and saying, 'We've got one more opportunity.' That's what I love about this team is we see everything as an opportunity, and we want to take advantage of every opportunity we get."
The Giants-Washington game is one of just two Week 18 contests that includes neither a playoff team nor postseason stakes (joining Chicago-Minnesota). But like any game, this one has several intriguing subplots.
Jake Fromm will make his second start in his third NFL appearance, hoping to acquit himself much more favorably than he did two weeks ago in Philadelphia. He completed six of 17 passes for 25 yards before he was removed in favor of Mike Glennon – who is sidelined after hurting his wrist last week in Chicago.
"The only pressure I feel is going to be pressure on I put on myself to go out and perform," Fromm said. "Obviously, I want to go out and play the best I can for me, but for my family, my teammates in the locker room and for this organization. I'm going to go out and I'm going to give it all I can. Trust me, I want to win more than anybody does."
Barkley, who ran for a season-high 102 yards vs. the Bears, can rush for more than 100 yards in consecutive games for the first time since Dec. 15-22, 2019. That would be a positive conclusion to his post-knee surgery season, in which he missed four-plus games with an ankle injury and did not exceed 75 yards on the ground until Week 17.
"My mind is just going out there, producing, continuing to play the sport that I love," Barkley said. "When you have an ankle injury like I said previously, it's something that's just going to nag. I had probably one of my better games in recent time last week and it wasn't like the ankle just went away. It was something that I was able to get a flow in the game. O-line did an amazing job opening holes and I was able to get back in a rhythm."
Kenny Golladay, the most publicized of the Giants' 2021 free agents, leads the team with 499 yards on 34 catches but is still looking for his first touchdown of the season.
"I would just say just not good enough on my part," Golladay said. "Not saying I was playing terrible or anything, but I expect more. Yeah, just not good enough."
Linebacker Lorenzo Carter can continue his strong finish by becoming the first Giants player with a sack in four consecutive games since Olivier Vernon had at least one in five straight games in 2016.
"I'm going to start calling him Mr. Carter," defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said. "Mr. Carter showed up. Who knows the exact reason? I know he works hard; he works really hard during the week and I'm happy for him that it's starting to come together, having some success. He's playing pretty well, he's doing a good job in the run setting the edge, being able to transition especially on early downs getting some pass rush and stuff."
Another linebacker Azeez Ojulari, has a team-high 8.0 sacks and can become the first rookie to lead the team since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor didn't lead the team when he was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year in 1981. He had 9.5 sacks, which trailed team leader George Martin's 11.0.
The Giants, however, are not focused on individual accolades. They want to enjoy gathering in their locker room as winners one last time.
"We've got to take care of business this week," Barkley said. "That's what's the most important thing is right now, finishing off on a high note. Only one more opportunity with this group of men in this building, so finish off on a high note."
"We've had great energy at practice," Judge said. "We're going to go out there and embrace this opportunity, not look back and say we wish we had done it differently."
*Washington defeated the Giants on Sept. 16, 30-29, when Dustin Hopkins kicked a second-chance 43-yard field goal as time expired. Hopkins also kicked three field goals against the Giants for the Los Angeles Chargers on Dec. 12. If Washington wins, it will sweep the season series with the Giants for the first time since 2011.
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