Giants, Cowboys renew rivalry to kick off 2019

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants open their 2019 season on Sunday in Dallas 252 days after they ended the 2018 season with a loss to the Cowboys. That time frame hasn’t precluded the Giants from being both confident and hopeful they can pick up where they left off offensively.

The Giants lost that game, 36-35, ending a second half of the season in which they had a 4-4 record and averaged 27.4 points a game, despite getting shut out in a Week 15 loss to Tennessee – the only game among the final eight in which the Giants did not score at least 22 points.

That was a marked improvement over their output in the season’s first half, when the Giants were 1-7 and averaged just 18.8 points a game.

Coach Pat Shurmur seemed to still have those contrasting numbers in mind when he was asked this week if he’s excited to see Eli Manning play on Sunday.

“I am, because I’m excited to see a continuation of what was the back half of last season,” Shurmur said. “I’m excited to see that.”

A repeat of that production would excite all of the Giants. But is it realistic to expect that kind of carry over from one season to the next? Manning believes it is, in part because he believes the players’ efficiency and production will continue to grow in their second season in Shurmur’s offense.

“I feel it’s just a comfort level in the offense and a lot of those same guys are part of this offense,” Manning said. “We have a few new faces that should hopefully help us out and get on track early and play at a high level. Nothing is guaranteed from one year to the next year, but I think it’s more in just what we’re doing offensively, the style and kind of finding our identity. Hopefully, we can establish that identity soon.”

To say that would provide a big lift to the Giants’ fortunes is an understatement, because this is a team that has been plagued by poor starts recently. The Giants have lost their first two games in five of the previous six seasons. It’s no coincidence that the season they made the playoffs during that stretch in 2016 was when they won their first two games.

That is the kind of big-picture issue the Giants prefer not to dwell on entering their opener.

Asked if he feels the weight of the Giants’ recent poor starts, Manning said, “We will just worry about this week. … You always want to get off to a good start, that’s always the goal. Right now, we just have to focus on our game plan, on the Cowboys, what they are doing, and we need to go out there a play well.

“I think there is always an excitement for the first game and for the guys we have. I think you get the excitement from the way we have practiced and played in some preseason games and executed. I think we just have to be humble enough to prepare this week and have a great week of practice. Know your opponent and be confident enough to go out there and perform on Sunday.”

Shurmur, who is in his 21st consecutive season as an NFL coach, fourth as a head coach and second with the Giants, was asked if there is a point where he gets a feel for how a season will go.

“I think you play out the games and you get a feel as it’s going along,” he said. “You learn about your team a lot. There have been years when you’ve won the first game and didn’t make it to the playoffs. There have been years when you’ve lost the first game and made it to the playoffs. What’s important is we keep playing. We do everything that we can to win the game we’re playing, and then just keep playing. If you keep playing, keep practicing, and you’re fortunate enough to stay healthy, then your team will develop and push through the year.”

The Giants are confident they will finish this season with a much better record than their 5-11 mark in 2018. Earlier this week, Shurmur declined to put a number on how many victories would represent progress.

“Let’s worry about the Cowboys,” he said. “I’m not trying to avoid that question. The progress is we need to start playing winning football in general.”

Seems like a good place to start.

*The Giants have lost four in a row to Dallas and trail in the all-time series, 66-45-2.

*This will be the fourth time in five years and the fifth time in seven seasons the Giants will open in AT&T Stadium, and the fifth consecutive season the Giants’ first road game will be in Dallas. And it is the sixth time in those seven years seasons they will play in Dallas in the season’s first two weeks. Including a home game in 2012, the Giants will face the Cowboys in their opener for the sixth time in eight seasons. Last year, the Giants lost a Week 2 game in Dallas, 20-13. They were defeated in season openers there in 2013, 2015, and 2017, and won in 2016.

*The Giants are 1-8 in season openers vs. the Cowboys, including 1-6 in Dallas.

*The Giants are 50-39-5 on opening day and in road openers. They are 33-26-5 in season-opening road games.

*The Giants’ .562 winning percentage in road openers is the third-highest in the NFL behind Dallas’ .610 (36-23-0) and Green Bay’s .573 (55-41-2).

*The Giants’ regular-season record in Dallas in 20-36-1, including 5-5 in AT&T Stadium.

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