EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – With the Giants eliminated from postseason consideration after losing to the Tennessee Titans yesterday, Pat Shurmur fielded several “big picture” questions at his news conference today. Does he want Eli Manning back next year? Has he considered shutting down Odell Beckham, Jr. for the rest of the season? Will he reduce Saquon Barkley’s workload in the final two games?
The answers were yes, no and no. And Shurmur’s reasoning for staying the course with Beckham and Barkley is the same as it was in the season’s first 15 weeks.
“The big picture is to win this game,” he said of the Giants’ meeting Sunday in Indianapolis with the Colts, winners of seven of their last eight games. “The big picture is certainly moving forward. Listen, this is a dangerous game at times, but guys are very competitive and they want to go out and play, and I think it’s important that guys that are healthy enough to play, play.”
So Barkley, who has logged 228 rushing attempts, will get plenty more Sunday and at home against Dallas in the season finale.
Beckham hasn’t been able to play in the last two games because of a quad injury. Asked if his top wide receiver might be able to play against the Colts, Shurmur said, “We’re hopeful. He feels better today than he did late last week, so hopefully he’ll work his way back in.”
Shurmur dismissed the notion that the prudent decision would be to keep Beckham sidelined for the final two games.
“No, he’s like every other player,” Shurmur said. “We’re going to try to get him back for this Sunday. He’s a valuable member of our team, and if he’s healthy enough to play, then we’ll get him out there.”
Because he’ll never waver from his goal of winning the next game, Shurmur also surprised no one by announcing that Manning will start in Indianapolis.
“Moving forward, we’re going to do what we have to do to win this game,” he said. “Yes, Eli is going to start this week.
“We’re going to do what we have to do this week and then we’ll go from there. Eli playing quarterback, I think, gives us the best chance to win.”
While Shurmur’s focus is decidedly short-term, those asking the questions took a longer view. They wanted to know about Shurmur’s plans for Manning after these final two games. Does the first-year coach want the 15-year quarterback to return next season?
“I want all our players to be back. I really do,” Shurmur said. “I believe experience matters, I believe that what we’re trying to learn to do - we’ve grown two games better than we were a year ago here (improving from three to five victories). When you start talking about roster-shaping down the road, you need to learn how to win again and the experience of playing through adversity. I learned some more about a lot of players yesterday, when we’re playing through a game that felt a little bit like some of the games earlier in the season. You continue to learn about people.”
Shurmur was asked if he “still believes” his preseason comment that Eli had years remaining in his career.
“Yes, I do,” he said.
Manning completed 21 of 44 passes for 229 yards in a driving rainstorm. He also had two costly turnovers, throwing an interception and losing a fumble. But neither Manning nor the offense’s scoreless performance in a 17-0 loss yesterday caused Shurmur to waver from his assertion.
“Because I’ve seen him play good football,” Shurmur said. “And I’ve seen how when we have a coordinated effort of protecting him, running the football effectively, and being able to run the ball throughout the game, it helps us. We threw the ball more than I would have liked to in the game that was really one score, but seven of those throws were in the two-minute before the half, and then there were 15 in the fourth quarter when we were down by 17. That skews the numbers. The important thing about yesterday in our coordinated effort was we didn’t get enough out of the runs when we chose to run the ball. We had a couple of situations where we ran the ball and got penalties and got knocked back and knocked off schedule. That’s where that coordinated effort comes in.”
Manning appreciates Shurmur’s support.
“Coach has had my back all year,” Manning said. “He’s been great. He believes in me. That makes your job easier, when the coach believes in you. We know we can play better. So, it’s a start.”
Manning said he is as certain he can still do the job as he’s always been.
“I know I can play, I can make the throws,” he said. “Yesterday, I made some good throws. It still feels like I can run around and make plays, and do a lot of good things. When there was a stretch when we were playing good football, and we just got to get back to it.”
Despite what’s being said now, nothing is chiseled in stone. When Shurmur and general manager Dave Gettleman meet after the season, their discussions will certainly result in some restructuring of the roster. But that is for another day.
“I think what’s important is, things you decide in the offseason are things you decide,” Shurmur said. “Right now, we’ve got two games left and we’re going to do what we can to put a plan together to beat Indianapolis. Again, we stay in the moment on that. After every game, really after every practice, we evaluate players’ performances at all positions. Then in the offseason, we all know that there’s decisions that get made that shape the roster; but right now, I’m going to stay right in the moment and get ready to play Indy.”
*Three Giants were injured yesterday: center Spencer Pulley (calf), wide receiver Russell Shepard (sprained ankle), and defensive back Antonio Hamilton (quad).
“It’s really too early to tell (if any or all of them will return),” Shurmur said. “Those are all injuries you can come back from in a week or two, so we’ll just have to see.”