EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants finished the 2018 season in the NFC East cellar with only five victories, but their 369 points were more than any of their three division rivals.
"I almost fell down when they told me we scored more points than anybody else in the division, which kind of blew my mind," general manager Dave Gettleman said today.
The news that the Giants also allowed a division-high 412 points – 43 points more than No. 2 Washington – did not exactly shock Gettleman.
"That's why you're 5-11," Gettleman said.
Gettleman discussed many issues at his postseason news conference, including the high number of close games the Giants played. Twelve of their 16 contests were decided by seven points or less, tying them with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh for the NFL high. But they lost eight of those games, the most in the league. The Giants led in the fourth quarter in four of those defeats, including each of their last two games, which ended with one-point losses at Indianapolis (28-27) and to Dallas (36-35).
"We've got to continue to improve," Gettleman said. "It's not easy to win games when you don't have playmakers. We need to improve the defense, guys. Just like I looked you right in the eye last year and told you we've got to fix this O-line, we've got to get better on the defensive side."
Despite the record and the roster restructuring needed to return the Giants to playoff contention, Gettleman believes the franchise built a solid base in his first year on the job. Now he's looking to add more productive veteran players, have another good draft, and watch the team grow and improve in Pat Shurmur's second season as head coach.
"I feel good because, number one, winning in the NFL is not easy," he said. "It's hard. Winning a game in the NFL is hard. If anybody tells you any different, they've never played, they don't know the game. It's very difficult. To go 1-7 for the first half of the year and to lose a number of close games - I think we tied for the league lead with 12 games decided by a touchdown or less, and it would've been 13 if the Saints didn't score that late touchdown. To lose games like that, be 1-7 and to have the types of practices we were having where there was focus, there was energy, things were getting accomplished and the proof was in the pudding by what we did in the last eight games (when the Giants were 4-4). That's what encourages me, that's why I think the foundation is right. You didn't have any of the crap going on in the locker room that happened last year. There is nobody in this room that can argue with me on one point: this team did not quit. It was competitive as hell. That's the start.
"We're headed in the right direction, I really believe that. We've had a year, we've done a lot of different types of things. Obviously, we've done a pretty extensive overhaul with the roster. We consistently talked about culture and building a winning culture. Again, it's a team that had to learn how to win again. So I feel really good about the foundation that we've started to lay. I'm not happy with 5-11, nobody is, but I feel good about where we're headed. There's eight franchises right now looking for head coaches and the common theme coming out of them was they needed to get in the right direction. Well, I feel very strongly and very good about it – and it's easy for me to say it to you people that we are headed in the right direction."
Gettleman's first draft delivered wondrous running back Saquon Barkley, plus left guard Will Hernandez, who started every game; defensive contributors Lorenzo Carter, B.J. Hill and RJ McIntosh; plus quarterback Kyle Lauletta. He also brought in veterans Nate Solder, Alec Ogletree, Michael Thomas, Kareem Martin, Patrick Omameh, Jonathan Stewart, Riley Dixon and Curtis Riley. Most of them helped the team considerably. Some did not, proving yet again that player acquisition is an inexact science.
But Gettleman stands by each decision.
"By the end of the year, we had one of the youngest teams in the league," he said. "Listen, nobody likes losing. Nobody. Anybody in here like losing, you want to raise your hands? Nobody likes to lose. So what you have to do when you come in is you evaluate what you have and you say to yourself, remember, I've told you guys – I'm on that tight rope, and me in a tutu on a tightrope ain't pretty. It's the tight rope of you want to win now, you want to get those wins now, because you've got a coaching staff whose fannies are on the line every Sunday, and you want to set the team up, the franchise up, for sustained success. We sat back, we made the decisions we made last year, and here we are. There's some good stuff and there's some stuff we've got to fix."
Gettleman said he will approach this offseason differently than his first.
"We have different issues," he said. "One of the biggest issues we had last year that we had to fix was what? The locker room. And both Jonathan Stewart and Patrick Omameh are true professionals, and they were brought here for a specific purpose, they were brought here for other reasons than their play. Just understand that. We feel like we've turned that corner, especially with this rookie class. Saquon is unique. I stood up here and you watched me drool all over myself in the pre-draft. It was ugly, wasn't it? Things happen. I should've worn a bib from Joe's Stone Crab. My point is, he's unique and he's special. So is Will Hernandez, and B.J. and Lorenzo, and RJ is still growing up physically. Kyle is in a different spot because of the quarterback position. But this is all part of the process. We'll continue to vet guys out, we're only going to bring quality people in here that hate to lose. That will stay the same. Obviously, we're different than we were 12 months ago, we're in a different place, so we'll approach things somewhat differently."
Gettleman' views on at least one important player haven't changed: wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., who missed the last four games with a quad injury.
"We didn't sign him to trade him, if that's what you're asking me," Gettleman said. "The bottom line is you want him on the field. I have this crazy idea that he's a great player, so let's get him on the field. Unfortunately, he got the leg whip and those calves (quads) can be funny things, they really can. The offense did what it did with him and it did what it did without him."
Given what happened during the season and what he said today, what is Gettleman's message to Giants fans, who have endured five losing seasons in six years?
"The message is what I've said to you before: we're going in the right direction," Gettleman said. "We had a lot of competitive games and we're getting better, and we're going to continue to fix this."