If it is how you start, the Giants are finished.
This can stand as the credo for a franchise mired in all sorts of football folly for nearly a decade. Opening Day becomes Opening Nay, a fresh and bright new season instantly morphed into stale and dull and a September to forget ensues.
These Giants, the 2021 edition, are not resigned to history, though many of them still on the scene recall how a Week 1 loss to the Steelers in head coach Joe Judge’s debut last year devolved into 0-2 and so on and so on, until five games were played and no victories were secured.
The Giants have lost four consecutive season openers and eight of the past nine. They were 0-2 after two games in seven of the past eight years.
“So the first thing I’d say is there’s not a game in history that’s relevant or a season in history that’s relevant to what’s going to happen this year,’’ Judge said. “Every game is independent. Every year’s a new team.’’
This is much more of a burden for fans, the front office (led by general manager Dave Gettleman) and ownership to take into Sunday’s game against the Broncos at MetLife Stadium. All 24-year-old quarterback Daniel Jones knows is 0-2 as a rookie backup (not for long) in 2019 and 0-5 in 2020. Andrew Thomas, the left tackle entrusted with keeping Jones upright, is entering his second season. Receiver Kadarius Toney, the rookie first-round pick, was in college at Florida a year ago. Tight end Kyle Rudolph was with the Vikings and receiver Kenny Golladay was with the Lions.
Saquon Barkley, returning from knee surgery that cost him the final 14 games of the 2020 season, is 0-3 in three season openers. Receiver Sterling Shepard, the longest-tenured Giants player (at the not-so-old age of 28), went 2-0 as a rookie playing for Ben McAdoo, but has not won an opener since. Shepard is the lone roster survivor to have made it to the playoffs with the Giants.
“I’m the only one on the team?’’ Shepard said. “Yeah, I think that’s pretty accurate.’’
He broke into a laugh after that, and chuckled again when he was asked if this means he is old or if it means it is time for the franchise to turn things around.
“A little bit of both,’’ Shepard said. “I’m looking forward to this season and getting back to that spot. That’s what we’re all working for, that’s why we come to work, so we need to change that for sure.’’
This opener cannot change what has already transpired, but it can chart a new direction for an organization that needs a course correction. To fix an offense that averaged just 17.5 points a game in 2020, much capital (financial and draft picks) was allocated to procure Golladay, Toney and Rudolph. Gettleman is rolling the dice with a young offensive line and praying Barkley’s knee holds up and he returns to his superstar form.
The defense carried the team to six wins last season and returns, largely intact — perhaps fueled with some pass rush punch with rookie Azeez Ojulari and the return from injury of Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines. The already strong secondary was bolstered with the signing of cornerback Adoree’ Jackson. There is faith that Judge, 39, is the right man to bring this all together.
All this collection of Giants can do on this day is win one game to go 1-0, which would be a sign of immense progress. Four days later, they get to try all over again at Washington in a Week 2 Thursday night game coming at them fast and furious.
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