Funeral services for the playoff hopes and dreams of the New York Giants will be held Sunday evening, September 24, in Philadelphia.
That's where the Giants, with their slapstick offensive line and Odell Will Save Us self-improvement plan, will be defeated by their division-rival Eagles and fall to 0-3, 0-2 in the NFC East. The likely causes of death: the unrelenting Eagles pass rush and gross coaching and organizational negligence.
Services will be canceled if the Giants show a pulse. But after two weeks of watching Eli Manning getting clobbered while Ben McAdoo scratches his head for solutions, life signs are flickering. The merciful thing to do may be to put this failed last-ditch Super Bowl experiment out of its misery.
Waiting for Odell
Eli Manning's throw to the front of the end zone was a little behind Odell Beckham Jr. But the superstar receiver adjusted quickly and flung out his left hand. The ball obediently, magnetically stuck to OBJ's palm as he brought it down to his hip for a nonchalant touchdown.
It sounds like the 4th-and-goal touchdown play that might have been on Monday night, if not for that now-infamous delay-of-game penalty. But this is no hallucination or fantasy. It happened at the start of last Friday's practice.
Beckham looked far from game-ready during that Friday session, taking scant reps against "air" and spending most of the brief open session on a side field with trainers. Still, it was a very OBJ-like moment, and a hopeful sign of better times ahead.
The theme of the week between the season-opening pratfall against the Cowboys and Monday night's double-down on doubt and discouragement was that Beckham's return would miraculously cure the Giants. Opponents would align their safeties 25 yards deep in terror, passing lanes would open everywhere, and Manning would pick apart the Lions before their pass-rushers could get through the E-ZPass lanes between offensive linemen.
"There's no hiding the fact that he's a playmaker, our best player," Manning said of Beckham last week. "It's pretty obvious. I think everybody knows that. It's different when he's on the field."
"But whether he's on there or not, we gotta play better than we did. And we can. And we will."
Beckham was there. Sort of. He played 34 of 56 snaps, mostly as an underneath threat or a decoy, catching four passes for 36 yards, with one drop. "I felt like a little bit of myself, just still not there," Beckham acknowledged after the Lions loss. "Came out and do what I can."
The Giants couldn't and didn't play better with Beckham in a limited role. And the Lions weren't cowed by his presence. They often double-covered him deep, but lots of receivers get double-covered deep. After two games, defenses have learned that they can hammer Manning by rushing just four defenders, stuff the run just by staying disciplined and cover $11 million acquisition Brandon Marshall (two catches for 27 yards on nine targets in two games, and one unconscionable drop) with any competent cornerback. The free safety is freely available to contain even a healthy Beckham.
"It's our job to keep him from being a factor—well, he's going to be a factor, but keep him from being a game-changing factor," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said of Beckham on Tuesday. The Eagles know the difference between factor and game-changing factor when it comes to Beckham. Beckham caught 11 passes for 150 yards against the Eagles in their second meeting last year, but Schwartz's defense forced three interceptions to spark a 24-19 Eagles victory.
That's the fear the Giants now face: that Beckham can go ham and their offense could still be ineffective because of sacks, turnovers and an afterthought running game.
The Giants have issues that won't be solved by waiting for a savior. Or, for that matter, by pointing to the most convenient scapegoat.
The Urgency Emergency
Ereck Flowers doesn't talk much. What is there for him to say? He was labeled the Achilles' heel of the Giants offense long before the whole offense began to look like one big heel. He's left stranded on an island, week after week, blocking pass-rushers who clearly outclass him. It's not a predicament you can talk your way out of.
When asked what he needed to improve upon after the Cowboys loss, Flowers said, "Overall, everything."
"There's positives in everything," he added. "And negatives. I'm trying to fix the negatives."
So, what were those positives?
"Does it really matter?" Flowers said. "We didn't get what we wanted. Next week we've gotta go out there and get what we want."
The only positive on Monday night was that Ziggy Ansah didn't pick Flowers up like a baseball bat and beat Manning over the head with him. Flowers surrendered three sacks to Ansah, making all the usual Flowers mistakes in the process.
While Flowers floundered, right tackle Bobby Hart, who spent last week hobbling around the locker room on a well-wrapped ankle after getting shoved around by the Cowboys, limped off the field after allowing a sack in the opening series. The Giants juggled Jordan Pugh over to right tackle and inserted Brett Jones to guard. Pugh played well, but McAdoo once again had two shaky tackles in to protect in an offense that isn't designed for max protection.
"When they're playing Cover 2 and you give help to both sides, you have three guys running routes and you have seven in coverage," McAdoo said. "That makes it a challenge." Translation: If you need seven guys to block four guys, your offense stinks.
"We know we can play better," said rookie backup lineman Chad Wheeler, one of the team's possible last-ditch solutions to the Flowers-Hart dilemma. "That wasn't us. That's not our identity."
Actually, that's precisely the Giants' identity. Flowers and Hart spent last season blundering about as well. The Giants went 10-6 despite their line, not because of it, yet the organization did little to address its most critical weakness.
The biggest problem with the Giants offensive line right now isn't just that Flowers is hapless, Hart is hobbled (and isn't exactly Orlando Pace when healthy) or that Pugh cannot play three positions at once. It's that the Giants left themselves with no solutions. The depth chart is barren of alternatives: Wheeler is a long-range project, practice-squad rookie Adam Bisnowaty looked like Flowers Lite in the preseason, and free agent D.J. Fluker hasn't asserted himself.
The Giants want to win by blasting Beckham and the others through the roof of the defense. But if the line cannot protect Manning until Beckham gets healthy and gets deep, there is no Plan B.
"Everybody is trying to crucify [the offensive line]," running back Orleans Darkwa said last week. "I don't get that. We're a team. We win as a team and we lose as a team."
So far, all we've seen is the losing. And if it keeps up, Flowers won't be the only one with a cross to bear.
McAdoo is one of those coaches who repeats a terse one-line answer over and over when faced with questions he doesn't care to address.
Early last week, McAdoo answered three straight Beckham practice status questions with variations on "He was limited." When asked about Beckham's Monday night cameos, McAdoo kept repeating that Beckham was "fit to play in a limited role." When asked what changes might be in store—an offensive line shakeup, running back juggling, relinquishing play-calling duties—McAdoo became a skipping record of "we'll consider everything."
The no-comment comment is gruffly endearing when Bill Belichick does it. But Belichick's credibility makes him sound like the head of the CIA when he's stonewalling. After two pathetic losses, McAdoo sounds like the head of mall security trying to cover up a Cinnabon burglary.
Also, Belichick never, ever lifts the cone of silence to point a finger at a player.
"Sloppy quarterback play," McAdoo said of the delay-of-game penalty that ruined a 4th-and-short touchdown opportunity. "Quarterback and center need to be on the same page there."
Manning and center Weston Richburg played their 49th regular-season game together on Monday night; they know what page they are on. And calling timeouts are one of a head coach's most basic game-day responsibilities. But McAdoo passed the buck. "We have a veteran quarterback who has played a lot of football," he said, underlining his point. "I expect us to get the ball snapped."
McAdoo was savaged (rightfully) this week on the internet for taking the never question me/question my sloppy quarterback route. But the deeper question is whether McAdoo is a coach who doesn't feel like offering answers (like Belichick) or someone who just doesn't have any.
McAdoo the game-planner isolates Flowers, ignores Marshall, randomizes his running back rotation and lacks a plan for a limited Beckham. McAdoo the play-caller specializes in two-yard passes on 4th-and-3. McAdoo the game manager makes Andy Reid look like a timeout ninja.
McAdoo was supposed to be a breath of fresh air after years of stuffy, predictable Tom Coughlin coaching. But he is proving to be even more hidebound than Coughlin, yet far less dedicated to sweating the details.
Manning accepted blame for the penalty like a good soldier. But it's easy to wonder how Manning, his mercurial receivers and other veterans (including a defense that has been outstanding through two games) will stay with the program when McAdoo is calling inside zone runs down by 14 points in the fourth quarter and calling out players in the postgame.
McAdoo said on Tuesday's conference call with reporters that he may be forced to resort to "a little bit more drastic" measures this week. That may mean turning over play-calling to coordinator Mike Sullivan. The Giants may be better off if McAdoo's game-day role is more limited.
After just two games, drastic measures may be the only measures left.
How You Finish
The Giants mantra last week was, "It's not how you start; it's how you finish." Manning invoked it during his press conference. Rookies recited it when talking about the team's mentality. It was the team's talking point for the week, an upbeat cliche to cling to after getting pushed around in the opener.
The words have resonance for the organization. The 2007 Super Bowl team started by getting clobbered by the Cowboys and Packers in its first two games but finished with one of the greatest upsets in NFL history. Those heroes of 10 years ago were at MetLife Stadium for a ceremony on Monday night.
"There was a team that was honored at halftime today that started 0-2 and gave up like 80 points, I think it was, in their first two games," Pugh said after Monday night's loss. "Now it's the offense that's got to pick up our end of the bargain."
But the 2017 Giants weren't built to be slow-cooking stealth contenders. They're a win-now team, explicitly constructed at great expense to take another Super Bowl before Manning retires.
Yes, the Giants could beat the Eagles on Sunday, probably in one of the NFL's newly-fashionable low-scoring sack fests. Yes, Beckham will again strut across the end zone this year. But the Giants' 0-2 start has already maneuvered them behind the playoff-tiebreaker eight ball, even if they somehow solve the puzzles of protecting Manning from his own line, running the ball effectively and finding Brandon Marshall.
It does matter how you start, when you start by digging a hole deep enough to bury an entire era.
Manning broke from the sunny-side-of-life boilerplate when asked, after the Cowboys game, if things couldn't get any worse. "It can always get worse, so I won't say that," he replied, drawing a few laughs. "But it can get a lot better."
It got better in 2007. But right now, it's getting worse. And if it doesn't stop, the Giants are finished.
Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. He is also a co-author of Football Outsiders Almanac and teaches a football analytics course for Sports Management Worldwide. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier.