Saquon Barkley (284366)
Credit: Bill Moore photo

The Giants’ final game of the 2018-19 NFL season set the stage for their 2019-20 season opener this Sunday versus the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The venue for last December’s game was MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey and encapsulated what was a frustrating 5-11 campaign for the Giants.

Twice they gave up leads in the last 10 minutes of the fourth quarter, ultimately losing to the playoff bound Cowboys 36-35. The game marked a recurring theme for the Giants as it was the fifth time they had relinquished a lead in their final eight games. Furthermore, eight of their 11 defeats were by seven points or less, the last two to the Indianapolis Colts (28-27) and Cowboys respectively were by a total of two points.

When the Giants meet up again with the Cowboys, the expectations each team holds for themselves in winning the NFC East division title and then playing in Super Bowl LIV (54) at Hard Rock, Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida in February, may be similar but the odds of achieving their goals vastly different. The Cowboys enter the 2019 season as legitimate Super Bowl contenders while the Giants, who had just eight wins combined in 2017 and 2018, aren’t even considered a playoff caliber squad by most football pundits.

The predictions and perspective of the Giants by those beyond the confines of the organization won’t influence the team’s second year head coach Pat Shurmur’s view of their prospects. Like most coaches, he’s taking a short-term approach as they move closer to Sunday’s match up with the Cowboys.

“We are going to do what we can to go out and win every game we play,” said Shurmur Sunday at the Giants practice facility. “I would encourage you to ask me each week. My expectation is that we go out and put an effort on the field to beat Dallas and then next week you can ask me again.

“Two things, No. 1: we don’t really listen to the talk outside,” Shurmur maintained. “We feel like we are a better team than we were a year ago, we just have to go out and perform. We know we are at the stage of our year where winning football games is what it’s all about and so that’s where we’re at.”

Shurmur’s latter point rings true. The Giants, like all of the league’s 32 teams, will be ultimately and definitively measured by wins and losses. There were no moral victories nor plaudits for the Giants losing so many close games last season. Just the opposite. The defense was justifiably criticized for it’s inability to keep the opposing offenses out of the end zone at crucial moments. The offense was blistered for it’s inconsistency. And the coaching staff routinely chided for their dubious in-game decisions.

Shurmur and the Giants can stem some of the cynicism of fans and media by getting off to a winning start against the Cowboys. They will be led by 38-year-old quarterback Eli Manning, who is entering his 16th and likely last season with the franchise, and 22-year old Bronx native Saquon Barkley, the reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

“I like the way we have built our team,” Shurmur said in expressing optimism. “I like some of the changes we made personnel wise. I also feel like the second year in our system, we are smoother in how we operate… I don’t care what everybody outside thinks.”

Maybe not. But when the curtain opens Sunday it will be time to show and prove.