Momentum can be a fleeting force.
A little under three weeks ago, the Giants had the look of being the best team in the awful NFC East division. They had engineered an unlikely 17-12 upset over the Seattle Seahawks on the road in Week 13, without their starting quarterback Daniel Jones, who was sidelined with a right hamstring injury.
The win raised the Giants’ record to 5-7, good enough for first place after starting the season 1-7. Now, all of that seems so distant. After being manhandled by the Arizona Cardinals at home two Sundays ago, losing 26-7 with an obviously limited Jones back under center, the Giants’ offense was once again lifeless this past Sunday night facing the Cleveland Browns at MetLife Stadium.
With Jones inactive for the second time over the past three games, still recovering from the hamstring injury sustained against the Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 29, as well as a left ankle sprain suffered versus the Cardinals, an already anemic Giants offense was even more impotent led by Jones’ backup, veteran QB Colt McCoy.
They could only generate two field goals and 288 total yards (just 74 rushing) in falling to the Browns 20-6 to drop to 5-9 with only two games remaining. Conversely, the 10-4 Browns are on a path to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002. The Giants, who last played a postseason game in 2016, losing by 38-13 in a wild-card match up with the Green Bay Packers, have missed the playoffs in seven of the last eight seasons.
The odds of them finding their way back two weeks from this Sunday when the regular season concludes has significantly diminished. The Washington Football Team, currently in the top spot in the NFC East at 6-8, has the most favorable path. The Giants and 5-8 Dallas Cowboys are tied for second place, and the 4-9-1 Philadelphia Eagles are last.
There are several valid reasons but no excuses why the Giants have played poorly their previous two games after four weeks of steady improvement. Overall, their offense is ranked 31st out of 32 teams in points per game at 17.4. Only the Jets, who are averaging 14.7, are worse. Moreover, arguably their best defensive player, cornerback James Bradberry, was out against the Browns on the COVID-19 list.
“To be honest, I throw that stuff underneath the rug and I’m really focused on what we’ve got next week,” said Giants wide receiver Sterling Sheppard on Sunday, addressing his team’s negative reversal. “We have a big challenge ahead of us and we’ve got to get our eyes on Baltimore. We’re not totally out of this thing, so we’ve got to prepare and that’s honestly where my focus is.”
The 9-5 Ravens, winners of three in a row, are up next for the Giants in Baltimore this Sunday. They are peaking led by the reigning NFL MVP, quarterback Lamar Jackson, and fighting for the last AFC wild-card spot. The Ravens currently trail the conference’s No. 7 seed, the 9-5 Miami Dolphins, who hold the tie-breaker.
“Oh yeah, he’s one of those special guys, and I think everyone knows it,” said Giants linebacker Blake Martinez on Monday in characterizing Jackson. “It’s one of those things you obviously as a competitor, for me, you want to go against guys like that.”