Game Preview: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Giants, November 2, 2020
When Big Blue Interactive began back in 1995 (originally lamely called the “Big Blue Home Page”), the New York Giants were embarking on painful 5-11 season. Nine times in that season, the Giants had a chance to tie or take the lead late in the 4th quarter. The team only scored once in those nine chances. Five games ended on the final play of the contest with the Giants winning only one of those. The team’s highlight tape that season was aptly called “So Close, Yet So Far.”
Back in those days, a quarter of a century ago, the small BBI audience was divided into those fans who called themselves “optimists” and those who called themselves “realists” (aka “pessimists). Those optimist versus realist arguments were the lifeblood of the site in its early days.
The defense had some talent (very young players such as Michael Strahan, Jessie Armstead, Jason Sehorn, and Phillippi Sparks) but was saddled with a frustrating, plodding offense led by Dave Brown, Rodney Hampton, Chris Calloway, and Howard Cross.
Coming off a 9-7 season, fans were very optimistic coming into the season until the Giants got blasted in the opening game 35-0 by the Cowboys. The game was even worse than the final score. It was a huge wake-up call. But despite that, Giants fans felt their team had a chance to win each and every week. And as mentioned, they nearly did, being in almost every single game right up to the final gun. The Giants should even have upset the eventual Super Bowl Champion Cowboys in Dallas in Week 16, but lost a last-second heart-breaker there too.
In many ways, despite the numerous personnel flaws on that team (starting with the quarterback), the 1995 New York Giants were a better team than its 2020 counterpart. The defense had more talent at all three levels. The offensive line (Jumbo Elliott, Brian Williams, Lance Smith, Doug Riesenberg, Greg Bishop) was much stronger. The running backs were Hampton, Tyrone Wheatley, Charles Way, and Herschel Walker. The receivers were not a strong group but still had Mike Sherrard, Calloway, and Arthur Marshall. The tight ends were an unspectacular group but they could block (Cross, Brian Kozlowski, Aaron Pierce).
For the past three seasons, I keep reading the same responses to my game previews: “That was depressing!” It is not my intent to be depressing. Hell, I was one of the original “optimists” who used to lock horns with the “realists” on a day to day basis. It would also not be a good business model for me to intentionally depress my customers. But my credibility would be completely shot if I did not interject some “realism” into the conversation about this team. Some of you may have caught my dramatic change in tone as soon as Saquon Barkley was lost for the season with a potentially career-altering injury. Yes, I feel strongly he was that important to ability of this team to compete and win under the new coaching staff. His loss was catastrophic. With him, the Giants probably had a good chance to win the pathetic NFC East. Without him, they will have trouble staying out of the basement.
The 2020 New York Giants have TWO major problems:
(1) Lack of talent. I’ve repeatedly mentioned my concerns at running back (with Barkley out), wide receiver, and tight end in addition to the growing pains on the offensive line on the offensive side of the ball. The 2019 defensive back class for the team (3 picks) now looks like a disaster and the defensive backfield is suffering because of it. The Giants obviously lack a premier edge rusher too.
(2) Lack of confidence. Losing is something you can get used to, and you can start to expect it. You can actually train your brain to lose and become a “loser.” There really isn’t a major talent difference between the 80 percent of the teams in the NFL. Those who expect to win have a major advantage over those who don’t. There is no other explanation for largely average Eagles and Cowboys to own the Giants for almost the past decade. Even when the games were tight, in the end, the Giants made the loser’s mistake because they expected to lose. You know it because you could feel it too.
We know how to fix problem #1. Get better players. Problem #2 is far more difficult. Coach Judge could have made substantial inroads into turning the mentality of the team around had the Giants beat the Cowboys and Eagles in the past few weeks. But they didn’t. And the team has one win and confidence remains in the toilet. I can’t overemphasize the opportunity that was lost here. In real terms, “leading” the NFC East at 3-4 would have been a joke. But in terms of overall confidence, the needle would have been pointing in the right direction. The mindset would have begun to change. Instead, the Giants blew it.
I’m not sure where the team goes from here. The last nine games should be very telling.
THE INJURY REPORT
- RB Devonta Freeman (ankle – out)
- WR Sterling Shepard (shoulder/toe)
- WR C.J. Board (concussion – questionable)
- OG Will Hernandez (positive COVID test – out)
- CB Darnay Holmes (neck)
- CB Ryan Lewis (hamstring – doubtful)
- S Adrian Colbert (shoulder – out)
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH
Head Coach Joe Judge on turning the team’s confidence around: “I’m going to be honest with you, I’m not a huge believer in that to begin with. In terms of does one game affect another game, I don’t really think so. I think you have to show up and whether you won last week or lost last week, it’s about what you do preparing this week and how you execute on the field for 60 minutes. That’s going to dictate the results of that game. I respect the question, I understand exactly where you’re coming from. My personal mindset and philosophy doesn’t really tie too much into how one game affects another one.”
THE FINAL WORD
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 5-2. The New York Giants are 1-6. The Bucs dramatically lead the NFL with +80 point differential. In other words, they are not just beating teams, they are blowing them out. The 1995 Giants would have kept this game close, but the I doubt the 2020 version will.
My focus remains on Daniel Jones, Andrew Thomas, Nick Gates, Matt Peart, Shane Lemieux, and Darius Slayton. Fingers crossed on all of these players.