The Giants play their biggest game in years on Sunday, and Odell Beckham Jr. isn’t riding a white stallion to save them, if he even signs here at all.
Despite a week of OBJ headlines and a high-profile visit with the property and giant brass, Sunday’s 1 p.m. kickoff with the Washington Commanders at MetLife Stadium will depend on that team’s leaders on the field.
It means captains. This means Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley, Dexter Lawrence, Andrew Thomas, Leonard Williams, Julian Love. All.
“The reality is if you’ve got a ‘C’ on your chest, you have to play your best,” Love, the defense playmaker and leading tackler, told The Daily News on the “Talkin’ Ball with Pat Leonard”. “If your captains and managers aren’t playing well, then you’re out of luck.”
Not that the captains haven’t approached the whole season in the same way. Sunday’s issues are simply more pressing.
Washington (7-5) has won six of its last seven games. The Giants (7-4) have lost three of their last four games. And Ron Rivera’s Commanders are two-point road favorites in this NFC East.
The Giants, Commanders and Seahawks will likely play for the final two NFC playoff spots in the final six weeks of the regular season. Chances are nine wins will bring the Giants, but they have the toughest remaining schedule in the league: Commanders twice, Eagles twice, Vikings on the road and Colts at home.
Barkley also stagnated after being one of the NFL’s best offensive players in the first half of the season. If he doesn’t, it can’t happen. And he knows it.
“It starts with me,” Barkley said of the Giants’ stagnant running game. “[I have to] keep trusting the system, make sure I have a good relationship with the linemen and stick to the race. That’s how we won games this year.
Barkley pointed out that just because defenses are going after him doesn’t mean the Giants shouldn’t be able to make him work. They imposed their will at the beginning of the year. Why not now?
“There were teams before the last two weeks that came in and that was their focal point, and we were able to continue to run the running game and build on that,” he said. “We just have to get back to that, and everyone has to make plays when the plays need to be made. And it starts with me.
Blame also falls on Jones, even with top width Darius Slayton ailing and less than 100% in charge of a decimated receiving corps. Jones needs to use his legs in this game.
He rushed the ball three times to a season low in the Thanksgiving loss to the Dallas Cowboys. And while Jones and coaches have said defenses are keeping the QB away and Jones is getting the right reads, Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka must find a way to free Jones.
“I expect us to respond well,” Jones said. “I expect us to play a really good game, a clean game. I think our mindset is good, our approach is good. I think we’re all excited, we’re all excited about this opportunity .
Big picture, of course, Jones and Barkley are still playing for their future, for their next contracts, to prove that they are worthy of being paid as franchisors. It means leading, winning and staying healthy.
Although Barkley has spoken before about wanting to build a legacy as an all-time great, he has, however, dismissed the suggestion that this game is that kind of milestone.
“No,” he said. “It’s another game, to be completely honest. He’s a tough opponent who plays really well, who plays great football, who is 6-1 in the last seven games, talented of all sides of the ball, in all three phases. It’s going to be tough… Whatever I’m able to do, if it’s carrying the ball a few times or if I have to be more of a decoy or better at going pro – whatever I do , this is one thing i will do to help my team win the football game.
The Giants don’t need Barkley to play a part, though. They need him to dominate. The same goes for point carrier Kayvon Thibodeaux, even though he’s a rookie and not a captain.
Much is expected of first-round picks. Thibodeaux has shown flashes this season and had his most active game at Thanksgiving in Dallas. But it hasn’t burst yet.
“I feel like I’ve made a lot of big wins because I’ve kind of been thrown into a position of leadership, when it comes to the call of the game[s and] situations and being on the court and having to take on a big role on the court,” Thibodeaux said this week of his rookie season. “It was a slow start for me… But now I feel like I was able to put a lot together, and now I was able with this last game to really put it together and play fast. Honestly, I feel like it was my fastest game.
Outside linebackers coach Drew Wilkins said Thibodeaux has already shown a knack for hitting the big time and understanding when he needs it most.
“When you watch the Jacksonville game, some of their most explosive runs came in the fourth quarter,” Wilkins said. “Obviously closing Baltimore’s game with the sack in the fourth quarter and then as you keep rushing Dallas it really locks in – and it was the same against Green Bay – to understand the value of each of these rushes.
“When you get into those two-minute situations, every run and every play can be really game-changing,” Wilkins added. “And a big run where you get the ball out or force a bad throw can decide the game. Kayvon understands the magnitude of this.
The pressure is also on Daboll, the first-year head coach, to pull off a victory against a Washington staff that Daboll, Kafka and Wink Martindale should be able to outplay.
Interestingly, Daboll, who introduced himself as Mr. Coherent approaching every game the same way, upped the ante in his rhetoric this week to his team.
“When you play meaningful games in December, I think that’s why we all do it,” Daboll said. “It’s not much fun when you’re not playing meaningful games. So come to work with a good attitude, a positive state of mind. Keep improving. And you focus on the opponent of the week: that’s the way to do it. But these are important matches now.
The harsh reality for the Giants, however, is that while they recover some players, injuries have crushed them this season and will continue to propel substitutes into prominent roles on Sunday.
Martindale, who has coached college football since 1986 and NFL football since 2004, said in mid-November that “I’ve never seen a roster evolve the way this roster moved with injuries and things like that. .”
That’s especially why Love said when the captains met on Friday, they talked about leading by example in everything they do on the field on Sunday.
“As we go into crunch time, with a lot of guys being bumped, a lot of guys coming back and the roster flowing with people up and down, it’s crucial – and I talked about that today with our captains – that we don’t just show who we are on the pitch, motivate, play well, but we have to bring energy and juice,” Love said. “We have a lot of guys who, maybe that’s their first time, we are watched not only for the way we play, but also for our behavior when the bad plays happen, when the good plays happen.
Love said there could be “no descent”.
“It’s only positive, it’s only motivation, it’s only being a competitor,” the fourth-year safety said. “As this stretch winds down to the wire over the next six weeks, we need to be resilient. There are going to be ups and downs. These teams are going to make plays. But we are going to fight because we have been fighting all year.