Giants general manager Dave Gettleman


Keidel: Giants Have Hit Rock Bottom

Jason Keidel
November 12, 2018 - 10:29 am

You know the Giants have hit bottom when the headline before a nationally televised game is next year's draft.

As Big Blue prepares to play the 49ers in San Francisco on Monday Night Football, we're not talking playoff posturing. We're not talking about Saquon Barkley's sublime skill set. We're not talking about Eli Manning's growing bond with Odell Beckham Jr.

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Instead, the lead is GM Dave Gettleman scouting Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert while he tossed three touchdowns against Utah. Travel about 3,000 miles west on I-80, and life isn't a whole lot better.

Such is life when the Giants (1-7) and the 49ers (2-7) are toiling in the NFL's basement. Despite entering this season with great optimism, the G-Men and the Niners have three total wins. In fact, this season looks woefully like last season, when the 0-9 49ers faced the 1-7 Giants, making this the second straight year the clubs have met with a combined three or fewer wins. Big Blue handed San Francisco their first win of the 2017 season, and are 3.5 point underdogs tonight, even though the 49ers are starting a QB - Nick Mullens - no one ever heard of two weeks ago. 

At least the 49ers have an excuse. After trading for the Patriots' wunderkind backup Jimmy Garoppolo  - who soon morphed into Jimmy G, then Jimmy Jesus - San Francisco signed Garoppolo to a mammoth contract, giving the club a blindingly brilliant future. Then Garoppolo blew out his right knee on September 23 when he ran for one extra yard rather than skip out of bounds against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The clubs have split their 16 games all-time. Eli Manning, the alleged source of all the G-Men's woes, is looking for his third-straight game with 300 passing yards. Beckham is looking for his third consecutive game with eight or more catches and at least 130 yards. Barkley has 100 yards from scrimmage in seven of his eight impressive pro games. 

In San Francisco's win over Oakland Raiders, the formerly unknown Mullens posted the second-highest passer rating in history for a QB making his first NFL start (151.9). Mullens also joined Fran Tarkenton (1961) and Jim Kelly (1986) as the only QBs with 250-plus passing yards, three TD passes, and zero interceptions in an NFL debut. 
And that is the closest we can come to the silver linings for either squad. 

It doesn't seem that way now, but the Giants and 49ers have played some of the most iconic NFL games over the last 30 years. You have the Mark Bavaro game, when the hulking Giants tight end dragged a handful of defenders on his back. We have the 1991 playoff game when the Niners were fighting to become the league's first three-peat Super Bowl champions, only to have Lawrence Taylor pounce on Roger Craig's fumble in the NFC title game, fueling the Giants toward their second NFL championship under Bill Parcells.  It's also known as the Whitney Houston Super Bowl, when the legendary singer gave a goose-bumped rendition of the National Anthem, arguably the greatest pre-game performance in the history of American sports. 

We have the 2002 playoff game in San Francisco, when the Giants blew a 38-14 lead, then blowing a FG at the end of a 41-38 loss. Their most recent biblical playoff battle may have been their best, when the Giants again traveled to San Francisco in 2011 and survived a bloody, barbaric NFC title game, punching another Giants ticket to the Super Bowl, which they won against the Patriots, bagging their fourth and final Lombardi Trophy.

At least the 49ers have some residual hope. They went 6-1 to finish the 2017 campaign, and can give themselves a mulligan this year in the absence of their young franchise quarterback. And Kyle Shanahan is part of the new wave of offensive minds ready to build the Niners into an NFL power. 

Not so much for the Giants, who demurred on a QB in last year's draft, and now are in position to take another. This game, and the seven games that follow, present a problem for the Giants. Should Big Blue beat the 49ers tonight, they will no longer be tied with the Raiders for the league's worst record. And if they win more games than Oakland over the next seven games, they would not be in the draft cockpit next spring.  

So do the Giants save face - and perhaps Pat Shurmur's job - by winning a few more games? Or do they try to save the franchise by tanking and grabbing the top spot in the 2019 NFL Draft? No NFL team will overtly tank, not with the premium placed on winning, not with the loose grip new head coaches have on their jobs, and not with fans dropping epic quid to buy season tickets. 

But it doesn't take Vince Lombardi, Bill Parcells, or Bill Walsh to know that the best way for the Giants to turn this NFL tanker around is to draft a QB with the top pick. And Oakland, under the bumpy leadership of Jon Gruden, seems to have inched away from QB Derek Carr, who was an NFL MVP candidate just two years ago. Can the Giants still snag Herbert with the No. 2 pick? They'd rather not find out. 

Perhaps even harder than beating the 49ers tonight will be navigating their conflicting impulses, to seem like they're busting their tails on the field, end their season with their dignity, while still posturing for the top spot in the draft. When you lose a lot, the notion of a win takes on odd contours. 

Twitter: @JasonKeidel