For the Giants, Sunday’s shutout loss against the Eagles could not have been any more disconcerting. Having started the season 0-2, the Giants already had been playing catch-up to the strong-starting division rival pair of the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys before last Sunday. Now having suffered a major setback in the shutout loss to the Eagles and Dallas pulling off their finest win of the season the very same day, what started as a pair of games that could re-establish the Giants as a legitimate NFC East contender may end up becoming a nightmare that sees the Giants desperate to claw back into a tough NFC wildcard picture by its conclusion.
When such pressure-filled games roll around for any team, the first question asked by the media is always the same: is this game a “must-win?” According to Jason Pierre-Paul, the answer is obvious: “It is a must-win game,” Pierre-Paul said. “Every game is a must-win game. Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t win. This is like a must-win game for us because it can justify our season … Any division game is a big game; it is going to be one of the big games. This can make or break our season.”
Pierre-Paul’s sense of urgency certainly is worthy of the occasion, as the Giants have every right to feel the NFC East can permanently slip away from their grasp if New York suffers a second consecutive defeat to a division-leading NFC East rival. With both Philadelphia and Dallas sitting pretty as one-loss teams, a loss on Sunday for the Giants would put Dallas 3 games ahead with a victory in hand and the Eagles potentially able to say the same should they come away victorious in a difficult matchup for them in Arizona.
The loss against Philadelphia felt deflating in more ways than one. The Giants looked a mess in their Week 1 outing in Detroit, but at least they got on the scoreboard. Not only was this a blowout loss that ended a three game winning streak, but the season-ending injuries to Victor Cruz and Trumaine McBride add to a growing Injured Reserve list that could seriously weaken the Giants’ depth and quality at the skill positions. Just a few weeks ago the Giants were a team that generally was good and healthy enough to not need impacts from their rookies sans second round pick Weston Richburg. Now, New York enters this weekend with two rookies having to replace two of the offense’s top contributors.
On the other hand, Pierre-Paul is absolutely right that this game also has the chance to “justify” the Giants’ season, and it could start with one of those aforementioned rookies. Stepping in for Rashad Jennings last week, Andre Williams had a disappointing first start and ended up conceding more snaps to Peyton Hillis than originally expected. Dallas however poses a much easier task as a run defense than Philadelphia, and getting going on the ground will give the Giants the balance on offense found more during the team’s three wins and may also help mitigate the loss of Victor Cruz. The injury of Cruz also opens an enormous window of opportunity for Odell Beckham, but it remains to see whether the timing is too soon for the immensely talented but just-returning rookie receiver.
While the game against Philadelphia was a setback and showed how far the Giants still have to progress, the Giants earlier this season already proved how things can turn around quickly in the NFL. A loss against Dallas Sunday and the Giants may be in an uphill battle to even compete in the NFC Wildcard picture, but a win at Jerry World could put the Giants right back in the race with a lot of football left to play.