Sullivan: Tough times in Meadowlands; Jets, Giants both badly need a win
There’s an old joke in New York media circles that no one loves a winning baseball team more than a bad football team, because of the way the former can provide plenty of fall season cover for the latter.
With that in mind, it’s no wonder the Giants and Jets might represent the most disappointed segment of area Mets fans, because when the Mets bowed out of the playoffs by losing a wild-card game to the Giants last week, a spotlight that would have happily followed them through a second straight World Series run turned its glare football’s way. And what it exposed are two teams in mini-crisis, heading into as crucial a weekend of games as you can have by Week 6 in the NFL.
How bad is it? The Jets and Giants are a combined 3-7, both losers of three straight, both riddled by injury, both in desperate need of a win. When mammoth defensive tackle Damon Harrison stood in the Giants’ locker room Friday afternoon and issued a coy “no comment” about the state of his former employer across town, he wasn’t making a statement on whether the Jets would be in any better condition had they paid to keep him around over the off-season rather than letting him make a free agent defection to the Giants. He was merely illustrating the obvious: There are no bragging rights to be had right now, not even if a bevy of Harrison’s new teammates like to alert him to the Jets’ woeful ways.
“The guys around here they do a pretty good job of letting me know how the guys on the other side of town are doing. I would say I’m in tune with what’s been going on,” Harrison said. “I don’t want to get into detail on it but JPP [Jason Pierre-Paul], [Jonathan] Hankins, Victor Cruz, Odell [Beckham Jr.], they do a pretty good job of reminding me how the Jets are doing.
“I have some really good friends on the team so I wish them the very best.”
What this NFL season has done, however, is bring out some of the worst in the Giants and Jets, teams struggling to find offensive rhythm, searching for trademark defensive pressure, scheming to offset big-time injury losses to key players. More than anything, these are teams equally anxious to re-discover the taste of victory, to change the momentum of this season before it’s too late, to reverse course before playing themselves out of playoff contention before the calendar even flips to November.
The Giants (2-3) have the better stage, playing a Sunday afternoon game at home against the Ravens, perhaps buoyed by the anticipated return of running back Rashad Jennings. The Jets (1-4) have it tougher, heading into a Monday night game in Arizona, and while they might get the services of veteran cornerback Darrelle Revis back in time to help a beleaguered secondary, they face the remainder of the season without the sure hands of receiver Eric Decker, placed on injured reserve for a shoulder surgery.
“A win would be huge,” Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said earlier this week, the same day he learned he would be without one of his favorite targets. “Winning kind of cures all. When you think things aren’t going well, all of a sudden one win can kind of ignite a season. That’s what we’re gunning for.”
Must-win games don’t usually come around this early in a season, but the reeling Jets know what another loss can do to their psyche, never mind their standing in the standings. “We never want to lose a game but having the start that we have had, we understand that there’s less room for error now than there was even three weeks ago,” Fitzpatrick said.
It was three weeks ago that the Giants squandered their best opportunity to be in a better situation now. A home loss to Washington still stings, and not just because the Giants were in such control early, were playing a division opponent, and had a chance to drive for a win before turning the ball over, but also because it preceded tough road trips at Minnesota and Green Bay. The Giants would have been underdogs in those two games regardless of the outcome against the Redskins. But losing that game set the wheels of a losing streak in motion. Now is the time to put on the brakes.
“Obviously we had a tough couple weeks,” Eli Manning admitted Tuesday, a day spent deflecting specific criticism of the misfires, rushed throws and turnovers that have spoiled his last two games, back-to-back duds that have left an overmatched offensive line too busy and an underutilized wide receiver group too antsy. “Yeah there has to be a sense of urgency. You just have to understand that we need to get back on track and we need to get a win and play at a high level.”
But much the way one big play can turn the tide in a game, so too can one win heal a lot of early-season ills.
“We need something to click to get a win,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said. “We’re working hard and we’re practicing hard. We just need something to get over the hump and get that victory.”
In that, he is not alone. The Giants are saying the same thing. The Mets have packed their bags; the Yankees are already on vacation. All eyes are on football, and right now, the view in these parts is grim.