TAMPA, Fla. – The Giants’ 0-4 start got to them after Sunday’s 25-23 loss to the Buccaneers. How could it not?
“We need to win a damn game!” coach Ben McAdoo erupted when asked about the challenge of keeping his team convinced a playoff berth is in reach.
“We feel like s—, excuse my language but we do, everybody does,” linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. “It’s gonna feel like this for a while. People always say it’s a 24-hour rule. It might be a little longer than that. No one ever predicted for us to do anything like that. It’s gonna be really hard to swallow this one.”
There is literally almost no chance of a postseason berth, by the way: About one percent, per ESPN Stats & Info. And the 1992 San Diego Chargers are the only team under the current format to make the playoffs after opening 0-4, per the NFL.
“We have to figure this out fast, because we’re so far in a hole that it’s hard to see,” corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said after a second straight loss on a last-second field goal.
Right tackle Justin Pugh tried his best to play the part of eternal optimist.
“So this is what I’ll say about 0-4: How cool is it gonna be when we make the playoffs? How cool is it gonna be when we go on this run?” Pugh said. “That’s what you have to look at it as. We’re gonna go on this run and it’s gonna be epic, and you guys are gonna be like, ‘S—, in Tampa Bay, Pugh was like, ‘We’re gonna go on this run.’ It’s gonna be f—ing awesome. I can’t wait ’til we do it.”
Pugh and the Giants know the reality, though, and it is what their head coach articulated: they can’t even win a game, how could they possibly look further than that?
“When I first got to the league, they always said the first one’s the hardest one to get,” said the banged-up Casillas, who once started 0-8 with the 2013 Buccaneers. “But we’re making sure that that statement means something here with the Giants … There’s no quit in me. I’ve been on the Tampa side of the ball when we started a season 0-8, and there’s no quit in me. I’m gonna fight ’til the end of the game no matter what.”
Unfortunately for a second straight week that’s exactly what the defense didn’t do.
Jameis Winston and the Bucs offense got the ball at their own 25-yard line with 3:16 to play and the Giants up, 23-22, and marched straight downfield – 59 yards on nine plays, including the dagger 26-yard completion to tight end Cameron Brate down the Giants’ 13-yard line with safety Landon Collins in coverage.
Ex-Jet Nick Folk had missed two field goals and an extra point already on the day, but his 34-yard field goal at the buzzer was true and handed the Giants their first 0-4 start since 2013, when Tom Coughlin’s team opened an irrelevant 0-6. That is what McAdoo’s Giants now are trying to avoid: the bottom falling out, if it hasn’t already.
“I have gone the other direction. I’ve started 0-6,” Pugh said. “So it’s gotta be we come in, we keep working, we get one win and we get rolling.”
The Giants offense has been a problem this season just like the defense, but incredibly for the first time all season they committed no turnovers, surrendered no sacks and still lost.
Eli Manning led two comebacks, beginning with the longest rushing touchdown of his career at 14 yards, but for a second straight week the Giants defense came onto the field with a lead or a tie game and lost it.
The Giants defense had made a goal line stand and a fourth down stop earlier to keep the Giants in it, and rookie running back Wayne Gallman and tight end Rhett Ellison caught Manning TD passes for 17-16 and 23-22 leads. But it wasn’t enough.
One reason was because the Giants left points on the board: kicker Aldrick Rosas missed a 43-yard field goal in the fourth quarter so far right that the fans cheered the miss the second the ball left his foot. And McAdoo went for it unsuccessfully on 4th-and-4 from the Bucs’ 30-yard line down 7-0 in the first quarter.
The Giants for a fourth straight game, in fact, went scoreless in the first quarter. So even though they drew within 16-10 at half, after Mike Evans and O.J. Howard touchdowns, they again had dug a hole. The offense didn’t help the defense.
Even punter Brad Wing, after his 28-yard punt killed the Giants in Philadelphia in Week 3, had another dud 15-yard punt that set up a late Bucs fourth-quarter touchdown drive.
McAdoo defended Wing by saying: “He made one mistake. A lot of guys made one mistake, including me.”
And that’s how a team starts 0-4: everyone chips in.