ARLINGTON, Texas — It never really gets late early. It gets late when it is time for it to get late.
So, it is not yet prematurely late for the Giants — certainly not in Week 2 of the season, not in mid-September, not merely one game into the Pat Shurmur coaching era, not one game into Odell Beckham Jr.’s comeback.
The schedule indicates it is Giants at Dallas, Sunday night at AT&T Stadium, the first of four nationally televised, prime-time games in 2018 for the Giants.
What is fact and what is felt are far different, though. Sometimes a team can ease into a season but that time and that team is not a fit here. Will anyone give the Giants any benefit of the doubt if they lose their first two games and sit at 0-2 — with the Texans, Saints, Panthers, Eagles and Falcons in rapid-fire the next five weeks?
It has been 624 days since Beckham walked off the field on the winning side — one year, eight months and 16 days. He walked off the MetLIfe Stadium turf last week on the wrong end of a 20-15 loss to the Jaguars. He played in four games in 2017 — all losses — before a fractured left ankle ended his season.
This is the first NFC East game for the Giants, facing the rival Cowboys, who looked offensively inept in a season-opening, 16-8 loss at Carolina. Desperation does not wait to be invited in. It has arrived on the doorstep, early and unannounced. The only cure is to win.
“I need that,’’ Beckham said. “There’s no feeling like winning. Just the overall feeling of everybody in the locker room and knowing we did what we had to do. We’ll live on this moment for a little bit. Cool, and then get back to work.
“Everybody here wants to win, and we know the importance of this game. We know you don’t want to get 0-2, and start the season off that way, even though it is a long season. You just want to start fast and finish fast, and finish strong, too.’’
Starting fast is off the board. The Giants are suddenly in salvage mode. Once again, they will play without injured linebacker Olivier Vernon, their most accomplished front-line defender, against a Cowboys attack that leans on running back Ezekiel Elliott now more than ever. Once again, the Giants head into a game wondering and worrying about their offensive line in general and Ereck Flowers in particular. Once again, the Giants are trying to figure out how so much firepower, even after adding explosive Saquon Barkley into the mix, does not translate into enough points. Last season, teams scoring 15 or fewer points went 14-118, a winning percentage of .106.
Eli Manning has been down this road many times and knows taking another wrong turn can get the Giants good and lost.
“Yeah, it’s important to get that win and feel good about the work and the preparation,’’ Manning said. “It’s about us, this group, knowing we can find ways to win football games.’’
Shurmur’s program is in the infancy stage and he is outwardly playing it cool, as far as the doom and gloom factor that latches onto an 0-2 record — since 1990, 12 percent of teams starting 0-2 made the playoffs.
“All that stuff is fun for everybody to talk about, but we don’t worry about that,’’ he said.
Shurmur has been embroiled in plenty of rivalries and now gets his first inside look at Giants-Cowboys.
“It’s a different feeling,’’ safety Landon Collins said. “I feel like once we get there we feel the hated, and that’s where the feelings, the emotions and the tempers come.’’
The feelings, emotions and tempers will leave one side at 1-1 and the other at 0-2. The Giants know the difference.
Cowboys C Joe Looney vs. Giants DT Damon “Snacks’’ Harrison
This would have been a battle of the titans if Travis Frederick was able to play, but the all-world center is currently out of action as he deals with treatment for an autoimmune disease. There is no replacement who can duplicate what Frederick brings to the field. Looney, 28, was previously with the 49ers and Titans and has 14 career starts. The famed Dallas offensive line is not the same without Frederick, allowing six sacks last week to the Panthers. Here is where Harrison can gain an advantage as the Cowboys attempt to clear running lanes for Ezekiel Elliott. It is not safe to assume Looney can pave the way, especially if the massive Snacks is anchored in. Look for Snacks to also find his way to get a shot at Connor Williams, the rookie starting at left guard.
Is he still the Mann’? Eli Manning as a rookie got his first NFL victory as a starting quarterback against the Cowboys in the 2004 season finale when he audibled into a run near the goal line and Tiki Barber scored the game-winning touchdown. Manning got what at that juncture was his most significant playoff victory Jan. 13, 2008 when he shocked the heavily-favored, No. 1 seed Cowboys at Texas Stadium. Manning signed the wall in the visiting locker room the night of Sept. 20, 2009 after leading the Giants to victory in the first-ever regular-season game played inside Cowboys Stadium, a palace now called AT&T Stadium. There have been some big moments for Manning when he sets his sights on the Cowboys. He was so-so last week and needs to come up with a big showing to quiet the “well, he’s 37’’ rumblings that will surface every time he is not a positive factor in winning.
D in Big D: Deal with Ezekiel Elliott on the ground and contain Dak Prescott’s legs on designed and impromptu scrambles. Those are the Giants’ marching orders on defense. They do not believe Prescott can beat them if he is forced to throw it 30-plus times, targeting Allen Hurns, Terrance Williams and the pesky Cole Beasley, a slot receiver pest, meaning nickel back BW. Webb is on the hot seat. The Giants’ defense allowed 13 points in their Week 1 loss. “I love the energy and the effort we played with,’’ defensive coordinator James Bettcher said.
No chance: When Manning said, “We have to find a way to not put ourselves in bad positions and getting third and forevers’’ he was not kidding. Nine times in the loss to the Jaguars the Giants offense faced third-and-7 or longer – six times it was third-and-12 or longer. That is a formula for failure. The only first down they picked up in those nine situations was via a penalty. If they can stay on schedule with down and distance, the Giants should be able to move the ball on the Cowboys.
Nice to meet you: At some point, Saquon Barkley will get up close and personal with Mr. Lee and Mr. Smith, the Cowboys’ tag-team linebackers. Sean Lee is a heady veteran tackling machine who has shed his injury woes and Jaylon Smith is making owner Jerry Jones look extremely bright for taking a shot on him in the second round of the 2016 draft after a gruesome knee injury for Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl threatened to end his football career. Smith is healthy and he will be sure to introduce himself to the Giants rookie running back.
The Giants got Dak Prescott’s attention with all the talk of stopping Ezekiel Elliott and forcing the Cowboys to put the ball in the air. Remains to be seen if DeMarcus Lawrence can be blocked by Ereck Flowers, even with help. Who you like in the Elliott/Saquon Barkley total yards race?
Cowboys 20, Giants 19