Sterling Shepard stood in front of his locker and spoke the truth.
“The way things look in this league can change a lot in one week,” the injured Giants receiver said Tuesday as his dwindling number of healthy teammates prepared for their Thanksgiving Day game against the Dallas Cowboys.
A week ago, the Giants were 7-2 after a win over the Houston Texans and sat as the fifth seed in the NFC playoff picture. The Cowboys were 6–3 coming off a disheartening overtime loss that saw them squander a 14-point lead over a Green Bay Packers team that had lost five in a row, a streak that began against the Giants in London.
As they prepare to meet for the second time this season, the Giants and Cowboys are both 7-3, but it almost feels like the Giants are 3-7 and the Cowboys are the favorites to win the Super Bowl.
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The Giants are coming off a 13-point home loss to the Detroit Lions, made even more devastating by a long list of injuries that have left coach Brian Daboll struggling to figure out who he can and can’t play Thursday.
The Cowboys, on the other hand, are coming off a perfect game. They went into Minnesota on Sunday and burned the 8-1 Vikings, 40-3. It was Minnesota’s worst home loss since October 1963, when the St. Louis Cardinals won 56–14 in Minneapolis. The Dallas defense held the Vikings to 183 yards in the offseason and sacked Kirk Cousins seven times, while Dak Prescott had his way on offense, completing 22 of 25 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns.
Dallas destroys cousins and Dak destroys Minny D probably weren’t the movies Giants players wanted to see come from their own Sunday beatdown, but they had no choice.
“If was absolutely impressive,” said cornerback Nick McCloud, who will likely move into a more expanded role with the Giants due to the injuries to starters Adoree’ Jackson and Fabian Moreau. “They just really clicked on all cylinders. Running the ball well, defending well, throwing the ball and catching the ball. Everything you would expect from a good attack, they did. Minnesota I didn’t feel like I was really prepared to play, so that’s why I say come really locked up and ready to go.
It was easy to see that Daboll was extremely impressed with what he saw of the Cowboys.
“This is a dynamic team I would say in every field,” said the coach. “They have great skill players. When I say skill players, I include defensive goals, who are skill players. Explosive – of course, scored a lot of points last week. (They had) seven sacks, 40 points against an 8-1 team in place. will be a huge challenge.”
Let’s go back to Shepard’s statement about how things can look very different at the end of each week in the NFL. Actually, let’s go back to Week 1 when the Giants entered Tennessee as a heavy underdog, trailing by 13 points at halftime and looking terrible.
By late afternoon, however, Daboll was crying tears of joy as he remembered his grandparents and celebrated his first NFL win as head coach. By the end of that day, things suddenly looked very different for the Giants. They’ve since written similar scripts, all of which would have been thrown aside in training camp for being too implausible.
That opening day victory over the 7-3 Titans looks pretty impressive almost 11 weeks later. And that Week 6 home win, which saw the Giants bounce back from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter against the 7-3 Baltimore Ravens, is also looking very good.
Now the Giants face their biggest challenge of the season at a time when the contenders are separated from the pretenders or as Jihad Ward put it, “St gets real this time.” The Giants outside linebacker can handle words.
How the Giants play on Thanksgiving could shape the team’s direction in the last six weeks. They need Daniel Jones to bounce back from his two-interception performance against the Lions that led to a touchdown for Detroit and crushed a scoring opportunity for the Giants. They need Saquon Barkley to get back on track after gaining just 22 yards on 15 carries against the Lions.
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“I think this is a huge opportunity for us,” said Jones. “It’s a league game against a rival and on Thanksgiving. Huge game… and we have to go out and play our best ball, play the best we can and see how it goes.
It is also a huge opportunity for many young players. Guys like McCloud and rookie cornerback Cor’Dale Flott will be challenged like never before. Nick Gates will have a chance to prove he can still be a regular starter in this league. Richie James gets a mulligan as kick return and slot receiver. Someone will play left guard and right tackle.
“It’s challenging with some new guys in some new places,” McCloud said. “But we’ve prepared and we’ve got great leaders in our room and great coaching, so it’s going to be a challenge we have to take on.”
If they do, next week’s story about the Giants and Cowboys will be very different from this week. If they don’t, the Giants’ quest for a postseason berth could be jeopardized with a tough December schedule ahead.
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Bob Brookover can be reached at [email protected].