The Giants can talk themselves into the notion that they were never going to be ready to compete for a playoff berth this season.
Not with first-year head coach Joe Judge in place, feeling his new team out, figuring out what he has on the roster and what he needs to add.
Not with quarterback Daniel Jones trying to find his footing in his second NFL season.
Not with a rebuilt offensive line and a lot of new parts on defense.
And certainly not once they lost running back Saquon Barkley, their best player, to a season-ending knee injury early in the second game of the season.
But as the Giants (5-9) play at the Ravens (9-5) on Sunday, they will be facing the sobering reality of an amazing and unexpected opportunity lost.
Two weeks after they sat in the driver’s seat to win the NFC East, feeling good about their season and playing December games of postseason consequence for the first time since 2016, the Giants face elimination Sunday.
If the Giants lose to the Ravens, who are favored by 10 points, and the Washington Football Team beats the Panthers (4-10), then Washington would win the division and the Giants would play a garbage-time season finale at home against the Cowboys on Jan. 3.
When and if that scenario happens, the Giants will have only themselves to blame.
“I don’t think our progress as a team is going to be measured necessarily on making the playoffs,’’ Judge said Monday. “I’m not downplaying playoffs. We’re all here to compete. We’re all here for the highest prize in all of sports. We all know what that is. At the same time, I’m a firm believer in just keeping our sights on what the immediate goal is and the long-term goal will take care of itself.’’
The problem is that the long-term goal, a playoff berth, now looks like a long shot — largely because they cannot score points, something that’s a prerequisite to winning in the NFL.
The Giants’ flawed offense has produced 13 points in the past two games — a 20-6 home loss to the Browns last Sunday night and a 26-7 home loss to the Cardinals the week before.
Only the Jets, with 14.7 points per game, have scored fewer points than the Giants, who are averaging 17.4. And sharing the same sentence with the Jets is never going to result in a compliment.
The math for the Giants on Sunday is simple: They are almost certainly not going to win if they score to their average point production this season.
The Giants have scored 20 or more points in only six of their 14 games. In four of their games, they’ve failed to reach double digits. They’ve scored 30 points in only one game.
Conversely, the Ravens, who average 28.8 points per game, have scored 40 and 47 in each of their past two games. They’ve scored 30 or more points in seven of their 14 games and failed to score least 20 only twice.
“As coaches, we have to make sure we always put our players in the right position,’’ Judge said Thursday. “That’s number one. Number two, when the plays are out there to be made, we have to make them. We’ve put ourselves in position several times. Through a multitude of reasons, we have to go ahead and finish drives better. When we’ve gotten down there, we need to come away with points.’’
Tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens, who has been acting as offensive coordinator for the past week while Jason Garrett has been working through COVID-19 protocols, said Thursday he believes the offense is “close,’’ but he was quick to add: “But close doesn’t matter. It’s all about the end result.’’
The Giants know exactly what they’re getting into with the Ravens, who are going to smack them in the mouth as soon as they get off the team buses.
That’s what John Harbaugh’s teams do: They play more physically than you do. And more often than not, they win.
The task for the Giants begins right there: Be more physical than the Ravens on both sides of the ball, or watch their flickering hopes of winning the NFC East fade to black.
“We need this to be the most physical game of the year,’’ Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said Thursday. “That’s how Baltimore wants it. That’s what you want it to be. Let’s see who’s standing at the end.’’