The New York Giants are humiliated, and that’s the one thing their owners can’t tolerate.
That’s why head coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese were fired Monday. Not because of last week’s Eli Manning mess or because of the way a handful of anonymous players might have felt about McAdoo or even because of the 2-10 record — though obviously none of that helped.
The reason McAdoo and Reese were fired Monday, instead of four weeks from now, is humiliation. The owners of the Giants, who just two weeks ago issued a statement saying they would wait until the end of the season to make decisions on their coach and GM, couldn’t stomach the idea of their team as a laughingstock.
“I’m very conscious of the fact that three of our last four games are at home,” Giants co-owner John Mara said Monday. “I’m conscious, having lived through it before, of what the reaction was going to be.”
Anyone who has ever seen Mara pace the press box at halftime knows he feels every loss — heck, every halftime deficit — deeply. That said, the owners of the Giants can take a lot. As angry and disappointed as the downturns of a given season might make them, Giants ownership historically prides itself on patience. The owners absolutely did not want to fire Reese, a Giants lifer, after 11 years and two Super Bowl titles as GM, and they absolutely did not want to fire McAdoo before the end of his second season. They were being honest two weeks ago when they issued that statement. That’s the way they prefer to do business.
But then came last week, with the justified outrage over the mishandling of the Manning benching. And the flexing of a Cowboys-Giants game to a 1 p.m. ET Sunday window. And the prospect of planes flying over that game with banners ripping the coach, GM and owners. And a report that former Giants might show up and stand on the sideline in Manning jerseys.
Mara and Steve Tisch, confronted with all of that, couldn’t help but think a thought that, in their minds, is the worst of all possible thoughts: Dear God. We’re becoming the Jets!
That is why, knowing they were going to replace the coach and GM after the season anyway, the Giants decided to move on now, with a full quarter of the season to go. Monday’s moves weren’t about giving the team a better chance to win its remaining games. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who’ll be the interim head coach, has a 10-38 career record as an NFL head coach. McAdoo’s record is a far superior 13-16.
What’s better about Spagnuolo than McAdoo, from the standpoint of Giants’ ownership, is that the fans don’t hate Spagnuolo. They actually kind of like him. Or at least they’re more willing to tolerate him for the next month than they would have been McAdoo, on whom they soured with stunning speed as he followed an impressive 11-5 debut season with this mess. There’ll be less booing, less rancor, less chance of one of those infernal airplane banners with Spagnuolo on the sideline for the final three home games than there would have been had McAdoo still been playing out the string.
Fan outrage also was touching Reese. Ever since Reese’s tone-deaf news conference on the day of Tom Coughlin’s firing 23 months ago, he seemed to be running short on the goodwill those two Super Bowl titles established between him and the Giants’ fan base. Reese’s poor record in the draft is by now a matter of record, and though he crushed it in 2016 free agency, he neglected the necessary hole-plugging exercises in 2017. The results are in the record and in the fact that the team will have missed the playoffs in seven of the past nine seasons.
Mara pointed out that Reese has been with the Giants since 1994, arriving as a part-time scout and rising to the level of championship general manager. That’s a heckuva story. It’s a heckuva Giants story, a heckuva NFL story and a heckuva personal story. Reese’s career accomplishments are worthy of admiration. But any objective assessment of his job performance would conclude that it has fallen short, continually, in key areas. In the past couple years, the subjective fan assessment has caught up with that objective one. Reese was no longer viable in the eyes of the fan base. To scapegoat a second head coach in less than two years while refusing to hold Reese similarly accountable wouldn’t have worked.
“We’ve kind of been spiraling out of control,” Mara said. “I just felt like we needed a complete overhaul.”
The thing is, if it were only about the losing, that overhaul could have waited until Jan. 1, the day after the season ended. That’s the way the Giants prefer to do these things. The fact that it happened now tells you how unusual and significant this moment is in the eyes of the people who own the Giants. They can handle a lot, but they won’t stand for being embarrassed. Once things went from bad to embarrassing, all bets were off.
Here’s what else we learned (and didn’t learn) from Week 13:
There is absolutely no reason to worry about the Eagles
None. Zero. Zip. It has been so long since the Eagles lost that it was almost surprising to see the postmortems in Philly on Monday morning, trying to parse every coaching decision and every failed third down for some kind of deeper, worrisome meaning. I get it. That’s what we do in NFL analysis.
But sometimes, you just lose. A lot of times, that happens when you go to Seattle. The Seahawks are super banged up and not what they used to be, but they’re still a proud, nasty, aggressive team with a brilliant coach and a brilliant quarterback and more than enough bad dudes on defense to make your life miserable. I’m not a gambler, and I know how good the Eagles looked going in, but Seattle getting six points at home had to be the easiest money on the board this week, right?
The Eagles aren’t any worse today than they were three days ago, and Sunday night’s loss doesn’t mean we were overrating them. You still saw enough miracle plays from young Carson Wentz to supplement the case that he’s the league’s next big thing. He’s still going to refuse to let teams get comfortable on third down or even when they have their arms around him in the backfield. But if you thought there was no chance Russell Wilson and the still-formidable Seattle defense weren’t going to make life tough on the Eagles at home, then you haven’t been paying much attention these past five or six years. The Eagles should just keep doing what they do. Their playoff chances are still better than Seattle’s, and if they see them again this season, it’ll be in Philly and likely a different story.
The NFC South is the Saints’ to lose
The Carolina Panthers gave New Orleans a fight, but in the end, the Panthers’ defense couldn’t get off the field against Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram and the Saints’ incredibly dynamic run game. New Orleans had 148 rushing yards and a 33:21 time of possession, and when Carolina fumbled a late punt return down 14, you just knew the Saints would grind out the rest of the clock. Now 2-0 against Carolina, with two games left against an Atlanta team that is two games back, the Saints could put a stranglehold on the division Thursday night against the Falcons and put themselves on track for their first playoff appearance in four years.
New Year’s Eve in Nashville could be huge
A quick look at the remaining schedules tells me (brilliant seer of the future that I am) that the Jaguars and Titans are each likely to go 2-1 in their next three games. That would make both of them 10-5 going into their Week 17 finale against each other in Nashville. The Titans won the Week 2 matchup in Jacksonville 37-16, so if they slip up and fall a game behind, they still can win the division by beating the Jags in the finale. But a winner-take-all Week 17 AFC South championship game that doesn’t include the Colts or Texans? Who saw that coming? The last time a team other than Houston or Indianapolis won the AFC South was 2008, when the Jeff Fisher/Kerry Collins Titans went 13-3 to secure the top seed in the conference. The Jaguars’ most recent division title was in 1999, when Tom Coughlin and Mark Brunell led them to a 14-2 record — just one game better than the 13-3 Titans for the division and the top seed in the AFC.
This seems pretty cut-and-dried, but one thing I’ll never understand is the flip-side argument: the one in which people seem upset that the suspension Gronkowski got for his cheap-shot hit on Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White wasn’t longer. A one-game suspension in the NFL is a pretty big deal, folks. The fact that Gronkowski’s contract with the Patriots is incentive-based makes it even more potentially painful in his case. Gronkowski’s incentives are tied to playing time (percentage of offensive snaps he plays), catches and receiving yards. Missing one game could keep him from reaching one of the thresholds he needs to increase his pay. So don’t go thinking he got off easy. A one-game suspension without pay is no slap on the wrist in the NFL. It’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, the Bills try to do to Gronk on the field when these teams meet again in a couple of weeks.