“You just gotta do it,” Vereen said. “It’s inside [you], it’s between the ears, and it’s in your chest. You just gotta do it.”
“We’ve got to finish out the fourth,” Vereen affirmed.
Easy for him to say. Vereen came to the New York Giants after spending four seasons with the New England Patriots, a team that finds a way, week after week, and found a way in February to overcome Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX. Vereen caught a game-high 11 passes for 64 yards. Five weeks later, as a free agent, he signed with the Giants.
On Tuesday, Vereen stood at his locker and said he sees the Giants as having everything necessary to win: “Absolutely. I have confidence in my teammates.”
The Giants are 0-2, but throughout their locker room there is the belief, rightly so, that they should be 2-0. Instead, they are the only team in NFL history to lose each of its first two games of the season after leading both games by at least 10 points in the fourth quarter.
It’s been a scratch-your-head-till-it-bleeds start, especially for the folks running the organization.
The Giants‘ final two minutes in Dallas in Week 1included a mystifying — and well-chronicled — failure in clock management for which Eli Manning took responsibility. Their ability to defeat the Falcons on Sunday was hampered significantly when Manning fumbled away a chance to bolster a 10-point lead in the third quarter and targeted Odell Beckham Jr. just twice in the second half.
The defense has given up 14 fourth-quarter points in each of the Giants‘ past two games.
“We definitely need a win,” Vereen said. “We’ve got to get back on doing things that we do well and doing them consistently and do it for four quarters.”
As Vereen understands, there is a considerable difference in dynamic when a team truly believes it will win, that it will finish or find a way, and when a team wonders. These Giants wonder. They overthink (in Dallas) and they underperform (vs. Atlanta) when it matters most.
It’s astonishing to watch a Tom Coughlin team operate this way. It’s also been a couple of years in the making.
The Giants are 0-2 for the third consecutive year. They have won a grand total of 13 games the past two seasons. They endured a six-game losing streak to start the 2013 season and a seven-game skid in the middle of 2014.
In his 11 prior NFL seasons, Manning has orchestrated 31 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime,according to Pro-Football-Reference.com. He had six in 2007 and eight in 2011, seasons when the Giantswon the Super Bowl. He has a total of three (two in 2013 and one in 2014) in the past two years. This is not a coincidence.
Manning remains a pillar of accountability, and he unfailingly says the right things. He and his teammates know the NFC East is up for grabs, and Manning diagnoses the Giants‘ dubious start as “nothing a win can’t fix,” which remains true for now. But the slope in East Rutherford is slippery.
“There’s always going to be mistakes,” Manning said. “I think we, as a team, have to be careful and not draw too much on the mistakes. There are some things we could do better, there are some things we can improve on. Acknowledge those, get better at those, but there’s a lot of things we’ve been doing well that we’ve got to keep doing well.”
It could be good news for the Giants that the Washington Redskins are coming to town Thursday night. The Giants and Redskins have been on disparate courses over the past decade, perhaps indicated best by this: Manning has started 169 consecutive regular season-games, the longest active streak in the NFL; Washington, now led by Kirk Cousins, has started 10 different quarterbacks during that time.
The Giants have won 11 of their last 14 against Washington, and five of their last six. Though they’ve played some truly atrocious football over the past two seasons, Manning and the Giants still swept their last four games against the Redskins, the margin of victory totaling 63 points.
In other words: If the 2015 Giants can’t win at home against Washington in a short week … then what?
It seems long ago now, but a 27-23 victory in October 2012 over the Redskins provides a reminder of better times for the Giants. Manning found Victor Cruz for a 77-yard touchdown down the seam, a rainbow throw that led to an end-zone salsa. That game, that play, remains one of the most exciting MetLife Stadium moments in recent memory for the Giants.
Those were the days when the Giants, then defending Super Bowl champions, were able to actually have some fun after games. “I don’t think it took a rocket scientist, either,” Manning responded. “A guy was running open and I hit him.”
Before Thursday’s kickoff, Coughlin will offer an inspirational message to his team. He always does. He used “finish” as a theme in 2011, and the Giants have a Lombardi Trophy as proof that it worked.
Already this week, Coughlin told his players that 24 of the 32 games played in the NFL so far this season have included fourth-quarter margins of no more than seven points. He added, “We’ve got to be able to be productive when the game is on the line and the pressure is there to perform.”
If this Giants season, before September ends, is at a crossroads, maybe the team’s motivation should come down to this: Finish. Or be finished.