Professional football in the New York metropolitan area somehow has become even bleaker in the two-plus years that have passed since the Giants and Jets last played each other. The Jets (2-7) rallied to beat the Giants (2-8) that glum November day in the Meadowlands in the so-called Toilet Bowl, with tailgaters displaying toilet-seat lids with each team’s logo.
The NFL’s two NYC-based teams are each 4-11 heading into the homestretch of the 2021 season. It is likely that both will finish the season with 13 losses, which has never happened since New York added an AFL team in 1960. In the last 10 years, only the 2016 Giants reached the playoffs (and they were promptly blown out by Green Bay in the wild-card round). More recently, they have been pro football’s biggest losers: none of the other 30 teams in the NFL have posted a worse record than the Jets (21-58) or Giants (22-57) since 2016.
There have been other barren stretches in the city’s football history: the Giants and Jets went through the entire 1970s with neither team making the postseason. The 1977 season ended with the Giants (5-9) losing in the snow and rain at home to Chicago, 12-9, and the Jets (3-11 for the third straight year) falling at Philadelphia, 27-0, before just 19,241 fans.
This drought, like the Toilet Bowl, is a shared misery around the metro area. Because the Jets and Giants play in different conferences and don’t face each other as often as the Rangers and Islanders in hockey or Knicks or Nets in basketball, there is less rancor between the local supporters. Baseball fans in New York are more likely to pick a side, either the Yankees or Mets, than football fans.
The NFL has, and will, survive with two lousy teams in the nation’s No 1 television market, and it is possible that one team, if not both at the same time, will be good again someday. But what has unfolded this season in New York makes a turnaround for either team look like a long-term project, with brighter days not exactly around the corner.
“How is it that the greatest city in the world has the two worst football teams? New York deserves better than the slop the Giants and Jets have been serving up for most of the last decade,” Gary Myers, the author and former long-time NFL columnist for the New York Daily News, tells the Guardian. “The really bad news: There is no end in sight. The NFL promotes parity but somehow the Giants and Jets, despite consistently high draft picks, have combined for only one playoff appearance in the last 10 years.
“That 11-5 season by the Giants in 2016 was an aberration,” Myers adds. “They fired their coach Ben McAdoo, who was still learning on the job, in just his second year, 12 games into the following season. The Jets hope they finally got it right with GM Joe Douglas, coach Robert Saleh and rookie quarterback Zach Wilson. The Jets are due for some success. It’s been over 50 years since their one and only Super Bowl season. This will be a huge offseason for each team, but I don’t think any ticker-tape parades are imminent.”
Consider, just for starters, what happened on Sunday to the Jets. They held on to beat Jacksonville (2-13) at home, 26-21, but the Jaguars rolled to the Jets’ one-yard line with 12 seconds to play. Only the incompetence of the Jaguars saved the hosts, because Jacksonville, clearly confused, was called for an illegal shift before a hurried incompletion.
“Good teams win those games,” said Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville’s rookie quarterback.
Had the Jags scored a touchdown, the Jets would have dipped below Jacksonville in the NFL’s race for the worst record, because of the head-to-head loss. With Tampa Bay and Buffalo to play, the Jets could have sunk below the team that would have had the worst record, Detroit (2-12-1), who finish up with the crumbling Seahawks and the might-be-resting Packers.
The Jets have not had the No 1 overall pick since 1996, just before they would win only one of 16 games under the overmatched Rich Kotite. (The Giants, 6-10, were not all that much better, and Dan Reeves was fired as their coach.) At least the Jets ran off six non-losing seasons after that, and the Giants made it to Super Bowl XXXV in January 2001.
The historically poor run of form for both teams has turned up the heat on Giants general manager Dave Gettleman and, to a slightly lesser extent, Jets GM Joe Douglas. The Jets do have Wilson and the intense Saleh, who says stuff like, “The guys played their absolute butts off.”
The Giants just have problems. With ESPN reporting over the weekend, citing sources, that they plan to bring back second-year head coach Joe Judge and third-year quarterback Daniel Jones in 2022, speculation is well underway as to who might replace Gettleman, whose biggest gambit as GM appears to have bombed.
Nearly four years have passed since Gettleman traded up to the No 2 position in the draft to select Saquon Barkley, the dynamic running back from Penn State, rather than a quarterback to eventually replace the fading veteran Eli Manning. Barkley had a terrific rookie season and a solid second year but tore up his knee in the second game of the 2020 season.
This season has been a slog for Barkley, who missed four games with a bad-looking ankle injury, and he sure looks as if he has lost a step. The Giants were trailing Philadelphia in the third quarter on Sunday by only 10-3 when Barkley took a handoff and motored upfield – only to be caught from behind after a five-yard gain by Eagles linebacker Genard Avery.
Barkley had only one more carry, for no gain, in a 34-10 loss, before Judge took him out, citing the pounding that Barkley has taken this season. Moreover, Barkley was not made available to the media either after the game or on Monday, leading to speculation that he might be shut down for the season – like Jones, who has a neck injury that has not gone away.
“In terms of shutting him down for the year, that’s more something that our medical team has not approached me about,” Judge said of Barkley.
It would probably be fine with the fans if both teams just shut it down for the year and start over. Once again, like the city itself, it is the renovation project without end.