EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The 2014 New York Giants are not a very good team. They never were a very good team, and now that the big injuries have set in, they don't even look as though they can be competitive with the league's legitimate contenders. The Giants are 0-5 against teams with a winning record and 3-0 against teams with a losing record, and Monday night's 40-24 home loss to the Indianapolis Colts did little but reinforce what we already knew.
Coach Tom Coughlin challenged his team last week to "play above the X's and O's," but given the Giants' health situation, their inexperience and the talent level of their personnel, that's too much to ask at this point. The alarming thing about Monday night was the extent to which the Giants played below the X's and O's: the touchdown given up because the defense wasn't ready; the inability to convert a third down; the maddening, continued, fruitless search for a running game.
"You've got to have a lot of passion about this game," safety and defensive team captain Antrel Rolle said early Tuesday morning. "We're not taking it. We have to fight harder."
They do. The Giants have eight games left in this season. The rules say they have to play all eight. Coughlin will demand they prepare and play their absolute best in all eight, whether they're contenders or not. So the question becomes, What can they get out of the second half of another lost season? The answer: quite a bit.
The final eight games of this Giants season will be about finding out who's part of the solution and who isn't. The Giants began a rebuilding project last spring, and as they brace for the extreme likelihood of missing the playoffs for the fifth time in the past six years, they must carefully evaluate the ability, desire and fit of every player they have. They need to know what they have that's worth building on.
"You can't say we're not prepared, we're not focused, not practicing hard," cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. "That's one thing about Coach Coughlin -- he's not going to let that happen."
Those who demonstrate an ability to function in the Giants' program will stand in good stead for 2015 and beyond. Those who don't, no matter how much they make or in which round they were drafted, will not. The evidence for this was on the field Monday night wearing a Colts No. 14 jersey: former first-round pick Hakeem Nicks, who yawned his way out of town with a miserable contract year in 2013. Just 26 years old and a Giants Super Bowl champion, Nicks was clearly not into what they were doing here anymore, so they decided in the spring not to make him a part of what they were doing in the future, either.
So, yes, you'd better believe people are playing for jobs right now. The group the Giants are running out there on a weekly basis is very young and still learning, but the people who run the team are going to be watching closely to see how hard those young players are working, what the competition means to them and how they're developing in the system. Former first-rounder Jason Pierre-Paul is where Nicks was a year ago, and if he's looking for a big contract in free agency, he's got to deliver big to convince the team to give it to him. Left tackle Will Beatty, who signed a big free-agent deal two offseasons ago, needs to play like someone who deserves to keep it. Rolle is an impending free agent. Heck, Eli Manning is going to be looking for a contract extension at the end of this year.
And this goes for the coaches, too. It's hard to imagine a Coughlin team bottoming out and finishing 4-12 or 3-13 -- especially after last year's hollowed-out husk of a roster didn't. But if such a thing happens, Coughlin is not automatically safe. If Perry Fewell's defense keeps giving up big plays, he's not guaranteed a job in 2015. It's hard to see them cutting offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo loose after just one year, but the first-year playcaller is like every other rookie around here -- he has to show promise in order to make the Giants feel good about sticking with him beyond 2014.
These are tough times around the Giants. No one likes losing, and no one likes the feeling of not being good enough to compete week to week. If it's all pointing to better things in the future, it's easier to take. But those who want to stick around and be part of those better things need to spend the final eight games proving they can help make them a reality -- or they won't get the chance.