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The unsettling cycle facing this Giants core: ‘It’s tough’

Angelo Moretti



The unsettling cycle facing this Giants core: ‘It’s tough’

It is another week in the life of the Giants, this one filled with uncertainty with the quarterback. Daniel Jones is in the concussion protocol and, as he appears to be progressing nicely, it will be a close call to get him medical clearance in time for Sunday’s game against the Rams.

The availability of the most important player on the field is a huge deal, but less so with the Giants. Many fans — assessing cursory, unscientific social media scrolling — actually seem to prefer that Jones sit this one out, looking long term rather than what awaits the Giants in Week 6.

This is the problem with the Giants. For far too long, there is no short term for them in the first half of too many seasons. The anticipation that leads into every opener painstakingly gives way to a numbness that gets into the bloodstream of players who have been around long enough to sense where this long and winding road is headed.

The Giants are 1-4 and in sole possession of last place in the NFC East — which is actually a difficult spot to claim, considering the mediocrity in the division, outside of the Cowboys. Newcomers might be able to push forward, oblivious to what has gone on around here for the past four years. Those who have been in the building during all or most of this depressing stretch try to stay positive, but human nature is the most relentless foe of them all.

“Yeah, it’s tough, but you have to keep plugging,’’ Sterling Shepard said Wednesday. “Whatever we’ve done in the past to figure out kind of midway through the season, we have to hurry up and do it now.’’

Sterling Shepard, who was drafted in 2016, is the longest-tenured Giant.Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

It is tempting to want to transport Shepard to a different era of Giants football. He’s as solid as they come and deserves better than this. He broke in as a rookie in 2016, the Giants won 11 games and went to the playoffs. Since then, when the Giants start playing, they start losing, and just like that, the season is gone. They were 0-5 after five games in 2017. Then 1-4. Then 2-3. Then 0-5. Now they are 1-4. It usually gets worse before it gets better.

Linebacker Lorenzo Carter, in his fourth season with the Giants, cannot find the right words. He was asked if it is getting to the point when his team, already three games out of first place, is in trouble.

“Was that a question?’’ he said.

Yes, it was a question.

“Is it getting to the point where we’re in trouble? I wouldn’t say so,’’ Carter said. “I would say that we have everything in front of us. We have 12 games left. I’ve been here for four years, and I don’t think — we’ve had way worse starts and I don’t think we’ve been out of it at the end when it comes to December and at the end of the year, January, playing those football games.

“I’m not worried about being out of it or anything.’’

It is easy to pull apart Carter’s reasoning, but what is the use? It is all he knows with the Giants.

Shepard, the longest-tenured Giants player, is the lone survivor of the 2016 draft class. He is 30-55 in his Giants career. Evan Engram, the only remaining player from the 2017 draft class, is 19-50. The 2018 class is represented by Saquon Barkley, Will Hernandez and Carter; they are 16-37. The Giants selected 10 players in the 2019 draft; just five remain on the roster: Jones, Dexter Lawrence, Oshane Ximines, Julian Love and Darius Slayton. That group is 11-26 since slipping on the Giants uniform.

Eight players from the Class of 2020 are still here, led by starting left tackle Andrew Thomas and starting free safety Xavier McKinney. It is a new bunch with the same results: 7-14 thus far.

It is difficult to blot out the stains losing leaves as residue.

Bill Parcells took over the Jets in 1997 after Rich Kotite went 1-15 in 1996 and during that first season identified the task he accepted.

“I’m too old to do this,’’ Parcells said. “These guys here, I tell you, this is hard. We’re doing a little better, but it’s hard. When a team’s 1-15, they just get beat down, mentally.’’

So many Giants are beat down, mentally, whether they know it or not. Joe Judge, responsible for just 21 games into this losing trend, said he does not detect any sign that defeat has become habit-forming.

“To me, it’s all about actions,’’ Judge said. “Guys can come in and they can sing a good song and they can whistle by the graveyard and all that kind of stuff, but when you come to work, how intent are you in getting better and how intent are you going to practice on the field?

“Have I seen any signs? No, I’ve seen our guys come in and prepare hard and work hard on the field, and that’s what we’re looking forward to doing today again.’’

With that, Judge took the field for practice, another workday for the Giants, coming off another loss.

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Ohio State has best chance to spoil SEC’s national championship party

Angelo Moretti



Ohio State has best chance to spoil SEC’s national championship party

It lost to the best team it faced. Its last three league wins have come over teams with a combined one conference victory. Its defense was shredded for 66 points by the two best offenses it has seen.

And, yet, Ohio State has looked every bit the way Ohio State is supposed to look over the past month, scoring 231 points and holding its last four opponents to 44. Freshman C.J. Stroud has emerged as a Heisman Trophy contender, the latest quarterback that coach Ryan Day has molded into an elite playmaker. The previously suspect defense has found its swagger, producing seven turnovers in the last four games. The skill positions are loaded with future pros such as Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Jaxon Smith Njigba and TreVeyon Henderson.

It gives me reason to believe the national champion isn’t a lock to come out of the SEC. Georgia is the clear-cut favorite and Alabama is the team many have pointed to as giving the Bulldogs the most trouble.

Ohio State, though, has played better over the last month than the Crimson Tide. It certainly has been more consistent than Nick Saban’s team, which lost to Texas A&M and struggled at home against mediocre Tennessee on Saturday.

We’ll learn more about the Buckeyes in the coming weeks, with games still remaining against the two undefeated Michigan teams, the Wolverines and Spartans, and a potential Big Ten title game with one-loss Iowa.

Steele Chambers dives for a fumble in the second quarter against Indiana.Getty Images

Since losing to Oregon on Sept. 11, Ohio State has reeled off five straight wins over Tulsa, Akron, Rutgers, Maryland and Indiana. It has put up at least 41 points in all of those games. Now the caveat: Of those five, only Maryland, at 4-3, has a winning record. Its best win was the 45-31 season opener at Minnesota, which is tied with Iowa for the Big Ten West lead.

Day’s team still has a lot of proving to do. The résumé needs work. Plenty of questions remain. But the pieces are clearly there to make another national championship game run. Supposed top teams have struggled against the kind of weak opponents Ohio State has destroyed in recent weeks.

The Buckeyes are college football’s X factor — the team standing in the way of an all-SEC party in the College Football Playoff.

Over it

College football’s new overtime rules, intended to prevent extra-long games, is so poorly designed MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is in favor of it.

It gave us nine overtime sessions in the disaster that was Illinois’ 20-18 upset of Penn State. Of course, it wasn’t a true nine overtimes. The rules have changed that. After the first two overtime periods, instead of each team starting at the other’s 25-yard-line, we go right into two-point conversions.

Penn State and Illinois combined to miss on their first 10 two-point tries before both converting in the eighth overtime. Illinois mercifully ended it on Brandon Peters’ scoring strike to Casey Washington in the following stanza.

It made a mockery of the sport and gave extra attention to a game that really didn’t deserve it. I’m praying college basketball doesn’t get any ideas from this.

Eyes on the prize

The College Football Playoff may come down to Oklahoma or Cincinnati, one team leaving the Big 12 and another joining it. You’re going to hear so much about Cincinnati’s strength of schedule, the level of opponent it faces in the AAC. On social media, there was plenty of criticism of the Bearcats’ underwhelming victory over one-win Navy this weekend.

But let’s not forget how badly Oklahoma struggled with Big 12 punching bag Kansas. How underwhelming it has been all year against inferior opponents, beating the likes of Tulane, West Virginia, Nebraska and Kansas State by a single score. Cincinnati, meanwhile, has won six of its seven games by at least 11 points, including a road victory over Notre Dame. The AAC program wins the eye test and game-control comparison, which you hear so much about from the playoff committee every year. Hopefully, they remember that if it comes down to these two schools.

Top 10

1. Georgia (7-0) (Last week: 1)

Florida is the last roadblock between Georgia and a perfect regular season. The Gators may have three losses, but they are capable, particularly if Dan Mullen finally gives the ball to fantastic freshman quarterback Anthony Richardson.

2. Alabama (7-1) (3)

The Crimson Tide defense has alternated between stifling and porous. It dominated Ole Miss and Mississippi State, and was lit up by Texas A&M and Tennessee.

3. Ohio State (6-1) (5)

Ohio State’s last four wins, over Akron, Rutgers, Maryland and Indiana, have come by an aggregate of 231-44. It’s not elite competition, but it is certainly elite results.

4. Cincinnati (7-0) (2)

Yes, it was just one poor performance, an ugly showing in a narrow victory over one-win Navy. but Cincinnati really can’t afford any more of these.

Lincoln RileyGetty Images

5. Oklahoma (8-0) (4)

The Sooners held a five-point lead over Kansas with 3:20 remaining, and the ball was at the Oklahoma 46-yard line. Instead of punting on fourth-and-1, Lincoln Riley went for it, which says all you need to know about what he thinks of his defense.

6. Michigan (7-0) (7)

Now we finally start to see what this Michigan team is made of, beginning Saturday in East Lansing against Michigan State. The Wolverines have beaten the teams on their schedule, but don’t have a single win that really stands out.

7. Michigan State (7-0) (8)

The last time Michigan State and Michigan were both ranked in the top 10 entering their annual showdown was 1964. The atmosphere at Spartan Stadium will be electric.

8. Ole Miss (6-1) (NR)

Lane Kiffin’s team has responded to the ugly loss at Alabama by beating Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU, keeping itself alive in the SEC West race.

9. Kentucky (6-1) (9)

Prior to Mark Stoops’ arrival, Kentucky had won double-digit games just twice in program history. It is on pace to do that for a second time in five seasons this year. He’s a name you don’t hear enough during the coaching carousel.

10. Oregon (6-1) (NR)

The Ducks’ playoff dream isn’t dead, but it has come close to being extinguished in nail-biting victories over Cal and UCLA the last two weeks.

Dropped out: Penn State (5-2) and Oklahoma State (6-1)

Heisman Watch

(in alphabetical order)

QB Matt Corral, Ole Miss

Playing through injuries, the junior produced two touchdowns in a win over LSU, extending his streak of at least two scores to 17 consecutive games.

QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh

Two games up on Virginia, Pitt is in position to win the ACC Coastal division with Pickett leading the way. He’s thrown 23 touchdown passes and just one interception, emerging as one of the premier quarterbacks in the country.

Kenny PickettGetty Images

QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State

It’s getting harder to imagine Stroud not getting a New York City invite as he stacks one eye-popping performance upon another, now with 14 touchdowns over his last three games without an interception and a 73.8 completion percentage.

RB Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State

This week Walker can make a statement by lighting up Michigan’s second-ranked scoring defense which has allowed just one 100-yard rusher in seven games.

QB Bryce Young, Alabama

The Heisman remains Young’s to lose, as he continues to pile up huge numbers. He had his best day yet on Saturday, producing four touchdowns and 413 total yards.

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Jets destroyed by Patriots amid Zach Wilson injury worry

Angelo Moretti



Jets destroyed by Patriots amid Zach Wilson injury worry

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Jets suffered a humiliating loss and lost their quarterback on a brutal Sunday afternoon in New England.

The Patriots embarrassed the Jets 54-13 at Gillette Stadium and rookie quarterback Zach Wilson exited the game in the second quarter with a knee injury.

The extent of Wilson’s injury was not immediately known, but he left the game with 12:31 left in the first half after Patriots linebacker Matthew Judon hit him. It was not clear if the injury occurred on the Judon hit or two plays earlier when Lawrence Guy hit Wilson along the sideline, which prompted some complaints to the officials from coach Robert Saleh.

Wilson walked off the field on his own, spent some time in the medical blue tent on the sideline and then limped to the locker room. It looked like it was his right knee that was injured.

The beat-down was already on by the time Wilson exited the game. The Patriots were up 17-0 when he was injured.

The loss dropped the Jets to 1-5 and it was their 12th straight loss to the Patriots, who entered the game with questions about how they were playing, but used the Jets as a “get right” game and looked just fine, scoring on their first six possessions. The victory moved them to 3-4 this season.

Jets quarterback Zach Wilson left Sunday’s loss to the Patriots with a knee injury.USA TODAY Sports

It was a humiliating defeat for the Jets, who gave up 50 points for the first time since 1995. The 54 points is the most the Jets have allowed since Sept. 9, 1979, when the Patriots beat them 56-3. The 54 points allowed is the fourth-most in franchise history.

The Jets spent the last two weeks talking about how they would address their slow starts coming out of their bye week. But their first series looked familiar as they went three-and-out with Wilson getting sacked on third down after two short runs. They moved the ball better on their second drive and made it to the Patriots 30 on 12 plays, but Matt Ammendola missed a 48-yard field goal that left the Jets still looking for their first points in the first quarter this season. The 2008 Lions are the last team to go without a first-quarter point in their first six games. Those Lions went 0-16.

The Jets have been outscored 106-20 in the first half this season.

As bad as the offense looked, the defense matched it on this day. The Patriots made it look easy, going 70 yards on four plays on their first drive. The Jets allowed a 28-yard screen pass on the drive that ended with a 25-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver Kendrick Bourne to Nelson Agholor on a well-designed gadget play.

Robert Saleh and the Jets gave up at least 50 points for the first time since 1995.Getty Images

They made it 14-0 on their next drive, marching right down the field again with Damien Harris scoring a 1-yard touchdown.

The Jets were without C.J. Mosley in the middle of their defense and it showed. The Patriots ran it down their throats and continually threw to running backs out of the backfield.

Mike White replaced Wilson in the second quarter, seeing his first NFL action. The Jets drew a pass interference penalty on the play that Wilson was injured on and it put the ball at the Patriots’ 2. White’s first career pass was a 3-yard touchdown pass to Corey Davis that cut the Patriots’ lead to 17-7. White made some nice throws in relief of Wilson and led them on another touchdown drive to open the second half that made it 31-13. Rookie receiver Elijah Moore scored his first career touchdown, a 19-yard run on a reverse for the score.

After some initial success, though, White threw two interceptions and looked like he was playing in his first career game.

Wilson’s availability will now become the story of the week as the Jets prepare to play the Bengals at MetLife Stadium and then travel to Indianapolis to play the Colts on “Thursday Night Football” the following week.

One of the main storylines of summer was the Jets’ decision not to sign a veteran backup behind Wilson. That decision will now be front and center if White has to play for an extended period of time.

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Travis d’Arnaud gets second World Series chance six years after Mets fell short

Angelo Moretti



Travis d’Arnaud gets second World Series chance six years after Mets fell short

ATLANTA — Travis d’Arnaud hadn’t celebrated like this since Oct. 21, 2015.

On that night at Wrigley Field, the Mets completed a four-game sweep of the Cubs and were headed to a World Series that ended in a disappointing Game 5 loss to the Royals for d’Arnaud and his teammates.

“It feels like forever ago,” d’Arnaud said Saturday after his Braves won the pennant by beating the Dodgers in Game 6 of the NLCS, sending the team to the World Series for the first time since 1999. “I am looking forward to going back and end this year with a win.”

The 32-year-old d’Arnaud had a frustrating regular season, playing only 60 games because of a torn ligament in his left thumb. He returned in August, just in time for the Braves to assemble a run toward their fourth straight NL East title.

D’Arnaud’s time with the Mets was largely defined by such stints on the injured list. It led to the team finally releasing him in May 2019. The catcher then bounced from the Dodgers to the Rays and Braves, who signed him to a two-year contract worth $16 million before the 2020 season.

Travis d’Arnaud (r.) celebrates with Braves reliever Will Smith after winning the NLCS on Oct. 23, 2021.USA TODAY Sports

The Mets acquired d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard as the two key pieces of a trade that sent National League Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey to Toronto following the 2012 season. In three of his five full seasons with the club, d’Arnaud appeared in fewer than 100 games. D’Arnaud missed almost all of the 2018 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

“I loved my time in New York,” d’Arnaud said. “I wish I had stayed healthy over there, that is the No. 1 thing I wish I did over there, but everyone’s book of life has their chapters in it and I enjoyed my time there and my time here as well.”

During the regular season, d’Arnaud slashed only .220/.284/.388 with seven homers and 26 RBIs in 229 plate appearances. He’s been equally invisible offensively during the postseason — he is 6-for-31 (.194), but the Braves value his game-calling and presence behind the plate.

Travis d’Arnaud with the Mets during the 2015 playoffs.Getty Images

“He’s been unbelievable,” reliever Tyler Matzek said. “He struggled through injuries this whole year, he’s been grinding to get back, he’s been waiting to get back and when he got back he settled us all down as a pitching staff: starters, bullpen, everybody. We trust this guy 100 percent and he’s been a freakin’ amazing backstop back there.”

For Mets fans, it will be a second straight World Series that includes a celebrated former member of the team. The Dodgers won last year’s Fall Classic with Justin Turner as the starting third baseman.

D’Arnaud said he still keeps tabs on many of his former Mets teammates, including Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler, Daniel Murphy and David Wright. He also will serve as a groomsman in Michael Conforto’s upcoming wedding. There are others with whom he keeps in touch.

“Flo I talk to all the time,” d’Arnaud said, referring to Wilmer Flores. “I still throw jabs at him — make fun of him all the time.”

The Braves will be underdogs against the Astros, but it’s a label the team has proudly worn all season. That extended into a postseason in which the Braves entered with 88 victories — the fewest of any team in this year’s playoff field.

“We have been underdogs the whole time,” d’Arnaud said. “I don’t mind it. We like it. We all enjoy it. I think people had us finishing fourth in our division this year too, so we all believe in each other, that is the most important thing, and we’re going to the World Series.”

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