We interrupt the Giants’ feel-good season to relitigate arguably the most embarrassing week in franchise history.
“This game was for Ben McAdoo and Jerry Reese,” Geno Smith told reporters Sunday after he led the Seahawks to a 27-13 win over the Giants in Seattle. “They believed in me.”
Ah, yes. The 2017 benching of Eli Manning. A disastrous move followed by an even more calamitous clean-up effort. One that caused such immense wreckage the team still has yet to fully recover. And Smith, of course, was one of the key players in the whole debacle.
The cliff notes: The Giants were 2-9 heading into their Week 12 game at the Raiders. McAdoo and Reese attempted to have Manning start the first half of the game to maintain his consecutive start streak, then give way to Smith (the backup) and then-rookie Davis Webb in the second half. Manning balked and Smith was then named the starter.
The plan was pretty clear. Smith would start for a week or two (there were five games left in a lost season). Webb would take over so the Giants could see what they had in their third-round pick. And Manning’s time with the team would almost assuredly come to an end. Co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch signed off on the plan.
The Giants then had an awkward rollout of the monumental change. Manning nearly broke down at his locker. Mike Francesa went nuts. Former Giants raged. Fans flipped out. And then, after Smith turned the ball over twice in the red zone in a competitive loss in Oakland, the Giants flew home and fired McAdoo and Reese (after the decision had leaked to ESPN prior to kickoff).
Steve Spagnuolo was named interim head coach and immediately reinstalled Manning as the starter. Then Dave Gettleman showed up and tried to rebuild the team on the fly to squeeze one last Super Bowl run out of Manning. That failed miserably. So too did his efforts to rebuild around Daniel Jones. He eventually was forced out after getting Joe Judge and Pat Shurmur fired as well. Enter new coach Brian Daboll and GM Joe Schoen. And here we are now after Smith has revitalized his career in Seattle.
A few quick things: Smith did get a raw deal of sorts. And credit to him for traveling a long road to a real home after his first chance got derailed with the Jets. McAdoo and Reese were not fired for benching Manning. But it is the reason they were fired during the season. Mara panicked in the face of fan revolt. And his biggest mistakes were allowing Spagnuolo to go back to Manning, followed by listening to Gettleman’s hot air about Manning (because that’s what he wanted to hear, to be frank).
Manning likely would have retired had the Giants followed throng with playing Webb down the stretch. That would have allowed them to take a quarterback with the No. 2 pick in the 2018 draft instead of running back Saquon Barkley. And we would argue even if they took Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen, they would have been better off. Alas.
James Kratch can be reached at [email protected]