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Jets and Giants Vie for Best New York Team Not Named the Bills


The Giants play the Jets on Sunday. One thing not resting on the outcome of the game: New York football bragging rights.

Who is going to feel boastful after this matchup of the browbeaten? If a winning player is walking with a swagger afterward, it’s probably just a knee, hip or foot injury.

In the 50 seasons that these teams have been meeting in the regular season, many of the games have carried significant weight. Sometimes playoff berths have been on the line, or a path could be cleared to the postseason, even to the Super Bowl. At the very least, there was a sense that the winners left the game knowing they were kings of their domain.

No one is going to be crowning the Jets (1-7) or the Giants (2-7) as any kind of sovereign this weekend (and truth be told, the Buffalo Bills at 6-2 can credibly claim to be the kings of New York). The rest of the N.F.L. will be tuning into the action at MetLife Stadium to find out which New York team can add a gut-wrenching defeat to an already demoralizing season.

For the Giants, a victory would be their first since September. The Jets have lost only three games in a row, but each has been uglier than the last. This game will be hosted by the Jets, and it will be interesting to see how many of their fans sell tickets on the secondary market to Giants fans. When your team has won only two of its last 18 games, as the Jets have, such a transaction does not signify greed as much as common sense.

Sunday’s game is not without intrigue, however. It will probably be a three-hour window into which team is further along in a tortuously slow rebuild — and which team is more lost and wandering in the woods. Without question, each team’s downtrodden fan base will be taking notice. It’s been a humiliating season for both Giants and Jets fans, but for one of the two, it’s about to get so much worse.

Most notably, the game will be the first head-to-head meeting of their 22-year-old quarterbacks: the Jets’ Sam Darnold and the Giants’ Daniel Jones, who were born nine days apart in 1997.

Now in his second year, Darnold has a season of N.F.L. experience on Jones, but instead of maturing, Darnold appears to be unraveling before our eyes.

He was brilliant in the Jets’ lone bright spot this year: a 2-point upset of the Dallas Cowboys. But in the three games since then, Darnold has thrown eight interceptions, fumbled twice and been sacked 12 times. Against the Patriots three weeks ago, a live microphone on the Jets’ sideline caught him talking about “seeing ghosts” as he stood in the passing pocket, and his on-the-field body language lately has been shouting dejection and gloom.

When Darnold’s center snapped the ball too quickly late in the Jets’ loss last weekend at Miami, sending the ball whizzing past Darnold and bouncing toward the back of the Jets’ end zone, the quarterback did not chase after it, which is the least of his duties on the play but still a vital one. Darnold was instead inert, staring at the football as if he were watching the awful play unfold on video in a darkened room — and surely, he has glumly reviewed a lot of such scenes in just that way this season.

Jones has been given something of a free pass as a rookie. But in his last five games, all losses, he has fumbled seven times and been intercepted six times. In seven starts, Jones has managed to vault into a tie atop the league’s turnover standings, with 16.

Jones made for a winsome story when he was drafted, and he seemed like a godsend when he rallied the Giants to victory against the Buccaneers on Sept. 22. But he has been erratic at best since then and has yet to prove that he can be more secure with the football — another of those slight but pivotal duties for a quarterback.

Sunday’s game is not only an opportunity to compare the teams’ emergent quarterbacks. The Giants’ second-year coach, Pat Shurmur, and the Jets’ first-year coach, Adam Gase, have had their decision-making and in-game acumen questioned, with good reason. The spotlight that shines on a Jets-Giants game is still bright enough that a prominent sideline gaffe by a coach could be devastating to his career. In Gase’s case, perhaps even in the near future. And Shurmur hasn’t exactly been embraced by Giants fans.

In the end, it’s more than a little sad that both franchises have fallen as far as they have in what has been, for the most part, a depressing eight-year stretch for each.

It’s hard to recall that when the teams met on Christmas Eve in 2011, the Jets were coming off back-to-back appearances in the A.F.C. championship game. The Giants, four seasons removed from a Super Bowl victory, had a 7-7 record. The Jets were 8-6, and both teams needed a win to preserve bona fide playoff hopes. The Giants, thanks largely to Victor Cruz’s stunning, 99-yard touchdown reception, won, 29-14, a victory that helped catapult them to a fourth Super Bowl title.

Those were the days. The Jets haven’t been in the playoffs since. The Giants haven’t won a playoff game since the 2011 postseason, and have qualified for the playoffs only once.

The Jets and Giants meet in the regular season for a 14th time Sunday. The game will surely be entertaining in its own way. But it will be nothing to brag about.


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