October 13, 2020 | 6:13pm
Maybe Pat Riley got it wrong.
Hopefully, for Evan Engram and Dalvin Tomlinson, Riley’s famous (or infamous, depending on where you stand on absolutism) credo that “There is winning and there is misery’’ is more a concept than it is a hard-and-fast truth. For, if those are the two, and only two realities for those in the arena then Engram and Tomlinson might as well start learning the lines and melodies for a Giants enactment of “Les Miserables.”
Such is the NFL football life for Engram and Tomlinson. They arrived together in the 2017 draft, Engram in the first round out of Ole Miss, Tomlinson in the second round out of Alabama. They started immediately as rookies. Engram got knocked around a bit, missing time with injuries. Tomlinson has been a quiet workhorse, never missing a game.
They are both 26 years old and since donning their Giants uniforms they are 12-41.
Five games into their seasons with the Giants, they were 0-5, 1-4, 2-3 and this year’s 0-5. So, this is business as usual. Not even halfway through their fourth NFL seasons, they have already sifted through Ben McAdoo, Pat Shurmur and now Joe Judge as head coaches. They are young and yet old in terms of their Giants service; only Sterling Shepard, 27, a product of the 2016 draft class, has been on the scene longer.
At least Shepard got an appetizer taste of winning, going 11-5 as a rookie. For Engram and Tomlinson, the hike started in a valley and continues to be uphill every step of the way.
“Losing is losing,’’ Engram said. “There’s no way to explain all that and decipher all that. At the end of the day, we have the talent to win on this team. It comes down to beating ourselves and execution. I’m not going to get into past years. We have to find out. … We need to get better each and every day and come in and turn this thing around with this team this year.’’
Engram’s and Tomlinson’s Giants have never turned it around, in any year, as 3-13, 5-11, 4-12 and the handful of wins they collect this season are all pretty much the same stale chips at the bottom of the bag. They saw the end of Eli Manning’s career and the start of Daniel Jones’ and heard all the rhetoric and felt all the change new coaching regimes bring in the door. Nothing has moved the needle.
This losing feels a bit different in that Judge is in the first year of a five-year contract. He gets more years to figure it out and so the continuing upheaval will be to the roster and not the coaching staff.
The questions Tomlinson and Engram get asked are almost always joyless. Such as: Does the losing in this season feel any different than the losing in years past?
“I’m not one to compare losing seasons,’’ Tomlinson said. “I feel like what we have here on this team is special. The guys we have, the way we come to work each and every day, whatever we have to do each and every day at practice, we go and do it, no questions asked. The mentality of the team, I feel like we have something special here.’’
Tomlinson knows special. He was on campus at Alabama for five years and the Crimson Tide went 64-7 and won two national championships. He does not care to debate how a team that loses on a consistent basis can be described as special.
“I wouldn’t say that,’’ Tomlinson said. “I would say it’s a thin line between winning and losing. If you don’t execute what you’re supposed to, you can give the game away.’’
Engram ever since he walked in the door was thrust — prematurely — into a spokesman role in a locker room where the losing caused older players to run and hide. It is obvious it wears on him as he tries to shake off an underachiever stigma that grows with each low-impact game he plays.
Tomlinson is more the grinder. He was voted in as a team captain this season and admits he prefers to lead with his work ethic more than his words. He says he sees signs of better days ahead.
“I feel like we come in with our heads down and just work,’’ Tomlinson said. “It’s bound to pay off in due time.’’
It has never been due time for these two players, when it comes to winning with the Giants.