It has been the season from hell for the Giants and their fans this year, and while everything that could go wrong has, there have been some bright spots, believe it or not.
Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard, in particular, have given reason for optimism.
The rookie tight end and second-year receiver have been called upon to be leaders of the offense with injuries to Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall, and the two have proven that they are more than capable of fulfilling that role.
That was evident in Sunday’s 31-21 loss to the 49ers as Shepard finished with career-highs of 11 catches and 142 yards, while Engram had six catches for 31 yards and touchdown the fourth straight game in which he has found the end zone.
Engram who got dinged up in the third quarter but returned also tied the franchise record for most touchdowns by a rookie tight end (five) set by Bob Tucker in 1970.
Shepard’s performance was highlighted with a Beckham-like one-handed grab in the third quarter.
“I’m just trying as much as I can,” Shepard said after the game. “We didn’t come out with a win, so I’m not very happy about that.”
It is hard to look at the positives for a team that is 1-8, but Shepard is continuing the trend he set last season as a reliable target out of the slot for Eli Manning. Last season, Shepard was second among all rookie receivers with eight touchdowns and 683 receiving yards.
While he has just one touchdown this season, he has at least five receptions in the seven games he has played, including two 100-plus yard games.
Shepard has also embraced being the leader in the wide receiver room and default No. 1 receiver.
“I love it. I love any role,” Shepard said following the Giants’ bye week. “The role that I had before this, just making plays and I’m taking that same mindset to now. Just got to make plays, that’s the bottom line.”
Shepard did miss two games with a sprained ankle, leaving the Giants without him, Beckham and Marshall, and it showed as they failed to gain more than 133 yards in the air without them in either game.
In their absence, though, was Engram, who emerged as Manning’s new favorite red zone target and began his streak of four straight games with a touchdown.
Engram has been a staple of consistency this season, averaging five catches and 40 yards through nine games. So it was only a matter of time before the touchdowns would fall in place.
“I never get complacent,” Engram said earlier this season. “I’m always aiming for more. I’m definitely getting some confidence in making plays and being confident on the field, but definitely some things I can be better at and things I’m going to improve on.”
Justin Pugh was named the Giants’ nominee for the fourth annual Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award on Tuesday.
The award was created in 2014, named after the late Steelers owner, and is presented each year prior to the Super Bowl.
Last season, Colts running back Frank Gore won the award.