By Steve Silverman

The painful regular season came to an end Sunday in typical fashion, as the Giants once again fell short against a divisional rival that they had on the ropes throughout the majority of the game.

Dak Prescott is an excellent leader and a strong runner, but he is not a pinpoint passer. Nevertheless, he came through with a 32-yard touchdown pass to Cole Beasley on a 4th-and-15 play with 1:12 remaining, and followed that up with a two-point conversion to Michael Gallup, giving the Cowboys a 36-35 victory in the final game of the regular season.

The Giants certainly had time to mount a rally of their own, but Eli Manning followed with four straight incomplete passes. The Giants were beaten again.

The Cowboys had nothing to play for, as they were locked into the No. 4 position in the NFC playoff structure. But it was the Cowboys who were playing free and easy, while the Giants were struggling to find their stride.

Maybe that’s a good thing. It’s clear that the Giants played much better in the second half of the season than they did in the first half, but let’s look at that 4-4 run in November and December a little more. Once the Giants reached halfway point of the season with a 1-7 record, they showed a little bit of life, with four wins in their next five games.

Included in that was perhaps their best game of the season, a taut victory over the Chicago Bears, a team that appears to be the hottest in the NFC as the playoffs get underway.

However, the Giants closed the season with three straight losses to the Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts and the Cowboys.

Head coach, Pat Shurmur, may say “we are headed in the right direction,” but you have to wonder if he really believes the words coming out of his mouth.

Shurmur is supposed to be one of the young breed of coaches who truly understands what the modern NFL is all about. The Giants wouldn’t have hired him if they didn’t think he could be their version of the Rams’ Sean McVay or the Bears’ Matt Nagy.

If he really is that sharp, he knows there is plenty wrong with his team and other than sensational rookie running back Saquon Barkley, the team is not going in the right direction.

A half-decent second half of the season can obscure the truth. If Shurmur does not know it, his team needs a young quarterback who can step in for Eli Manning and help along the offensive line, because the blocking is substandard.

The defense ranges from ordinary to awful, and it must be addressed.

Barkley, however, is a sensational back. The NFL has been undervaluing running backs for years, saying they are disposable commodities who can be replaced. That is an easy conclusion, but it is not accurate.

The Cowboys would not have won the division if Ezekiel Elliott was not in the backfield helping out Prescott. Jared Goff is a good quarterback for the Rams, but Todd Gurley makes him great, when he is healthy and carrying the ball or catching passes.

Le’Veon Bell held out all season and the Steelers did not make the playoffs. They had a fine replacement in James Conner, but an above-average substitute does not make up for a superstar.

Barkley just finished his rookie year, and with one or two more years under his belt, he will either be the best running back in the league or No. 2 to Bell. Barkley has more to offer than Elliott or Gurley, because he is such a positive force in the locker room.

He will make everybody better, and that’s exactly the kind of player that every team wants and is so hard to find.

However, the team needs to surround Barkley with other talented and unselfish players who are on the way up.

There are not a lot of those in the New York locker room, and the belief here is that Shurmur knows it. He is not going to say anything to bash his team publicly, because he does not have the kind of gravitas to pull that off.

General Manager, Dave Gettleman, must take over from here, and one of the steps is finding the right quarterback.

He should have that opportunity with the No. 6 pick in the draft. Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins has a chance to become a prime-time quarterback, because of his accuracy, poise and arm strength. He will need some time to develop, but he could become the team’s quarterback of the future.

That could be one of many steps the Giants need to take. Teams go from last place to first in the NFL on a regular basis. Look at the Bears this year as the latest example.

The NFC East seems to belong to a different team most years. The Giants could have an opportunity in 2019 to claim the division as their own if they play their cards correctly.

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