This week, it got truly cold for the first time all year. At the Meadowlands, when the temperature dips into the 30s, the whipping winds make it even more biting.
It feels like proper football weather.
Giants fans surely remember seasons when, at this time of year, the team was positioning itself for a postseason run — even striving for home-field advantage at a place where it really is an advantage because of the frigid winds.
Those times, of course, feel like a lifetime ago because, well, they kind of were a lifetime ago.
During a quiet moment after practice this week, Evan Engram was standing in the cold outside the team facility, talking wistfully about his desire to feel that playoff pressure in the cold of winter.
The tight end not only hasn’t had a taste of playoff football, he hasn’t even gotten a whiff of the aroma.
The Giants last made the playoffs in 2016. Engram was drafted in 2017. The team is 22-56 in his NFL career entering the game Sunday against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.
Unfortunately for the Giants (4-10), the game in Philadelphia doesn’t mean nearly as much to them as it does to the Eagles (7-7), who are in the thick of the chase for a wild-card berth.
Engram is hungry to be in that chase.
“It’s a weird hunger, because I’m hungry for it and I wish we were in those situations playing in that atmosphere, but I have no idea what it’s like,’’ Engram told The Post. “I’ve only heard it’s a different level, a higher level, a crazier atmosphere. That it just means more. That’s the football that we dream of playing — those big games, those big moments. We’re just going to keep working until we get there.’’
Back in June, Engram was one of 49 players who went to Nashville to attend “Tight End University,’’ a three-day gathering of NFL tight ends sharing their secrets to playing the position. Engram listened with envy to stories some of his colleagues had about playoff football.
“Everyone was there, from [the 49ers’ George] Kittle, [the Chiefs’ Travis] Kelce, [the Raiders’] Darren Waller, and there are a lot of stories about playoff ball, big plays,’’ Engram said. “Travis and George played each other in the Super Bowl [in February 2020] and they talked about their paths to get there, their playoff runs.
“It’s just a different level,’’ Engram went on wistfully. “I’m trying to get there.’’
Engram’s journey with the Giants has been turbulent at times. His career has been defined by expectations for him to do more and his leaving Giants fans wanting more. Sometimes that has been fair and sometimes it has been unfair.
The last time the Giants played in Philadelphia, on Oct. 22, 2020, Engram cost them the game. He dropped a perfectly thrown Daniel Jones pass on third-and-6 with 2:14 remaining and the Giants leading 21-16 — that would have sealed victory. The drop forced the Giants to punt and the Eagles won the game, 22-21.
Engram, as he always has, took responsibility afterward. He said he has to make that catch.
“I’ve definitely grown at handling adversity, responding and getting back up,’’ Engram said. “With all the losing we’ve been having, you learn about the bad football that you can’t have if you want to win games.’’
Engram bashing has been fashionable around these parts — partly because of where he was drafted (23rd overall in the first round) and partly because his physical skills scream coverage mismatches and big plays.
Engram’s numbers are hardly commensurate with the criticism he seems to draw from Giants fans. Is he among the elite with Kelce and Kittle? No. Kelce has averaged 86.9 receptions a year and has scored 55 TDs in eight seasons. Kittle averages 65.8 catches and has 20 TDs.
But Engram isn’t chopped liver. He has averaged 57.2 receptions per year and has scored 15 TDs in his five seasons. Do you want more? Sure. But he has hardly embarrassed himself.
Of a stacked tight end draft class in 2017, during which he was one of eight at the position selected before Kittle, only Kittle has averaged more catches per season than Engram.
Engram knows Giants fans want more. He does, too.
“It’s been tough, but there’s been a lot of learning through the adversity, a lot of learning through all the down seasons — so stay the course, stay hungry and keep working,’’ he said. “Better days will be ahead.’’
With the bad football we’ve been witnessing for the past five seasons, it’s difficult to see those “better days ahead’’ very clearly. For the sake of Giants fans, hopefully Engram is right.
As Engram and I spoke while standing off to the side of the practice field, MetLife Stadium stood tall in the background. It seems like a shame the stadium will be dark and quiet again this January.
Better days …