Nate Solder played though a neck issue earlier in the season and did not get off to a particularly inspiring start to his Giants career. The big guy is relentlessly positive and cheerful, polite and resolute in not saying anything to stir anything up, never coming remotely close to uttering a word or syllable that could be construed as critical of a teammate or a coaching move.
Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley were the showstoppers as the Giants upset the Bears 30-27 in overtime, but as the Giants and their oft-suffering fans know all too well, nothing much gets done if the offensive line is shabby. Solder is the largest (6-foot-8) building block, imported to hold down left tackle and help change the culture. He did a fine job dealing with uber-dangerous Khalil Mack, limiting one of the league’s best pass-rushers to one sack, coming in the fourth quarter.
“He’s an incredible player and he has the ability to control games, and I don’t think he influenced that game in a way that he usually would,” Solder told The Post. “I don’t think he did. Do you?”
Come to think of it, no.
Solder gets paid a ton and has a Super Bowl résumé from his seven years with the Patriots and thus much is expected of him. He gets the big bucks to neutralize the Mack-type players, the defensive menaces capable of wrecking a game. Mack was a force, but he did not wreck the game.
“I don’t take all the credit for that,’’ Solder said. “The ball was getting out quick, wide receivers were getting open and the play-calling was great. That helped me out the whole game.’’
It was more than all that. Solder downplayed his contribution to the cause. He is not an All-Pro caliber player, even though with a four-year, $62 million contract, he is rewarded like one. The money is a byproduct of the Giants’ desperation in free agency, the dearth of available, healthy and NFL middle-aged (30) left tackles and the intense desire to add quality and stability to the position after the three-plus-year Ereck Flowers reign of error.
Solder adds an unquestioned air of professionalism and an earnestness that is as hard to miss as his towering physical presence. Coach Pat Shurmur was annoyed with last week’s line of questioning focused on how poorly his offensive line stacked up with the Bears’ pass rush — “Based on what everybody was asking, we were going to cancel the game,’’ he scoffed.
Solder takes it seriously but not personally and certainly does not get bent out of shape by pregame hype or skepticism.
“You know I don’t pay attention to you guys,” he said, peering down (as always) at the media surrounding him. He chuckled when he said it, and so did everyone else.
More musing as the Giants won their fourth game of the season:
Giants believe that game is one that turns it all around
Not now, for sure, but someday, perhaps next season, the…
— Winning turns the confidence up and pushes the draft pick down. After last week’s loss in Philadelphia, the Giants owned the No. 5-overall pick in the 2019 draft. After upsetting the Bears, the Giants, if the season ended today, would have the No. 7 pick. Will they use it on a quarterback? Of the six teams ahead of them in the first round, the 49ers (Jimmy Garoppolo), Jets (Sam Darnold) and Cardinals (Josh Rosen) have young quarterbacks and don’t need to take one in the draft. The Raiders have Derek Carr, but you never know what Jon Gruden is thinking. The Lions have Matt Stafford and the Falcons have Matt Ryan and so you would not think they would go for a quarterback in the first round.
— His teammates get a kick out of the weekly physical exploits and take delight in chiding Saquon Barkley for not being able to fly or at least leap over tall buildings in a single bound. And so, after Barkley stuck the landing on his two-footed leap over 6-foot safety Adrian Amos, the Giants wanted more from their rookie phenom.
“That was neat,” Solder said. “I thought maybe he could flip and land on his feet and then run it in. I won’t hold that against him.”
Told he perhaps is holding Barkley to too high a standard, Solder laughed. “An impossible standard,’’ he said.
— Barkley’s 125-yard rushing effort was his third consecutive game surpassing 100 yards. He is at 954 yards after 12 games of his rookie year, easily breaking the Giants’ rookie record of 830 set by Tuffy Leemans in 1936. So it is a record that stood the test of time. Next up: Can Barkley actually beat the Odell Beckham Jr. franchise record of 91 receptions as a rookie? You betcha. Barkley has 74 catches, matching tight end Jeremy Shockey’s rookie total set in 2002. Shockey owned the rookie record before Beckham shattered it, Barkley is on pace for 98 receptions, so if he keeps it up, he will own all the Giants’ significant rushing and receiving rookie records.
— This does not happen often. Beckham has two passing touchdowns this season. The last Giants non-quarterback to do this was running back David Meggett in 1993. This is not only rare around the Giants. The most recent non-quarterback in the NFL with two scoring passes in a season was Steelers receiver Antwaan Randle El, who did it in 2010.
— Alec Ogletree became the first Giants linebacker to ever return two interceptions for touchdowns in a season. Say what you will about some of his deficiencies in coverage, but Ogletree has a nose for the end zone. He has four interception returns for touchdowns in his six-year career. Ogletree leads the Giants with four interceptions. The last Giants linebacker with as many in a season? Vince Costello in 1967.
— B.J. Hill’s three sacks of Chase Daniel is a rare rookie accomplishment. The last time a Giants first-year player had three sacks in a game was back in 1979 — Philip Tabor did it against the Eagles.
— Ali Haji-Sheikh kicked two 56-yard field goals for the Giants, both in 1983. They were the longest made field goals in franchise history for 35 years, until Aldrick Rosas nailed his 57-yarder against the Bears. In his second season, Rosas is 26-of-27 on field goals (his only miss was from 52 yards) and should get serious Pro Bowl consideration.