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Giants at Panthers: 6 things we learned from the Giants’ loss

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The Giants almost won, but they didn’t. What can we learn from the loss?

NFL: New York Giants at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants lost a heartbreaker to the Carolina Panthers, 33-31, Sunday as the Panthers squeaked past the woebegone Giants with a last-second 63-yard field goal.

The Giants broke the 30-point barrier (which, honestly, shouldn’t even BE a barrier for a team with the offensvie firepower the Giants boast) for the first time since 2015, but it wasn’t enough to overcome their own play.

What can did we learn from the Giants’ tough loss in Carolina?

The Giants’ special teams remain a problem

As Dan Pizzuta and I noted this week after the loss to the New Orleans Saints on the Big Blue reView podcast, it’s a sad state of affairs when the best thing you have to talk about on special teams is the improvement of your kicker.

And kudos to Aldrick Rosas, because he HAS improved this season. Yes, he did kick one out of bounds on a slick field, but he nailed a career-long 53-yard field goal, has been perfect on the season, and solved any kick coverage problems by simply depositing the ball behind the opposing endzone. That’s about where the kudos will end.

The Giants’ punt coverage remains an adventure, and they STILL can’t seem to find a reliable punt returner, even with Odell Beckham Jr.’s presence back there.

The Giant added a bevy or special teams specialists in the offseason, and hired a new Special Teams Coordinator — though Tom Quinn remains as an assistant as Thomas McGauhey fights his own battle with cancer.

We don’t talk much about special teams, but it is a vital part of the game. Even a great offense and defense can’t overcome the hidden yardage lost by bad special teams. It’s a problem the Giants need to fix, but they might not be able to do so this year.

The Giants’ are undisciplined

Sloppy tackling.

Bad penalties.

Poor routes.

Mental mistakes and miscommunications on offense and defense.

These things have been problems throughout the 2018 for the Giants, but they hadn’t come together quite like they did against the Carolina Panthers. Though the team came in to the game as the least-penalized team in the NFL, the Giants are still undisciplined.

The NFL has an officiating problem

This isn’t just limited to today’s game against the Giants. The officiating has been horrific league-wide all season long.

The most egregious today was the unnecessary roughness penalty against Landon Collins as three Giants collided while coming for wide receiver Devin Funchess.

The problem? Collins was going for the interception and Funchess fell into the back of Collins’ helmet. The play would have ended the Panthers’ drive, but instead the penalty kept the drive alive, which ended in points.

Later in the game there was a somewhat questionable call on Kerry Wynn to cancel out a holding call on the Panthers which would have had them starting with a 1st and 20 on their final drive.

These calls on the heels of a pair of terrible calls on Clay Matthews in the second and third weeks of the season, and a bevy of others around the NFL.

Considering the Panthers only won by two points on a career-long 63-yard field goal as time the difference in the game. Blame could also be levied on Odell Beckham’s mistake on special teams or the defense’s bad tackling in the first half.

This has become a big problem across the league. One the league will either need to address or heir product will continue to suffer.

The Giants playmakers can make plays

For the first time this season, the Giants’ playmakers all showed up and made plays. In the same game.

Beckham’s blunder on special teams might have been the difference in the game, but he made up for it by throwing a 57-yard touchdown to Saquon Barkley and making a terrific catch for a 33-yard touchdown touchdown of his own.

Sterling Shepard was clutch with four catches for 75 yards to help keep Giants’ drives alive.

Saquon Barkley finished the game with 129 total yards and a pair of touchdowns.

The Giants’ lost in a fashion that could have been called “fluky” if they hadn’t put themselves in that position with three quarters of bad, sloppy play. But, their playmakers did enough that they could have won, and showed the league what

There is no running game

Dave Gettleman introduced us all to the phrase “Hog Mollies” this past offseason as he vowed to “fix” it and return the Giants’ to a hard-nosed run-first offense.

In doing so he threw money at Nate Solder and Patrick Omameh, drafted Will Hernandez and Saquon Barkley, let Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg, and D.J. Fluker walk in free agency and traded Brett Jones for a 7th round pick.

In 2017 the Giants averaged 24.5 rushing attempts per game, for 3.9 yards per carry, and 2 sacks per game.

In 2018 they are averaging 19.6 carries per game, 3.8 yards per carry, and 3.2 sacks per game.

The offensive line is giving Eli Manning time to throw the ball, as he has had roughly league-average time to throw thus far this season, but the pass protection is unpredictable, and a jailbreak could occur on any play. And so far, the vast majority of the team’s 75 rushing yards per game have come from Barkley either making defenders miss with his agility, or running through arm tackles with his power.

All while Barkley has been facing one of the lowest percentage of runs against eight-man boxes in the league.

It could be argued that the Giants haven’t called enough running plays, but from Shurmur’s perspective, why bother? With some exceptions, Gettleman’s Hog Mollies have been playing like playing like piglets.

The Giants actually showed some heart

The Giants could have folded up their tent and started back up for New York at the half. They played some pathetic football in the first two quarters. With the exception of Beckham and Barkley, they were uninspired on offense and the defense couldn’t tackle its way out of a wet paper bag.

But they came out to play, really play, in the second half. Ultimately, it didn’t matter and they lost anyway. But this was the first loss in a long time that could actually be called a “heartbreaker”.

Because the Giants FINALLY showed some damn heart.

Beckham was getting ripped for his special teams blunder and having a touchdown ripped out of his hands — all after publicly criticizing his teammates for not matching his passion and energy.

But in the second half, and especially the fourth quarter, the team finally seemed to find its way to feeding on Beckham.

Eli Manning had his worst game of the season from an efficiency perspective, but he came out and attacked the defense. There were a couple bad interceptions and he was off target at times, but he didn’t spend the whole game checking down for easy completions. After his second interception he kept throwing the ball down the field and picked up more than 100 yards on 5 completions and a touchdown. He averaged 9.1 yards per attempt, up from around 6 yards per attempt against the New Orleans Saints, Dallas Cowboys, and Jacksonville Jaguars.

Beckham played like the receiver we all know he is, with 8 receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown.

The defense played with fire, stepping up their run defense and held Christian McCaffrey to a season-low 3.4 yards per carry. They still miss Olivier Vernon off the edge, but they did get after Newton some in the passing game. They weren’t able to do quite enough to allow the offense to overcome bad play and bad calls, but this defense, which has played hard all season, stayed in it when it looked like they were going to have to once again carry a putrid offense.

Does it mean anything and will they be able to carry it over to their Thursday night game against the Philadelphia Eagles?

We’ll find out, but this feels as much like a win as possible for a heartbreaking loss.