There are no consolation prizes in the NFL. The New York Giants talked bravely after Sunday’s 20-15 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars about the good things they could take from their season opener.
Still, this was a loss. In a game that was always within their grasp. At home. When they held the Jacksonville offense scoreless in the second half, and to 13 points overall. It’s a game they coulda/woulda/shoulda won had they just made a few more plays — a point coach Pat Shurmur was eager to make after the game.
“That’s the margin we deal with,” he said.
Problem is, winning teams make those plays. Teams that go home at the end of the season without playoff berths don’t. Sunday was an opportunity lost for the Giants.
With that said, let’s get to the “Kudos & Wet Willies.”
Kudos to ...
Saquon Barkley — Not a bad day’s work when your first NFL appearance ends with All-Pro defensive end Calais Campbell saying you “might one day be a Hall of Famer.”
Barkley showed why the Giants drafted him with an incredible 68-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, breaking two tackles at the line of scrimmage and a third at the sideline to turn what looked like a sure Jacksonville victory into a game the Giants had a chance to win.
“You feel like you’re doing a good job, you’ve got a lot of population to the football, you got a lot of people trying to bring him down,” said Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone. “Then all of a sudden, bam!”
You get the idea after Sunday that Marrone won’t be the only coach wondering what Barkley just did to his team.
Odell Beckham Jr. — Eleven receptions in 15 targets for 111 yards. Not a bad way to return to action. Beckham surpassed Anquan Boldin’s record of 314 catches in 50 games to become the NFL leader in receptions through the first 50 games of a career. In 48 games, he now has 324. The only thing missing Sunday was a game-changing explosive play. We saw enough Sunday to know, though, that those will come.
Damon Harrison — The game’s best run-stuffing interior lineman came through with a tackle for loss on Jacksonville’s first play. He ended up with six tackles and more than held his own.
Eli Apple — The third-year corner was challenged deep by Blake Bortles twice, and knocked away both passes. The Giants need Apple to play solid football, and on Sunday he was up to the task.
Aldrick Rosas — The second-year placekicker got his season off to a good start, going 3-for-3 on field goals, the longest of which was a 44-yarder. He also got 3 touchbacks on 5 kickoffs.
Janoris Jenkins — Gave up a 34-yard completion to Keelan Cole on the Jaguars’ first pass of the game. Other than that, Jackrabbit was outstanding. When Blake Bortles went back to that well later in the first quarter on a pass for Donte Moncrief, Jenkins tip-toed along the sideline for a pick. He defended 2 passes. He was a force against the run and ended up with 7 tackles. He played a lot like the 2016 version of Jenkins, a version that was really, really good.
The play that sealed the game. Muffed punt by the Giants and the Jaguars win 20-15 pic.twitter.com/zSnODCfceF— Laurie Fitzpatrick (@LaurieFitzptrck) September 9, 2018
Wet Willies to ...
Ereck Flowers — We will get to the rest of the offensive line in a minute, but Flowers deserves a special category all his own. Maybe he should Maybe the fourth-year offensive tackle should get the “not so super secret double-fisted Wet Willie.”
Flowers started his season with a penalty. Not just any penalty — a tripping penalty. Two plays later he negated a 34-yard pass by Manning with a holding penalty that occurred so close to the end zone, where it would have been a safety, that Jacksonville challenged.
Flowers gave up a sack. He was beaten soundly on the play that turned into an Eli Manning pick 6, forcing the quarterback to move and opening up an opportunity for Jaguars defensive tackle Abry Jones to tip the pass.
We will talk more about this in Tuesday’s ‘Valentine’s Views,’ but Flowers also blew out of the locker room without talking to reporters, leaving the rest of the Giants offensive linemen to stand at their lockers and talk about him.
Offensive line as a whole — Nate Solder had a holding penalty. Will Hernandez have up a sack. Patrick Omameh was the blocker when Abry Jones got his hands up to deflect a Manning pass and create the fateful pick 6. Excepting the Barkley heroics, the Giants barely averaged 2 yards per carry. They couldn’t get 2 yards on a fourth down run when they needed it.
Let’s be real. Manning was right when he said after the game that Jacksonville “might be the most talented defense and front four we go against all season.” Still, constant pressure on Manning. Six runs for zero or negative yards. Too many penalties (two on Flowers, one on Solder).
The biggest fear with the Giant offense is that the line won’t play well enough for the play-making weapons they have to be used to their fullest potential. That was the case on Sunday.
Evan Engram — Drops. Drops. Drops. Drops. Drops. The second-year player led all tight ends with 14 of them last season. He struggled with them in training camp and the preseason. He struggled with them again Sunday. Wide open, Engram dropped a pass that would have gone for at least a 15-yard gain. There was also a deep ball down the right sideline that appeared catchable, and perhaps one more. Engram told the New York Post that “I pretty much had three drops.”
Here’s the thing. He has talked about those drops a lot, he has worked at fixing the problem, but it’s not going away. Engram’s value to the Giants is his ability to create mismatches as a receiver. If they can’t trust him to catch the ball that value is severely diminished.
Kaelin Clay — Three punt returns for just 4 yards. A muffed punt with the Giants trailing by 5 points and less than a minute to go that took away any chance for last-second heroics. So, how is it that Clay is an upgrade from Hunter Sharp or Kalif Raymond? He might be, but he sure didn’t get off to a good start in trying to prove it.
Thoughts on Pat Shurmur’s debut
I’m not assigning the coach a “Kudo” or a “Wet Willie.” And I really hate questioning play calls. My belief is a good play call is one that works, no matter whether it makes sense or not. A bad play? Any play call that doesn’t work.
That said, there were a couple of questionable play calls by Shurmur in this one. Handing the ball to Barkley up the middle on fourth-and-2, against a tremendous defense and with an offensive line that wasn’t getting the job done is questionable. So, too, is running a reverse to Beckham on third-and-goal from the Jacksonville 8-yard line. That play lost a yard, and was never going to work. Gotta throw the ball in that spot. Since it didn’t work, I guess we can also question running the ball with Barkley on the failed two-point conversion attempt.
Shurmur chose not to challenge a spot in the fourth quarter when Barkley was rules just short of a first down after catching a pass on third-and-five. The Giants punted.
The coach also chose not to use Beckham to return a punt in the final minute, when Kaelin Clay fumbled away the Giants’ last chance.
Shurmur has done a terrific job. I loved how he ran the Giants’ spring practices. How he has built relationships with players. How he ran training camp and the preseason. He goes out of his way to try and relate to the media. I’m not sure I loved how he managed Sunday’s game.