The New York Giants very nearly snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in their 17-13 loss to the Chicago Bears. But in the end the couldn’t quite outplay their mistakes and lost in the closing seconds with an offensive foul.
Maybe the game would have been different without the injuries added to the insults, but the injury bug bit the Giants — and the rest of the NFL — hard on Sunday. This is was a particularly tough loss for the team, but that means it’s also an opportunity to learn about them.
What can we take away from Sunday’s loss?
Sunday, bloody Sunday
I know I said last week that I didn’t want to make this column a weekly commentary on injuries, but I can’t not talk about them today. For everything else that went on for the Giants in week 2, the story of Sunday’s game HAS to be the injuries.
This is a partial list of the players lost around the league to injury in Sunday’s early games:
NFL Players Injured (so far) Today. It's an ugly list.— Big Blue View (@bigblueview) September 20, 2020
Of course one name stands out above all others for Giants’ fans: Saquon Barkley, who had to be carried off the field after a hard tackle by Eddie Jackson. As bad as that looked in the moment, the news got worse later in the afternoon when we got word that the beliefs is that Barkley tore his right ACL.
Making matters worse, we also saw Sterling Shepard leave the field with an apparent foot injury.
The made a valiant attempt to keep up their run game, but between their 17-0 deficit to Chicago and their issues run blocking, the running game was a non-factor following the loss of Barkley. Barkley’s injury also highlights the Giants’ surprising decision to make RB Wayne Gallman a healthy scratch. That left Dion Lewis (10 carries, 20 yards) and Eli Penny the only running backs available with Barkley unavailable. The decision to go into the game without Gallman was surprising when the inactives were announced and is even more curious in hindsight.
Barkley’s injury could also have long-term consequences for the player and the team. Barkley is a player who depends on his supreme “freak among freaks” athleticism as the foundation of his game. While doctors have gotten remarkably good at stitching athletes’ knees back together, we don’t know the long-term impact on his athleticism. We also have to recognize that this is the third year of Barkley’s rookie contract and he missed significant time with a high ankle sprain a year ago. The Giants already had to be contemplating a future extension — this undoubtedly changes the calculus.
Wayne Gallman won’t be inactive in Week 3
Thanks to the injury to Barkley and the Giants’ inability to run the ball with Dion Lewis, one thing we do know for next week is that Gallman won’t be inactive. In fact, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Gallman take the field as the Giants’ starting running back.
While he is nowhere near the player that Barkley is, Gallman is a (mostly) complete back who can contribute as a runner and a receiver. However, he doesn’t have the same ability to make magic from broken plays and is a back who will picked up what is blocked for him.
We will also likely see much more of Evan Engram in Week 3 as well. The Giants’ tight end came up with a big second half after having a very poor six quarters to start his season. Despite his slow start, Engram finished the game as the Giants’ leading receiver. And while his 6 receptions for 65 yards is hardly impressive, his catch and run for 22 yards showed the kind of mismatch he can be.
The defense can make plays
If there is one truly bright spot for the Giants in the first two weeks of the season, it’s that the defense has been disruptive and making plays.
Yes, the Pittsburgh Steelers were rusty and the Bears have a quarterback who is unreliable and mistake prone. But still, we have seen the Giants cause confusion, disrupt both offenses, force mistakes, and capitalize on offense’s miscues. That’s not nothing, and it’s something we haven’t seen from a Giants’ defense since 2016.
The defense still has work to do, of course. Despite their beefy defensive line, they’ve given up 276 yards on the ground at an average of 4.45 yards per carry through the first two weeks (141 yards to Pittsburgh, 135 to Chicago). And we’ve seen that the Giants still struggle to get off the field on third down, allowing 17 of 31 first downs to be converted.
But while it hasn’t been consistent, the defense’s ability to disrupt offenses and capitalize to make plays is a start. It’s something to build on going forward.
The New York Fighting Joe Judges
The other bright spot this game is that the fight in the team.
They had every reason in the world to pack it in and give up after a first half that saw them lose their two best offensive players and their quarterback commit a pair of turnovers while being shut out 17-0. And in fact they did look deflated as the Bears scored their second touchdown at the end of the first half.
The Bears likely shifted strategy to try and run out the clock in the second half, but credit to the Giants for stay in the game and clawing their way back with three unanswered scores. This is a level of fight and “want” that we rarely — if ever — saw from the Giants under Ben McAdoo or Pat Shurmur from 2017 on. The Giants still have holes on their offense and defense, their run blocking is mostly non-existent, their pass protection spotty, as is their execution, and they still aren’t in a place where they can out-play their mistakes.
But their flashes on defense and the competitive toughness they showed in Chicago are something to hold on to, at least for now.