EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — At least Saquon Barkley did not suffer another major injury. Other than that, Sunday’s non-competitive 27-13 loss to the Denver Broncos was the worst-case scenario for the New York Giants.
Yours truly wrote Sunday morning that the first five days of the season were the most critical ones for this Giants team. Heading into the game, the Giants had gone 0-2 or worse in seven of the last eight seasons. If they can’t win on Thursday night in Landover, Md. against the Washington Football Team — and they are early 4.5-point underdogs — it will be eight of nine years.
The Giants had an opportunity on Sunday. With fans in MetLife Stadium for a regular-season game for the first time since the end of the 2019 season, the Giants had an opportunity to show the 74,119 fans who showed up, not to mention the millions watching at home, that 2021 was going to be different. That co-owner John Mara’s vow that it is “time for us to start winning some games” would be more than just hollow words.
Instead, it was the same old sad, tired song and dance.
Not nearly enough offense. A back-breaking turnover by Daniel Jones. An inability to get key defensive stops on third and fourth down. Missed tackles. No running game. A rash of foolish unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, and even a penalty on the head coach for throwing an illegal challenge flag.
By early in the fourth quarter, the game wasn’t really competitive.
With 6:35 remaining, the Giants trailed 20-7 and faced a third-and-goal at the Denver 6-yard line. Jones sailed a pass a couple of zip codes over the head of tight end Kyle Rudolph toward the corner of the end zone, and the boos began to rain down. On fourth-and-6, Jones’ pass for Kenny Golladay was broken up by Broncos cornerback Kyle Fuller.
Fans booed lustily. Then, many of them headed for the parking lot.
That is an exodus that has become far too commonplace as the Giants have gone 9-24 at MetLife Stadium since the beginning of the 2017 season.
“We’ve gotta earn the fans’ respect. These people come out here, they spend their hard-earned money to sit in the seats. They cheer for us. They give us energy from the seats. We have to give them something to cheer about,” said head coach Joe Judge. “It’s not their job to show up and cheer just to cheer. That’s not their job. Their job is to be entertained. They buy a ticket that means they buy the right to cheer, boo, stay, leave, whatever they want to do. We have to give them something to stay for, we have to give them something to cheer for. That’s on us as a team.”
Veteran wide receiver Sterling Shepard has been with the Giants since 2016, and his rookie year was the only time he has been part of a winning team.
“I mean, it’s tough. Like Coach Judge said, these people pay their hard earned money to come see winning football. I mean that’s what this franchise is all about, is winning. That’s what the history has been all about,” Shepard said. “So it’s been frustrating the past few years and I understand the frustration. I mean, we’re not happy about it as well. So, we got to dig our cleats in the ground and we’ve got to give the fans what they want. And yeah, it’s frustrating. I hate seeing them have to leave the game early. That’s something that I honestly really noticed. I’m locked into the game, but you can’t help but see people lined up in the tunnels and it’s no fun seeing that.
No, it’s not. Giants fans have seen and heard this act for most of the last decade. It needs to get better, and quickly.
Saquon has a long way to go
It was nice to see Saquon Barkley play. Barkley, though, had little impact on Sunday’s game with 10 carries for 26 yards and one carry for another measly yard.
Barkley barely spoke above a whisper when talking to media after the game.
Saqoun Barkley on the struggle to score points. pic.twitter.com/R2ihtpStL7— Big Blue View (@bigblueview) September 13, 2021
Barkley earned a huge ovation from the MetLife Stadium crowd when he took the first play of the game up the middle for a 5-yard gain. Unfortunately, that was his longest play of the night and the closest he came to any sort of highlight.
Barkley said “nothing alarmed” him in terms of how he felt taking hits. He added that it was a “milestone” to play in the opener and that “I feel pretty good” coming out of the game.
Now, the Giants just need Barkley to resemble Barkley. Hopefully sooner rather than later.
It’s getting late early
Yes, it’s time for a Yogi-ism. Either that or it’s just late at night, I have a long drive home coming up, and I’m getting punch drunk.
Well, honestly, it is getting late. Both for this old man who has a 145-mile drive to get home starting somewhere around 10:30 p.m. More importantly, though, for the Giants.
We know an 0-2 start basically means you probably aren’t going to the playoffs. Roughly 90 percent of teams who have started 0-2 since the playoffs were expanded in 1990 hve missed the playoffs.
Considering the yearly miserable starts for the Giants — 0-2 or worse in seven of eight seasons before this one — the importance of Thursday night is magnified.
It’s not just about the playoffs. It’s about giving a disheartened fan base something to feel good about, and a ready to pounce media horde at bay for at least a while.
The Giants know they have no time to wallow in disappointment. They have a division game coming up in what is really just a few short hours at that point, and it is another chance to try and change the negative narrative.
“We just had to talk about it in the locker room; told everybody has to keep their heads up. We have a short week this week, so you’ve got to in this league, you have to be able to throw things away really quick and move on,” Shepard said. If you let it dwell and you keep thinking about it and then you’re not able to move on, move past it. So, guys have got to be able to throw it away and we got to move on and I’m sure everybody will do that.
Rust is real
Wide receiver Kenny Golladay said during the week that the Giants offense, considering how little key players like himself, Barkley, Kyle Rudolph and Kadarius Toney had practiced, would be likely to start slow.
Well, in a year that is so critical, with the Giants having invested so heavily in upgrading the team’s play makers, that is not something anyone wanted to here.
Sadly, the Giants made Golladay look prescient on Sunday.
Jones had a nice connection with Shepard, and some nice throws to Darius Slayton. Golladay padded his stats with a couple of garbage-time catches. Toney, two catches for -2 yards, was a non-factor. Rudolph had just two catches in five targets for 8 yards. Evan Engram looked nice running and cutting in pre-game warmups, but couldn’t help while watching the game in street clothes.
The Giants looked rusty on offense. Maybe more accurately, they looked like the same team that finished 31st in the league a year ago. The offensive line, aside from right tackles Nate solder and Matt Peart being abused by Von Miller, did OK in pass protection. But 13 points, which included a meaningless final play of the game rushing score by Jones, is not going to cut it.
“We got to figure out a way to be able to put the ball in the end zone and that’s the end of the story. Like you said, that’s something that’s been a problem in the past, but we got to move on from it,” Shepard said. “We’ve got a short week this week. We’ve got to be able to put that in the past and learn from it and we’ve got to figure it out. We’ve got a big divisional opponent coming up on Thursday.
“We’ve just got to do it. I feel like we have it in us and we’re capable of it. We’ve just got to practice every week and we’ve got to push and keep getting better. I know we’re capable of it, everybody knows we’re capable of it. We’ve just got to put it together and do it.”
I think the offensive line was a mixed bag
The running game (Barkley 10 carries, 26 yards and Devontae Booker, 4 carries, 7 yards) was non-existent. The Giants rotated Shane Lemieux and Ben Bredeson at left guard and Nate Solder and Matt Peart at right tackle.
The only real issue, for me, was the right tackle play. Solder got whipped by Von Miller for a sack in the first quarter and Peart wasn’t even out of stance before Miller was in the backfield for a sack of Jones late in the game.
I will wait for the Pro Football Focus grades, but the eyeball test had Andrew Thomas playing fine. Right tackle, though, looks like it is going to be an ongoing issue.
I think the NFC East is upside down
So, the NFC East is off to a typically zany start.
My biggest question is are the Eagles better than we thought, or are the Falcons really that bad?