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Giants vs. Falcons: 5 things we learned from the Giants 17-14 loss

Another week, another loss. What can we learn from this one?

Atlanta Falcons v New York Giants Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

This was not the way the New York Giants wanted to “celebrate” the retirement of Eli Manning’s jersey and his induction into their ring of honor. They wanted a triumphant team and cheering fans for Eli’s day. Instead, the Giants slipped to 0-3 and questions about the team are starting to pile up.

The Giants suffered another last-second loss, as the Atlanta Falcons had a 10-point fourth-quarter comeback win, capped by the first game-winner of Yunghoe Koo’s career.

We’ll be turning the page to Week 4 soon enough, but let’s see what there is to take away from another disappointing loss.

Now things might get ugly

This was supposed to be the Giants’ coming out party, the week that they finally put it all together and got healthy on offense and defense. Instead, the team just couldn’t get out of its own way, and couldn’t find a way to put the Falcons away.

The start to the Giants’ schedule looked as though it was going to be the “easy part” on paper. We looked at the Denver Broncos, Washington Football Team, and Atlanta Falcons as “winnable” games. Unfortunately, they were eminently losable, and now the Giants are 0-3. And the next stretch of their schedule looks significantly more daunting at 0-3 than it might at 1-2 or 2-1.

Peeking ahead just a bit, the Giants are now looking at the New Orleans Saints (who just got done beating up on the New England Patriots), the Dallas Cowboys, The Los Angeles Rams, the Carolina Panthers, the Kansas City Chiefs, and Las Vegas Raiders before their Week 10 bye. That’s not an enviable stretch for a winless team.

Giants fans are already fed up with the losing. While they were screaming in support of their team at times this week, we heard them boo John Mara at halftime, were silent to start the second half, and the boos rained down as the poor play started to pile up. The Giants are going on a two-week road trip, but they might not like what’s waiting for them at home if they come back 0-5.

At least they’re consistent?

I’m not going to drag Dexter Lawrence II for the penalty at the end of the Washington game. I’m not going to drag Adoree’ Jackson for dropping an interception that would have sealed the game — even if it was a gift. I’m not going to do either of those things for the same reason why I never dragged Matt Dodge back in 2010: The game never should have gotten to that point.

The Giants were in control of this game on both sides of the ball from the start of the game. But as we saw against Denver and Washington, the Giants failed to finish drives once they got into opponents’ red zones. The Giants have a grand total of 5 offensive touchdowns through three games, and that just isn’t good enough — unless you happen to own Graham Gano in Fantasy Football. And once again, the Giants had far too many mistakes and miscues on offense, defense, and special teams.

Just like last week, the outcome of this game didn’t hinge on one play. Instead it was a collection of missed tackles, missed opportunities, hidden yards given up, and a loss by a thousand cuts. Until finally, the Giants lost on a field goal as time expired, just like last week.

But his is just not the kind of consistency the Giants want or need.

Oh, and can someone hide Joe Judge’s challenge flag?

The defense showed up...

The Giants’ defense played well for about three and a half quarters. Even after losing Blake Martinez, the Giants were generally able to shut down the Falcons’ running game through most of the third quarter.

The pass coverage kept fourth overall pick Kyle Pitts in check through most of the game, and Matt Ryan was either forced to hold the ball too long or rush his passes and get most of them out too fast.

Through the first two games, it looked as though the opposing quarterback had an answer for every play Patrick Graham called. But this time Matt Ryan just looked like a QB who should consider retirement up until the fourth quarter.

This was the best the Giants’ defense looked this season, and it could be something to build on going forward.

...But the end of halves is still a problem

This has been a problem throughout the 2021 season. The Giants have given up touchdowns with 0:08, 4:37, 0:21, 4:33, 1:38, and 4:16 left in each half of each game this year. They’ve also allowed opposing offenses drive into position to kick a game-winning field goal with 2:00 and 1:50 left in the game each of the last two weeks.

As good as the Giants’ defense has played at times — particularly at the start of each of their three games this year — the way they have simply evaporated at the end of halves is concerning.

While we can blame the Broncos’ suffocating offense wearing the defense out in Week 1, the Giants have won time of possession battle each of the last two weeks. They simply have not made the plays they need to make when it mattered most for them. As I said above, it isn’t fair to lay either game on the defense, but they aren’t without blame either. The defense shouldn’t have been in the positions they were in, but they also need to step

Azeez Ojulari can play

I wanted to end on a positive note, and that has to be the play of rookie edge defender Azeez Ojulari.

Ojulari is still an unpolished rusher, but his burst off the line, play strength, and competitive toughness has been enough to make Giants history. Ojulari became the first player in Giants’ history to have a sack in each of his first three games. And considering that history has players like Lawrence Taylor, Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Mathias Kiwanuka, Justin Tuck, and Jason Pierre-Paul, that is one hell of a record to hold.

It’s also impressive that two of this sacks were sack-fumbles, both of which derailed important drives. The Falcons had just forced a turnover of their own after scoring a go-ahead touchdown. They had the time to drive the field and at least kick a field goal to extend their lead. Instead, Ojulari got the ball back for the offense and kept the game 7-6. While fans certainly didn’t like the Giants kneeling to end the half, Ojulari’s play might have kept things from spiraling out of control.

We don’t know what the future holds for Ojulari, but so far he’s been one of the brightest spots for the winless Giants.