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Giants vs. Falcons: 5 plays that doomed the Giants

Once again, the Giants lost a game more than their opponent won it

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

The New York Giants continued their unwelcome tradition of losing early in the season by dropping another winnable home game on Sunday - this time a 17-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Neither team did much offensively: The Giants out-gained the Falcons, 346-296. New York won time of possession, ran more offensive plays, and did more than Atlanta on the ground and through the air.

The Falcons’ defense was without their best player A.J. Terrell, and the team had surrendered 80 points in its first two games, but this Giants offense could only muster one touchdown and two field goals. Losing wide receivers Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard was unfortunate, but it doesn’t excuse the Giants’ errors on this Joe Judge coached squad.

The Giants were penalized eight times for 53-yards - some in key spots that prevented the Giants from putting points on the board. The defense forced a punt on six of the Falcons’ first eight drives, while edge defender Azeez Ojulari forced a fumble on one of the remaining two drives. It’s hard to blame the defense for that outcome, but the defense broke when it mattered most at the end of the first half and the end of the game - something that has happened in every game this season.

It’s an 0-3 start for a second year in a row for the Giants. They drop three winnable games, two at home, and the schedule ahead is disheartening. New York has consecutive away matchups against the Saints and Cowboys before hosting the Rams and Panthers. They then get to travel to Arrowhead and play Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs before hosting the Raiders. They receive the bye week respite before traveling to Tampa Bay to see Tom Brady and the Bucs.

This is looking like yet another long season for the Giants. Let’s see the five important play(s) that helped define this 17-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

Play 1: Punting on Atlanta’s 39-yard line?

Here’s the third-down play before the Riley Dixon punt the Giants downed at the Atlanta 5-yard line. The Giants were down 7-6 with 6:29 left in the third quarter, and possessed the football on Atlanta’s 39-yard line in a third-and-3 situation. Jason Garrett calls the play above - two go routes and a quick square in from the slot. The Giants had 1-on-1 matchups outside, and Daniel Jones overthrew Collin Johnson. With that type of play call on that side of the field, one would imagine that the Giants were in four-down territory - they weren’t.

Here is more analytical evidence, via, that punting was a mistake.

This conservative nature of Joe Judge was visible last year, and it typically didn’t work out in the Giants’ favor. I understand the Giants were down two offensive playmakers, but the offense can’t sequence that third down play and follow it up with a punt. The field goal attempt would have been 56 yards for Graham Gano. That’s makable, but I don’t have the exact wind direction that may have made the kick less likely. It seems like many teams are rolling the dice on fourth down in these situations, but the Giants aren’t one of them. Is it Joe Judge or a general lack of faith in the offense? It’s probably both. Either way, the team isn’t bold, and they’re playing not to lose games rather than playing to win them.

Play(s) 2: 15 plays, 72 yards

The Giants’ offense assembled a 10-play, 71-yard drive that led to Saquon Barkley’s first rushing touchdown since 2019. The cherry on top of the touchdown was an excellent two-point conversion that I’ll post below for positivity reasons:

The Giants are in a reduced BUNCH set and send Saquon Barkley (26) fast into the flat in motion, creating a fast-four situation to that side of the field. Linebacker Foye Oluokon follows Barkley creating a numbers advantage to the running strength where Garrett called a beautiful QB Power with Daniel Jones, who trucked a defensive lineman for the two points. This is a great play call and a tough play from Jones.

Back to the 15-play drive. The Giants pass defense struggles to hunker down when it matters. It appears that offensive coordinators have the answers against Patrick Graham when they’re in the two-minute drill. The defense is not opportunistic when it matters; they take bad penalties and struggle to force stops in critical situations. The defense bent all game and came up with important stops, but when it mattered most, the defense finally broke.

Play(s) 3: Dropped INTs

Matt Ryan (2) overthrew Calvin Ridley (18) on a second-and-9 play halfway through the second quarter. Logan Ryan put himself into position to intercept the pass, but he couldn’t secure the ball that hit him right in the hands. The interception would have given the Giants the football at their 40-yard line and could have acted as a huge momentum swing for the defense before their late first-half collapse that led to the Olamide Zaccheaus touchdown.

This dropped interception by Adoree’ Jackson (22) could have sealed the Giants’ victory. This came on the 15-play drive highlighted earlier; Ryan inexplicably tosses this ball up for grabs with two Giants in the area. Jackson high points the ball, gets both hands on it, and drops it. An interception would have given the football to New York with five minutes left up by a touchdown. The Giants, of course, could have still squandered the lead, but the probability of winning would have significantly increased had Jackson held onto this easy pick. When opportunities present themselves, it’s contingent on the individual players to capitalize. The Giants have dropped several of these opportunities through three games.

Play(s) 4: Falcons’ final drive

Every Giants fan knew the outcome of the game when the Falcons received the Giants’ punt with 1:50 left in the game. The opening throwback screen to Cordarrelle Patterson (84) went for 28 yards, and the Falcons, unlike the Giants, had all three timeouts. Atlanta had all the time in the world to move the football into field goal range for Younghoe Koo. On the very next pass play, Ryan found Kyle Pitts (8) for a 25-yard gain which put the Falcons into field goal range.

New York aligns in man coverage, and Jabrill Peppers (21) is beaten on a seven route from Pitts. The defense can’t seem to get right in the two-minute drill. In three consecutive weeks, the Giants have allowed opposing offenses to march down the field and score to close the first half. And, it’s been two straight weeks now that the Giants allowed opposing offenses to drive down into field goal range for an inevitable loss. As stated earlier, the defense wasn’t the issue in this game - they only allowed 14 points, but when it mattered most, they didn’t rise to the occasion.

Play(s) 5: Not maximizing gains

Daniel Jones played a fine game. On his first third down opportunity, Jones found C.J. Board (18) for 38 yards. It was a beautiful throw and catch. However, the Giants’ offense made mistakes to remove the possibility of scoring an opening drive touchdown.

The Giants marched down to first-and-goal on the Atlanta 8-yard line, but this Grady Jarrett (97) sack knocked the offense back to the 19-yard line. Newly-acquired offensive lineman Ben Bredeson (68) and Billy Price (69) whiff terribly on Jarrett, resulting in the sack. Sterling Shepard (3) was about to be open on the underneath whip route, but the protection failed, and the Giants had to settle for three points. This drive reminds me of Darius Slayton’s third-and-5 42-yard catch against the Broncos. The Giants were forced to punt the football on that drive, so we can call the three points progress, right?

Here, Will Hernandez (71) was called for an ineligible man downfield penalty, negating this long screen to Saquon Barkley. It’s a big first downplay that got the Giants across midfield to start the drive, but the penalty sets the team back and slows the drive down. Hernandez typically toes the line on these screens. He’s not very explosive, and his foot speed is adequate, so he cheats to get into space. The refs rightfully called him for his over-aggressiveness here.

Here’s another bad mistake when the offense is in the red zone. Price snaps the ball slightly high, and it goes through Jones’ fingers for a loss of 11-yards. A 1st & 10 at the Falcons’ 17-yard line turned into a second-and-21 at the Falcons’ 28-yard line. Two plays later, the Giants committed a false start, and they had to settle for a field goal. These mistakes force the Giants to kick field goals continuously, which won’t result in consistent wins.