Hopes were not high heading into the New York Giants’ Sunday night matchup with the Buffalo Bills. The Giants have been mostly non-competitive this season, and nothing different was expected from their fourth contest against a legitimate Super Bowl contender in six games. The Giants’ injury list has gotten to the point where it would almost be quicker for the team to announce the players available than the ones who will not play. The Bills were bound to be in a foul mood after losing to Jacksonville and having to travel across the pond and back to do it. No one knows Brian Daboll’s tendencies better than Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott (though that works in reverse too).
Daniel Jones missed the game with the second neck injury of his career. (Buffalo is one of three teams - the Browns and Chargers being the others - that Jones has never faced. The last time the Giants played Buffalo was Eli Manning’s last game as the starter before Pat Shurmur benched him in favor of Jones.) In his place was Tyrod Taylor, who took the Bills to the playoffs in 2017 and was promptly traded by Buffalo before the next draft...before they even traded up to get into position to draft Josh Allen. Talk about a revenge game!
What did we learn from this gut-wrenching, heartbreaking 14-9 loss?
Tell Brian Daboll to set the alarm clock for September 1 next year
The Giants have looked like they were sleep-walking through this season. Mostly devoid of big plays on either side of the ball. Mostly confused about what they were supposed to be doing. Emotionless as they were trucked by Dallas, and seemingly resigned to failure by the time they played Seattle. Where was the spirited group that beat Tennessee, Green Bay, and Baltimore in 2022 by coming back in the second half each time?
The Giants finally woke up in Buffalo. They battled tooth and nail with the Bills all evening. They led for most of the game, and when they lost the lead early in the fourth quarter they came back with an eight-play, 79-yard drive that gave them back the lead, 9-7, with 10:15 to go in the game. The Bills finally took the lead with their second touchdown late in the game on an amazing pass by Allen to tight end Quintin Morris that threaded the needle, but the Giants drove all the way downfield before being denied the possible winning score by the lack of a defensive interference flag on a pass to Dallen Waller in the end zone on the final play.
Still, this is the Giants team we have been looking for all season. The offense still has problems, but going toe-to-toe with a Super Bowl contender down to the end is what we wanted to see after this team had been undressed by every top team they had played in the Daboll era.
The Giants may finally have linebackers
Other than a brief Blake Martinez interlude in 2020, the Giants’ linebacking situation has been awful for many years. It looks as though that has changed. Micah McFadden has improved significantly since his rookie year attacking the run, and Isaiah Simmons has provided a little in pass rush and coverage (though not in run support). McFadden had an interception and a fumble recovery in Buffalo. He forced Allen into an incompletion as a looping free rusher.
The big change, though, is Bobby Okereke. The biggest free agent acquisition by Joe Schoen this winter, Okereke looked lost out there the first few games. He started to play better vs. Seattle (other than a terrible missed tackle on Noah Fant), had an interception and a tipped ball that caused another interception vs. Miami, and generally seemed to be flying around the field all game. Okereke admitted that it takes time to learn Wink Martindale’s defensive system.
Well, he seems to be comfortable in that system now. Okereke was all over the field against Buffalo. He caused Gabriel Davis to fumble after a reception. He pressured Allen and helped cause an incompletion. He blew up a screen to Stefon Diggs and held it to a one-yard gain. He broke up another Allen pass to Diggs. He tipped another Allen pass, leading to McFadden’s interception. He tackled Latavius Murray for a loss.
In general, the 2023 Wink Martindale defense seems to be coming together if tonight was any indication. Maybe Brian Daboll’s familiarity with Josh Allen was a factor - Allen looked uncomfortable all night, and the Bills’ offense stuttered the entire first half. If Okereke and McFadden are settling in, the Giants’ defense may not be far from being good...
With one exception - the run defense is still an issue. Last week against Miami, it was outside runs that devastated the Giants. This week it was James Cook up the middle doing most of the damage. A lot of it happened when Dexter Lawrence or Leonard Williams were off the field, but not all of it. The Bills’ first touchdown drive was almost completely rushing plays, just like one of Miami’s drives last week. For whatever reason, the Giants are still susceptible to the run. Expect them to draft an IDL by Day 2 in 2024.
You have to take the good and the bad with Tyrod Taylor
Taylor is a pretty good guy to have as your backup quarterback. Very experienced, willing to take shots downfield, very mobile. Taylor set the Bills back on their heels in the first half, allowing the Giants to keep the ball away from Josh Allen, keeping plays alive with his legs, hitting Wan’Dale Robinson to keep the chains moving, and even hitting a couple of deep passes, two to Darius Slayton and another to Jalin Hyatt that was called back because Evan Neal had drifted downfield.
Still, Taylor could not get the Giants into the end zone. Despite moving the ball pretty well and winning the time of possession battle, Taylor could only set the Giants up for three field goals by Mr. Automatic, Graham Gano, while his counterpart Josh Allen put two touchdowns on the board in the second half when Buffalo needed them.
Most egregious of course was the play at the end of the first half that really cost the Giants the game. With time for only one play and a yard to go for a score, Taylor unbelievably audibled out of a pass to a run. Barkley was stuffed, and instead of getting at least three and perhaps seven, the Giants came away with nothing. That was the difference in the game. Daboll’s fury as the Giants headed to the locker room said it all. If Taylor really had two different options on that play, someone with his experience HAS TO go with the pass, regardless of what he thinks he heard from the sideline. This was inexcusable.
The offensive line was...not terrible?
I was (figuratively) peeking through my hands when the Giants’ offense was on the field early in the game. The Giants had to start Justin “right off the couch” Pugh at left guard after a year of inactivity coming off a torn ACL. Josh Ezeudu was back at the scene of the crime, left tackle. Then Ezeudu left the field with a toe injury, and Pugh was forced to move to left tackle, taking on the likes of Von Miller. What could go wrong?
It wasn’t pretty at first, with Miller beating Pugh off the edge several times, and in general, Taylor was under pressure most of the first quarter and had to get the ball out quickly. But a funny thing happened on the way to another disaster. The line settled down and provided halfway decent protection against one of the best pass-rushing teams in the NFL. Leonard Floyd and A.J. Epenesa sacked Taylor and that was it. Taylor’s mobility played a role, but the OL held up much better than it had in Miami. Perhaps just having a veteran presence on the line helped, especially one as vocal as Pugh is compared to the seemingly reticent Mark Glowinski.
Saquon Barkley was back in the lineup, and although his high ankle sprain clearly limited his speed and cutting ability, he was still effective, and the line gave him some holes to run through. Having Barkley back had to help the line. Many fans may not think that highly of Barkley, but opposing defenses respect him. If he is back for good and Pugh helps solidify the line a little until Andrew Thomas can return, the Giants may have a decent offense soon.
NFL officiating is pretty awful
Bobby Okereke was called for roughing Josh Allen on a play in which he barely touched him. Jalin Hyatt was denied a 30-yard reception on a play in which Evan Neal was technically an illegal man downfield but was nowhere near the play, similar to a play last season that cost the Giants a touchdown in Dallas. Darren Waller was denied a defensive pass interference call on the second consecutive play in which his jersey was held with the game on the line at the end. On that last play he was held twice, once before Taylor released the ball (which should have been called) and once after (which apparently was fair play).
It’s not just the Giants game, it’s everywhere around the NFL. Officials seem to have no ability to be consistent in how they call penalties. The Giants lost this game because of Taylor’s brain cramp at the end of the first half. They deserved better at the end of the fourth quarter.