EAST RUTHERFORD - The happy faces in the MetLife Stadium parking lot couldn’t wait to get into the building after a year away due to the COVID-19 pandemic to see their beloved Giants.
So what did the Giants do to welcome back the Big Blue faithful? They went out against a beatable Denver Broncos team and laid a colossal egg in the form of a 27-13 game that wasn’t nearly as close as the score might suggest.
The fans? With their hearts broken yet again began to head to the exits midway through the fourth quarter, their energy sucked from them by a football team they have loved and supported but who looked no different than the group they remember seeing in person back in 2019 that also struggled to dominate.
"Yeah, I mean, it's tough, man," Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard said. "Like Coach [Joe] Judge said, these people pay their hard-earned money to come see winning football. That's what this franchise is all about is winning. That's what history's been all about.
"So, it's been frustrating the past few years. I understand the frustration; we're not happy about it as well. We've got to dig our cleats in the ground. We've got to get the fans what they want.
"I hate seeing them having to leave the game early. That's something that, like, I honestly really notice. I'm locked into the game, but you can't help but see people lined up in the tunnel. It's no fun seeing that."
No, it’s not. But it’s also no fun for the Giants fans who pay their hard-earned money to keep seeing turnovers by the quarterbacks, crappy play-calling, and a team that seems to be stuck in the mud no matter what it tries to do.
"We have to earn the fans' respect," Judge said. "It’s not their job to show up and cheer just to cheer. Their job is to be entertained.”
The season isn't over yet, not after one game and one very disheartening loss. And the good news is the Giants will see the Washington Football Team (albeit on a short work week since the game is on Thursday Night), a team they have beaten in six of their last seven meetings, including their last five straight.
The Giants would be doing themselves and their loyal customers a big service if they were to find a way to continue that dominance to give these people something to smile about at the end of the day.
Have I mentioned how underrated receiver Sterling Shepard is? Shepard caught seven of nine pass targets this week for 113 yards and the following gorgeous touchdown.
There wasn't much to like about what we saw from the Giants, but I think we can all agree that Shepard's play was a plus.
As advertised, running back Saquon Barkley was active for this week's game.
Unofficially, Barkley had 30 snaps, with nothing off-limits as far as what he was asked to do, including pass blocking on third down.
Barkley finished with ten carries for 26 yards and caught one out of three pass targets for one yard, with one dropped pass.
"I feel pretty good. It's not my normal workload. Usually, I’d probably have a lot more plays, but that's all I’m saying," Barkley said after the game.
"Obviously, we didn't get the win. We’ve got to go back, watch film, address it and get better for next week. But at the end of the day, it's a blessing that I was able to – it was a milestone for me, I guess that you could say.
"I put a lot of hard work to be able to get back on the field and I was able to accomplish that. It just didn't go the way we would’ve liked. Great thing is there's 16 more of those things to come."
What on Earth Was He Thinking?
Giants head coach Joe Judge cost the team a second-half timeout when he requested a replay review after a third-quarter Broncos touchdown.
By the time Judge threw the flag, the replay booth had already determined that the touchdown scored by tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, who benefitted from a missed tackle by the usually sure tackler Blake Martinez, was good. Judge and the Giants were charged a time out.
“Look, that's completely on me and (I own it). I know you can't challenge a scoring play. That was a little bit more of an emotional--I was looking for feedback from the officials. It looked to me on the jumbotron and some feedback I got from up top watching the replay, that he may have stepped in the white, I was screaming for the officials," Judge explained.
"They're supposed to get some feedback from what they're hearing in New York in terms of feedback on it. I had to do something to draw their attention. I couldn't get them to turn around, so I threw the flag."
The lost timeout didn't hurt the Giants, but make no mistake: they're not good enough yet to where they can overcome these emotionally driven mistakes--and Judge's wasn't the only one that was driven by emotion as cornerback Darnay Holmes also drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when he hit a man out of bounds.
It's great that Judge owned his mistake, but it was also disappointing to see a guy who has been a stickler about penalty laps for mistakes that hurt the team leading the brigade this week.
When Play Calling Becomes Stale
A solid coaching staff always finds a way to stay a step ahead of its competition. Well, one thing that Judge seems to do over and over is he’ll line up on fourth down in the hopes of getting lucky and drawing a team off-side.
The problem is, at this point, the league knows this is in his bag of tricks, and no one is falling for it anymore. So why the Giants, who, by the way, did it again this week, continue to do so is a head scratcher.
But here’s an idea if you want to get creative on fourth down. Try a fake punt by having Riley Dixon, who has some quarterback in his background, try cucking a pass.
Odds are that teams won’t be expecting a fake punt as often as they’ve come to expect an attempt to be lured offside on fourth down only to force the Giants into taking a delay of game penalty, moving them back five yards.
Oops, He Did It Again
Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, who had a backbreaking red-zone fumble in his lone preseason game this summer, came up with another backbreaking fumble again on a red zone play in the third quarter.
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On the play, a 1st-and-10 from the Broncos' 22-yard line, Jones scrambled up the middle with both hands on the ball for seven yards before being greeted by Broncos linebacker Josey Jewell. Jewell forced the fumble inside the red zone and linebacker Malik Red recovered it to snuff out the Giants' scoring drive.
That was Jones's 30th career fumble. Let that number sink in for a moment, folks. He's played in 28 games and has 30 career fumbles, which comes to just over one fumble per game.
Not good. Not good at all. So what happened?
"You try to get two hands on it but didn’t secure it tight enough," Jones said after the game.
Jones, who, to be clear, isn't the reason why the Giants lost the game, is a frustrating player to get behind. On the one hand, it's easy to appreciate how he tries to make things happen. But there's a fine line between taking risks and being smart, and he just doesn't seem to be able to walk that line consistently.
That fumble was a matter of Jones, who put his head down and tried to lower his shoulder into the defender, trying to make a play instead of being smart and sliding feet first to keep the ball away from the defender.
"I'll have to look at it and look at the play. But it’s certainly something I’ve got to improve on and I’ll learn from and keep moving forward," he said.
He's had 30 career fumbles, folks. At what point is it going to sink in to be smarter with the ball?
Inactive List Musings
There were no real surprises for the Giants on their inactive list, which included one injured player (tight end Evan Engram, calf), the three waiver wire pickups (receiver Collin Johnson, outside linebacker Quincy Roche, and inside linebacker Justin Hilliard), and cornerbacks Josh Jackson and Sam Beal.
One mild surprise is that the Giants didn't call up another tight end to add depth to the unit, whose only two healthy members were Kyle Rudolph and Kaden Smith. Instead, the Giants went with two fullbacks (Eli Penny and Cullen Gillaspia) active, which made sense in retrospect since Gillaspia can do some of the H-back work needed for the offense.
And speaking of call-ups, receiver C.J. Board was called up to serve as the kickoff returner. Board fielded the opening kickoff five yards deep in the end zone, returning it to the Giants' 23-yard line. Not a horrible result but certainly a poor decision as any starting field position off a kickoff of less than the 25-yard line outs one at a disadvantage.
When Tight Ends Run Wild
One of my three keys to this game was for the Giants to shut down tight end Noah Fant.
In retrospect, I should have made that all tight ends because the Broncos tight ends simply gouged the Giants defense, particularly in the middle of the field where they were playing a loose zone.
"I just (found) an open space honestly. I was able to get in to get a couple passes in the middle of the field," Fant said after the game. "I wish I would have connected with the one with (Broncos Quarterback) Teddy (Bridgewater) down the sideline. But yeah, just find the open space and kind of try to make plays."
The Dizzying Offensive Line Rotation
Last year I understood why Joe Judge went with an offensive line rotation. There was no preseason, and training camp wasn’t a traditional training camp. This year? I’m sorry, but pick an offensive line and stick with it. This constant rotation of guys in and out for the sake of getting them playing time not only runs any chance of continuity, but it makes no sense.
Judge explained that if a guy is in uniform, he’s going to be expected to play. (Guess that doesn’t apply to backup quarterback Mike Glennon.) Judge also said that the offensive line rotation also allows for the coaches to get a look at some of the new guys added to the roster late in the summer.
Let’s think about this for a minute, shall we? Last year, Judge had many young guys who were new to the NFL and/or their position, so the rotation made sense.
But last I checked, there’s film on Billy Price and Ben Bredeson, so it’s not as though Judge and the coaches are seeing these guys play for the first time. (And if that’s the reason why you’re going to be rotating those guys in, then why wasn’t Billy Price rotated in with Nick Gates?)
This year? There’s a film on Ben Bredeson and Billy Price (who, by the way, unless I missed it, didn’t take any snaps with the offense).
It’s maddening, and it seems the continuity, at least in this game, came when the Giants were in the red zone. And not for nothing, but when Matt Peart was left in his stance as Von Miller zipped by him for a sack, I couldn’t help but wonder if this rotation that Judge seems to favor is perhaps undermining Peart’s confidence.
Judge believes in what he’s doing, but at some point, it has to be worth thinking about ceasing to mess with the most important unit on the offense and letting it develop continuity, for better or worse.
Jason's Bad Day
Jason Garrett has called a few clunkers in his short time as Giants offensive coordinator, and this one has to rank right up there with the worst of them.
For starters, I don’t understand why the Giants, on their opening drive on a 4th-and-18 and the ball on the Broncos 38-yard line, didn’t try a 57-yard field goal in that spot, instead opting to take a delay of game penalty and that pushed them back five yards.
Is it possible that Gano, who missed a 41-yard field goal attempt in the preseason finale, is nursing some undisclosed ailment?
That aside, what about the sequence of play-calling after Logan Ryan forced and recovered a Broncos fumble deep in Giants territory. In that situation, why not try at least one deep pass to open things up and give your offense more room? Instead, the Giants sent Devontae Booker up the middle, where he gained one yard and then tried a short pass out of the backfield to Eli Penny.
And if that wasn’t frustrating enough, can someone explain to me why, when down 20-7 in the fourth quarter with 12:44 left to go, the Giants were huddling up and playing as though they were in the first quarter only down 7-0? Anyone? Where was the sense of urgency?
And the play-calling in the red zone? Woof! Add it all up, and it amounts to yet another failed scoring drive by the Giants, another in a very long and alarming list of blown opportunities.
I’ve seen a question from more than a reader or two about why the Giants loaded up on special teams players. Well, all those special teams players helped the Giants win the average starting field position battle (except for that one punt in which Keion Crossen made it downfield but failed to keep a Riley Dixon punt from rolling into the end zone).
New York’s average starting field position was their 26, while Denver’s was their 23. Not a big difference, and certainly it didn’t matter given that the offense couldn’t do anything, and the defense couldn’t stop anyone. Still, usually, if you win the starting field position, you’re going to give yourself a great chance of winning the game.
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