Keidel: Focus For Giants Shifts From Promise To Problems

Big Blue Looks Nothing Like Playoff Contender In Loss

Jason Keidel
September 10, 2018 - 9:21 am
Giants quarterback Eli Manning passes the ball in front of Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Lerentee McCray on Sept. 9, 2018, at MetLife Stadium.

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Soon after Myles Jack plucked Eli Manning's pass and trotted into the end zone, Giants fans were surging like salmon out of MetLife Stadium. The pick six gave the Jacksonville Jaguars a 20-9 lead in the fourth quarter, and the Giants hadn't scored a touchdown all day. 

Surely some of the sickened fans scampered back to their seats when Saquon Barkley dodged and dashed for a 68-yard TD just 45 seconds later. But just as Barkley did just enough to get the G-Men back in the game, the Giants did just enough to lose the game, 20-15

In a contest as sloppy as the misty bowl in which they played, the Giants never led, never gained momentum and, other than Barkley's big run, never looked like the playoff-contending team many of us projected them to be. 

Had someone told you the Jaguars would not punt in the first half yet score just 13 points, you'd figure the Giants were in good shape. If someone then told you the Jags would punt in their first seven possessions of the second half, you'd figure the Giants were in good shape. Yet Jacksonville's eighth possession was a kneel-down after the Giants muffed a punt with 45 seconds left and a chance to win the game. 

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Making matters worse, the Giants didn't have to worry about the only bona fide baller the Jaguars have on offense when running back Leonard Fournette tweaked his right hamstring in the second quarter and didn't play one snap in the second half. Indeed, the longest run the Jags had all day was a 41-yard scamper by quarterback Blake Bortles, who is never confused with Gale Sayers. 

If that weren't appalling enough, the Jaguars also hemorrhaged 118 yards on 11 penalties, more than double that of the Giants (43 penalty yards). Granted, the Jaguars have a granite defense that led them to the AFC title game a year ago, featuring six Pro Bowl players. Still, you don't lift the curtain on the season by failing to score a TD until the fourth quarter. 

The Giants played in a leaky funk that reflected the rainy afternoon, doing just enough to make the score seem competitive. But other than his sublime TD score, Barkley was barely averaging 2 yards per carry. All-world wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., the ink now dry on his epic contract, caught 11 passes for 111 yards, but it was the balls he didn't grab that loomed larger. 

Rather, it was two passes he couldn't catch because QB Eli Manning missed him. The first was a third-quarter route when Beckham beat the Jags into the end zone, yet Manning's pass sailed over his sticky hands. Another came in the fourth quarter, when Manning didn't see Beckham crossing the middle and threw just as he got belted by a Jaguars defender, the ball fluttering a few yards short of the star wideout, acres of empty turf behind him. 

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The Giants didn't lose because of any particular play. But they played -- especially on offense -- as if they were still hungover from that 3-13 nightmare of a season in 2017. The club revamped the roster, from running back to general manager, yet they were a step slower than the Jaguars from whistle to gun. 

Manning has led 34 fourth-quarter/overtime comebacks in his career. But he wasn't 37 years old then. And even if that ball bouncing off Kaelin Clay at the end of the game was the period on an ugly gridiron paragraph, it doesn't tell the story. Even if Clay snags that knuckleball punt, you had no sense Manning had a groove in him all game. Big Blue's iconic, laconic QB completed 23 of 37 passes for 224 yards, zero touchdowns and that fateful pick six, for a weak passer rating of 67.9. 

Jacksonville has made better teams than the Giants look average. But this was Big Blue's first game of the 2018 season, at home, with all the promise that comes with it and the flood of new and recovered talent that was supposed to push them into playoff contention. 

The Giants hired coach Pat Shurmur to mold all these skilled parts into a scoring machine. Instead, the offense was just offensive. The Jacksonville Jaguars aren't a rival and don't even dwell in the NFC, but if the Giants don't beat the Dallas Cowboys next week, folks may wonder if they really replaced Ben McAdoo or merely removed his mustache. 

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel​.