This was going to be a tough spot for the Giants right from the start. Going on the road to pick up the pieces from their sloppy loss to the Redskins was going to be hard enough. But in always-loud Minnesota, against one of the NFL's best defenses, and one that has haunted Eli Manning throughout his career?
All things considered, it could've been a lot worse.
That's a small consolation, of course, after the Giants' 24-10 loss in Minnesota on Monday night because the facts are still the same: They have now erased their promising 2-0 start and are sitting at 2-2 as they head with their banged up secondary to Green Bay next Sunday night. And the first crisis of the Ben McAdoo Era will continue for at least another week.
How did it happen? Blame a scared offense, an injury-plagued secondary, and more untimely penalties. It's all covered here in my 10 takeaways from the now last-place Giants' loss:
1. One of two things happen when a team has offensive line issues. It either is forced to rush its offense, or it does it by design. It sure looked like it was the latter for much of the first three quarters on Monday night. Almost all of Eli Manning's passes for three quarters were short, and any time he was pressured even a little bit (which happened a lot) he quickly got rid of the ball, even if that meant throwing it into the ground. They looked like they were playing scared - which later seemed logical considering how rushed and out of sync they looked when they finally started to throw deep. Either the Vikings took the Giants right out of their game, or the Giants did it to themselves. Either way, it worked for them.
2. Even when Manning had time to throw, the downfield passing game looked terribly out of sync. Even the first attempt - which became an interception by Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes - happened because Odell Beckham Jr. cut in while Manning threw deep (Manning explained later that pressure forced him to throw before he was sure what angle Beckham was going to take). Those two really seemed off (Beckham caught just three of the nine passes thrown his direction). Beckham is still on pace to have a heck of a season, but he's been under 100 yards in three of the four games and he's not playing like the big-play-every-game threat he's been for two years. Some of that is because Manning seemed to avoid Beckham early when he was swarmed by multiple defenders. That shouldn't matter. Beckham is so good that's worth forcing the ball to him to establish a rhythm early. More often than not, that strategy will work.
3. Beckham got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the second quarter when he erupted at the official (and bumped him) after what was clearly an unpenalized late hit by Rhodes. Go ahead and get on Beckham for that if you want. Many will and he deserves it. He should know better, and he knows he's not going to get the benefit of the doubt from the officials (he's earned that, too). But there was also a positive side, believe it or not. On the next play, he and Rhodes tangled again and Beckham maybe got away with a shove at his facemask. But more importantly, at the end of that play Rhodes hit him again late and out of bounds. Rhodes was so furious coaches had to grab him and pull him away. Beckham? He just walked away. Most mature thing I've seen him do. … Small steps.
4. The Giants didn't seem to miss Rashad Jennings and Shane Vereen in the running game. Orleans Darkwa (12 carries for 48 yards) and Bobby Rainey (4-22 and seven catches for 43 yards) filled in nicely. But here's a question: The Giants gained 4.3 yards per carry on the ground, but had only 18 rushes compared to 45 passes. They were never down more than two touchdowns. I understand throwing in the fourth quarter when time is running out, but why spend most of the game acting like you're down 30? It's one thing if the running game isn't working, but it was.
5. The Giants came off their 11-penalty mess against the Redskins and committed six in the first half against the Vikings (eight overall). Don't blame the crowd noise either. There was only one false start. The Giants have just been really undisciplined the last two weeks - a startling turnaround from their first two games when they were among the least penalized teams in the league.
6. Four games into the season and the Giants' $200 million defense has produced four sacks - just two by their supposedly stellar defensive line. They can say all they want that sacks don't matter and they can use any excuse they want - including the accurate one that quarterbacks are throwing the ball awfully quickly against them. But at some point they have to actually get to the quarterback and bring him down. That's what they're being paid to do. Oh, they don't have a single takeaway either. Not one.
7. The Vikings really went after CB Trevin Wade, and it wasn't a fair fight especially when he was unfortunately matched up with TE Kyle Rudolph. Wade did well last year when forced in to action, but let's give him a break here. He's supposed to be the Giants' fifth corner. They were without Eli Apple (hamstring) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (groin) so he was forced to start with Leon Hall playing the slot. The Vikings seemed to particularly like it when Wade was on the same side of rookie safety Andrew Adams. Again, it's understandable. Just keep in mind that the Giants next game is in Green Bay off a short week. Think Aaron Rodgers will like what he sees from the Giants' banged up secondary? They need Apple, DRC and safeties Darian Thompson (foot) and Nat Berhe (concussion) back quick.
8. Nice to see the Giants dust off rookie running back Paul Perkins, even if their hand was forced by injuries to Vereen and Jennings. Perkins made the play of the game for the Giants, catching a short screen pass and turning it into a 67-yard gain. He broke one tackle and made two others miss as he flashed some impressive speed. He also got some great downfield blocking from linemen John Jerry and Weston Richburg and receiver Odell Beckham, too.
9. Bad rookie mistake and some terrible clock management by Ben McAdoo at the end of the first half. The Giants had one timeout left when Manning hit Victor Cruz with a 10-yard pass to the Vikings 17. If they called timeout with about 16 seconds left they would've had two shots at least at the end zone before settling for a field goal. Instead, the clock ran down to 10 seconds and they had only one shot before the kick. I'm guessing he was holding his last timeout (which he never used) to set up the field goal, but he wouldn't have needed it if he took two shots at the end zone.
10. Maybe in the end this wouldn't have mattered, but it's worth noting anyway: On the Giants' first drive they pushed all the way to the Vikings' 38 then passed up a shot at a 55-yard field goal and punted instead. It was the right call and thanks to a spectacular punt by Brad Wing, it worked. The Giants had the Vikings pinned at their own 1 and the defense then forced a three-and-out. Everything was set up for them. They had early momentum and they were about to get the ball back at midfield. Then Dwayne Harris muffed the punt at the Giants' 41, the Vikings recovered, and they made a short drive for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. Yes, the Giants had plenty of time to recover from there, but would things have been a little different if they had struck first? The crowd might've been a little quieter, they would've had some confidence and momentum … Who knows? But little things matter a lot in these games.