EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The Giants opening drive was absolutely perfect. It was as good as their offense has looked all year long. And coming off their revival win last Sunday in Houston, it seemed like they had finally turned a corner.
Instead, it was all just a mirage.
After that 10-play, 75-yard march to a first-quarter touchdown, the Giants' quickly reverted to the offensive malaise that has dragged them down for the last two-plus seasons. They only gained another -224 yards the rest of the way and only found the end zone one more time when they were already in a 16-point hole. In the end, they wasted a tremendous defensive effort to lose to the New Orleans Saints 33-18 and fall to 1-3.
Go ahead and blame Eli Manning for this if you want. He was 31-of-41 for 255 yards and a touchdown. and he sure seemed to go back to what he did the first two games - checking down far too often. He also missed a couple of open receivers, including Odell Beckham Jr. at least once.
But it really goes beyond just him. The offensive line was OK, but the run blocking was terrible. The only big run was a 28-yarder by Saquon Barkley in the third quarter when he bounced out to the left, far from his offensive line (and most of the Saints defense). The receivers were just not getting open downfield, forcing Manning to check down at times. And the play-calling wasn't great either. Barkley and Beckham were virtually invisible in the first half.
It's maddening at this point. Clearly they have the ability to make it work. Their performance a week ago in Houston was proof. Their opening drive in this game was proof. No one doubts the talent of Beckham and Barkley and even Sterling Shepard. And for whatever anyone thinks of Manning, he's not Blaine Gabbert. He's on pace to throw for more than 4,000 yards with a completion percentage above 70.
With the ingredients they have, the offense simply shouldn't be this bad.
And yet it is. And there's really no sign of it getting better any time soon.
Here are some other notes and observations for what might turn out to be a season-killing loss for the Giants:
- You can't ask for much more of the Giants' defense than you got against a Saints team that came in averaging more than 34 points per game. I know, the Saints basically hit their averages with 33 points and 392 yards, but they needed a 49-yard touchdown run by Alvin Kamara right before the two-minute warning to get there. That made the Giants' defensive effort look worse than it really was. They were particularly brilliant in the red zone, where Saints QB Drew Brees couldn't find open receivers at all. He was 3 for 10 for 8 yards and a sack inside the Giants' 20.
- I understand that Beckham is the focal point of every defense he plays against, but the Giants are not doing a good job at getting him open - which is on everyone from the head coach to the quarterback to Beckham himself. When the Giants were in the red zone in the third quarter they threw three straight passes. Beckham was a decoy on all three. Manning never once looked his direction. Needless to say, the Giants had to settle for a field goal. They need to get the ball in the hands of their best playmaker. Sometimes it's worth just throwing it up to him and seeing what he can do. He had five catches for 17 yards through three quarters. That's crazy.
- RB Wayne Gallman's fumble in the second quarter was huge (even though Manning made a nice, game-saving "tackle" at the end of the return). Barkley was getting a bit of a breather on that series. I get it. But that was the fifth consecutive play the Giants went to Gallman, including three passes. Really? They had nobody else?
- Really strange clock management by Pat Shurmur at the end of the first half. The Saints got into the red zone and ran a first-and-goal play with 1:10 remaining. It was an incomplete pass, so the clock was stopped at 1:05. Then, the Saints ran Kamara up the middle for a yard, giving them a 3rd and goal at the 7. The Giants had all three timeouts left and … didn't use them. The Saints let the clock run down to 21 seconds before they called their own timeout. Sure enough, they kicked a field goal and the Giants got the ball back with 11 seconds left - only enough time to take a knee. Had they used one timeout, they would've easily had about 30 more seconds at least.
- S Landon Collins had a tremendous game, both in stopping the run and in pass coverage. For most of the game, Kamara wasn't a factor on the ground and a lot of that had to do with Collins hitting the line of scrimmage and closing any gaps that were there. He had a huge breakup of a pass to Kamara in the third quarter, too, only to see it wiped away by a facemask penalty on CB B.W. Webb.
- Jawill Davis, fresh off the practice squad, thought it was a good idea to try and spark the Giants midway through the third quarter when he fielded a kickoff return six yards deep in the end zone and tried to run it out. He only got to the 11. Bad choice.
- Sometimes it's easy to see what the officials see when they make a bad call. And from high above the field, it sure looked like Giants CB Janoris Jenkins made a textbook, horse-collar tackle on Kamara early in the second quarter. Replays showed Jenkins had his hand on the outside of Kamara's shoulder pads when he dragged him back, which is totally legal. Here's the mind-boggling part to me, though. The official right in front of the play didn't call it. The flag came from an official about 20 yards away. And then they all got together to discuss it and still made the wrong call. All while the replay was playing on the scoreboard, clear as a bell, by the way. I know they're not supposed to peak up, but …
- If you're scoring at home, the Giants have gone 36 straight games without scoring 30, dating back to the last game of the 2015 season. They have also not even reached 20 points in 9 of their last 11 games and 11 of their last 14. That's really, really bad.
- The only solace in the Giants' 36-game streak of not scoring 30 points? The Cleveland Browns had a longer streak. It was 46. At least it was until they finally broke 30 against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday. The crown now belongs to the Giants.