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Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Don’t expect another Giants win like this one for a long time

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The last time made complete sense, as three weather systems were jammed into a three-hour period of unseasonable warmth, followed by an ill wind, followed by a stark temperature drop, followed by rain that changed to snow. Apocalyptic-type stuff to the uninitiated or just another Sunday afternoon on the shore of Lake Erie near the Western New York city of Buffalo.

It was two days before Christmas, Dec. 23, 2007, and it was no day to be outside if your job description was “NFL quarterback.”

Eli Manning threw the ball and sometimes it was blown back to him. He attempted only 15 passes and completed only seven of them. The Giants, needing a victory to clinch a spot in the playoffs, were down 14-0 to the Bills and all hell was breaking loose.

Manning’s “production” that game: 94 net passing yards. The Giants wisely kept to the ground and hulking Brandon Jacobs (143 yards, two touchdowns) and rookie Ahmad Bradshaw (151 yards, including a game-sealing 88-yard scoring run) plowed the Giants to a 38-21 victory, a postseason berth was secured and the rest is history.

Why go down memory lane now with this? Well, that was the last time — nearly 14 years ago — that the Giants won a game with less than the 96 net passing yards Daniel Jones cobbled together in Sunday’s 23-16 victory over the Raiders. The conditions at MetLife Stadium — a pleasant 54 degrees, virtually no wind — were ideal for airing it out, but the Giants could not, and often would not do it.

Giants
Daniel Jones (#8) scrambles during the Giants’ win over the Raiders on Nov. 7, 2021.
Corey Sipkin

You do not win very often in the NFL with less than 100 net passing yards. The Giants might go another 14 years before this happens again. They dare not try to make a habit of this.

Jones’ 110 passing yards were the lowest total in his 35 career starts (the 96 net passing yards is derived from Jones losing 8 yards on two sacks and wide receiver Kadarius Toney losing 6 yards when he was sacked on a double-pass play that never launched). Jones threw only four passes to his wide receivers and completed three of them, for only 37 yards. The Giants were out-gained by the Raiders in yardage (403-235) and had eight fewer first downs. They won because their defense was great in the red zone, because they ran for 149 yards to break even in time of possession and because safety Xavier McKinney scored on a 41-yard interception return, providing the winning margin with the Giants’ first defensive touchdown of the season. 

Last week, the Giants on offense scored 17 points and lost 20-17 in Kansas City. This week, the Giants on offense scored 16 points and they won. For a team that so infrequently walks off the field with more points than the other team, the Giants will gladly take this one and run into their bye week. They are not in position to discard any hint of success that they bring upon themselves. 

But, know this: The way they beat the Raiders is not a sustainable way to win the NFL and it is not a pathway to a stronger second half of the season for the Giants.

Giants
Eli Manning hands the ball off to Brandon Jacobs during the Giants’ win over the Bills on Dec. 23, 2007.
Getty Images

Averaging 19.9 points a game is not going to cut it in today’s NFL. The 2020 Giants were evaluated by the coaching staff and front office and the determination was made that getting more explosive and dynamic on offense was the top priority, as scoring 17.5 points a game was not at all satisfactory. The slight bump-up this season is not enough.

There are reasons for the sluggish improvement. Saquon Barkley played in only five of the nine games. The offensive line lost two starters, Nick Gates and Shane Lemieux, and the best of the bunch, left tackle Andrew Thomas, missed four of the last five games with a foot injury. Kenny Golladay and Toney have missed time.

It is time to put these reasons aside. The Giants do not play this weekend and by the time they kick off again, Nov. 22 for a Monday night game against the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, they should be healed up. They must be healed up. These nagging physical issues cannot all get cleared away in two weeks but most of them must be rectified. Thomas should be back. Barkley should be back. Golladay and Toney should be healthier. It is go-time for these players and this offense.

This team is feisty, but not dominant on defense. Ball control on offense and holding the opponent under 20 points won a game for the Giants in Week 9. That formula cannot be what the Giants lean on in their final eight games. If they do, it will get them a win here or there and not much more.

With that, some more musings as the Giants hit their bye week:

Down, but not out (this time)

Down at the half? Call it a day.

That is pretty much how it has been the past season and a half for the Giants under coach Joe Judge. When trailing at halftime, Judge and the Giants were 1-15 heading into Sunday’s game. They are now 2-15, as they came back from a 13-10 halftime deficit. The only other time the Giants won when down at the half was Dec. 6 of last season, when they trailed 5-0 at the half in Seattle and came back to win 17-12, with backup Colt McCoy filling in for injured Jones at quarterback. Did you see what McCoy did on Sunday for the Cardinals filling in for injured Kyler Murray? McCoy, 35, completed 22 of 26 passes for 249 yards and one touchdown as the Cardinals kept rolling, beating the 49ers 31-17. In that game, another former Giants player starred for the Cardinals. Outside linebacker Markus Golden had three sacks and now has nine for the season. Perhaps the Giants should have kept him.

It’s a snap

Depth is an issue and there is no rest for the weary. Four players on defense — linebacker Tae Crowder and defensive backs Logan Ryan, Adoree’ Jackson and Xavier McKinney — played all 69 snaps on defense. Another player, cornerback James Bradberry, had to come off the field for one play after he was shaken up. He played 68 snaps.

Leonard Williams pounced on the fumble caused by rookie Quincy Roche to seal the victory with 37 seconds remaining. The reason Williams had a clear path to the football was that Ryan raced in and gave up his body to shield running back Josh Jacobs from pursuing the loose ball. It is little things like this that add up to a lot. Williams, in his true iron man fashion, played 61 of the 69 snaps, a heavy workload for an interior defensive lineman.

Welcome to the NFL club, Elerson Smith. The rookie outside linebacker, a fourth-round draft pick, was activated off injured reserve and made his NFL debut with two snaps on special teams.  

The usage of the wide receivers was nearly an even split, as it is clear the Giants are not yet convinced Golladay, coming back from a knee injury, and Toney, coming off an ankle issue, are ready for full-time work. Golladay got 31 snaps, as did Toney (31) and Darius Slayton (31). Collin Johnson (21 snaps) and John Ross (five) got on the field but did not get targeted once in the passing game.

When Kaden Smith went out in the second quarter in the concussion protocol, offensive lineman Korey Cunningham became a very big (6-foot-6, 311 pounds) tight end. Cunningham was used for 13 snaps as a blocking tight end in the jumbo package, as the Giants ran for 146 yards.

Strange but true

There are only two teams in the NFL that have a takeaway on defense in every game this season: The Giants and the Colts.

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