The first game of a Giants season is special. There’s this feeling of anticipation about what the next four months (or possibly four-plus months) will bring and the expectation that the season at hand might provide a magical and memorable ending. Even going into Sunday’s game, in a season in which the Giants are expected to be one of the worst teams in the league, I began to have that feeling.
Despite everything I have read and said about the 2019 Giants leading up to to their Week 1 kickoff in Dallas, I thought for a moment, Maybe they will be better than I thought. And for a moment they were.
The Giants forced the Cowboys to punt on the season-opening drive, and the Giants took over possession at their own 9 for their first offensive drive of the season. The first play of the Giants’ offensive season was a short pass to Saquon Barkley, and in typical Giants fashion, Barkley, who has never fumbled in his NFL career, put the ball on the ground. It was so Giants it made me laugh. A turnover on the first offensive play of the season in Dallas? It was the same beginning as the 2013 season when Eli Manning threw an interception on the first play of the season in Dallas. Somehow, Eli Penny was able to jump on the ball and retain possession for the Giants, and I thought, Maybe things are going to be different this season.
Barkley took off for 59 rushing yards on the next play, and five plays later, Manning found Evan Engram in the end zone for a one-yard touchdown. The Giants had gone 91 yards in four minutes and seven seconds, never faced a third down and watched their star player pick up 72 yards on the first drive of the season. As a Giants fan, the Barkley fumble resulting in a loss of possession would have made sense. A 91-yard touchdown drive to open the season? As a Giants fan, I didn’t know how to react.
For the first six minutes and 54 seconds of football on Sunday, things were different. The Giants looked like the team ownership promised to the fans, the team Dave Gettleman built despite heavy criticism and the team Pat Shurmur preached about in training camp and the preseason. For the first six minutes and 54 seconds of Sunday’s game, the Giants were better than the Cowboys. Unfortunately, there was still 53 minutes and six seconds of football to be played.
The feeling I had when Engram scored to give the Giants an early lead was the last good feeling of the game. The Cowboys scored touchdowns on their next five possessions in what would eventually be a 35-17 loss for the Giants. It was a depressing, humiliating and disappointing loss. It was the exact kind of game the Giants have provided their fans with since the end of the Tom Coughlin era, the second year of the Ben McAdoo and nearly every week of the Pat Shurmur era.
The Giants trailed 21-7 at halftime after the Giants’ defense allowed three touchdowns and 305 yards. Despite the two-score deficit and lopsided team statistics, the Giants were receiving the ball for the second half and still had a chance to get back into the game. The Giants began the second half on their own 15, and on the first play of the half, Manning hit Cody Latimer for a 43-yard gain to the Cowboys’ 42. After successfully converting a critical fourth-and-8, the Giants were able to move the ball to the Cowboys’ 11 before settling for a field goal. The Giants had cut the deficit to 21-10, and the offense finally looked in sync for the first time since the opening drive.
I’m not sure what went on in the locker room with the defense at halftime, but clearly there weren’t any adjustments made. It took the Cowboys three plays with a 45-yard pass, five-yard run and 25-yard pass to go right down the field and once again open up the game at 28-10.
The Giants were able to march right back down the field themselves, and facing a third-and-2 at the Cowboys’ 8, the Giants decided to run the ball with Penny instead of Barkley, and Penny picked up one yard. Clinging to the smallest of chances to come back in the game, and desperately needing to convert the fourth-and-1 at the 10, the Giants’ play resulted in Manning rolling out to his right, and when the intended receiver Sterling Shepard was covered (more like tackled), Manning had nowhere to go. Rather than try to run the two yards in front of him, Manning froze up, got sacked and fumbled. With the game officially on the line, the Giants chose to not give the ball to their best player and the best offensive player in the league on either play. If Barkley isn’t going to be given the ball when the Giants need one yard, then what’s the point of anything? Twice in the game, the Giants went for it on fourth down and neither time did Barkley get the ball.
The game was a disaster. It went about as well as every Giants game has gone in Dallas for the last seven years aside from 2016. Nearly every snap in the game provided a perplexing moment from the Giants whether it came from the offense, defense or sideline. Between Manning’s intentional grounding and his fourth-and-1 decision to the defense’s entire game to Shurmur to trying to challenge inside of two minutes and just yelling “That’s bullshit” all games at the officials to Daniel Jones fumbling away possession in his NFL debut, the game was an all-out embarrassment.
All I could do at the end of the game was laugh. Laugh at the playcalling for avoiding Barkley and using him as a decoy with the game on the line. Laugh at the defense for thinking they deserve their game checks after allowing a quarterback who can’t throw to pass for 405 yards. Laugh at Shurmur for not knowing the challenge rules and for showing no signs of improvement or adjustment in second season as head coach. Laugh at Dave Gettleman for constructing this team. Laugh at ownership for trying to get Giants fans to buy into the organization’s plan for this season. And more than anything, laugh at myself for even having a second where I thought, Maybe things are going to be different this season.
Sunday’s loss might seem like it was only game, but it wasn’t. It was a continuation of the last two seasons in which nothing has changed when it comes to the Giants. There might be a different general manager and head coach and coordinators and players, but the Giants are the same losing team they have been since the start of the 2017 season.
The Giants are now 0-1. One more loss for a team which has now lost 26 of their last 34 games. One loss closer to another season ending before September does. One loss closer to another losing season. One loss closer to the end of the Eli Manning era and the beginning of the Daniel Jones era.