Change the general manager, change the head coach, change the coordinators, change the majority of the roster, but it doesn’t matter, the New York Football Giants will never change. They will always be the same team.
You never would have known if it was Tom Coughlin or Ben McAdoo or Pat Shurmur on the sideline on Sunday in the first game of the 2018 season because the performance from the Giants over the last several seasons, spanning all three coaches, has been the same. Even if it’s unfair to group Shurmur into the disappointing losses suffered during the tenures of the other two after just one game, it was such a Giants-esque loss that I can’t help but include him.
The second play of the season was a 31-yard pass against the Giants defense and the first play of the season for the offense was a tripping penalty on Ereck Flowers at the Giants’ 14. And they were at their own 14 because Cody Latimer decided to run the ball out of the end zone, gaining only the 14 and costing the Giants 11 yards of field position on their season-opening drive. After the Flowers trip, the Giants were backed up to their own 7. They then ran a play for no gain before Eli Manning connected with Evan Engram for 34 yards. But that play was negated by a flag. Who was the flag on? Do you even have to ask? Flowers, of course. This time for holding. Now facing a second-and-20 from their own 4 against the best defense in the league, it was no surprise the possession would result in a punt. Thankfully, three plays later, Blake Bortles would turn into Blake Bortles and throw an interception.
The second Giants possession took the Giants 59 yards from their own 37 to the Jaguars’ 4, where it would stall out in typical Giants fashion. Facing a third-and-Goal from the 8, the Giants decided to run an end-around to Odell Beckham Jr. The play, which actually made me laugh out loud, shockingly resulted in a loss of one yard. Aldrick Rosas converted the 27-yard field goal to tie the game.
From there, the Jaguars kicked another field goal to gup 6-3 and the Giants punted for a second time, leading to a Jaguars touchdown to put the Giants behind 13-3. The Giants got the ball back with 2:42 in the half and a chance for my favorite thing in football: the double score with a possession before the half and the first possession of the second half. The Giants once again got the ball to the red zone and couldn’t get it in the end zone against the vaunted Jaguars defense, and they trailed 13-6 at half.
On the first play of the second half, the Giants called timeout after not being able to get the play off in time. It was the most Giants thing of all time. Even more than the two penalties in the first three plays of their season. How could they come out of halftime and not have the first play of the half decided upon? That’s not rhetorical. I’m asking because I need to know. Using a timeout on the first play of the half is irresponsible. But don’t worry, I’m sure they won’t need that timeout later in the game.
A third Rosas field goal to open the half cut the deficit to 4, but I started to think how Rosas was now 3-for-3 and if the game were to come down to a field-goal attempt, the odds would be against him at that point. You can only trust Rosas for so long. The Giants defense got the Jaguars to punt again and thanks to an unnecessary roughness penalty and a bad punt, the Giants would start with the ball on Jaguars’ 46, trailing 13-9. The Giants had a chance to take the lead against possibly the best team in the AFC and all of football.
On third-and-7 from the Jaguars’ 43, the Giants did what the Giants always do in situations like these: they threw the ball five yards. The Engram reception left the Giants two yards short of a first down at the Jaguars’ 38. Shurmur knew what every Giants fan knows and that is that letting Rosas try a 55-yarder isn’t the best idea, considering it’s almost a certainty the Jaguars would then have the ball at midfield. So being stuck in no-man’s land, Shurmur decided to go for it on fourth down, which to me was the right call. The actual play that ran? Not so much the right call. Manning handed it off to Saquon Barkley and he was only able to gain one of the two yards. Turnover on downs.
It felt like a huge opportunity had slipped away and the Giants had gone from the chance to take the lead, or at worst make it a one-point game, to potentially being down two possessions again if the Jaguars scored a touchdown. The Giants’ defense, which came to play (something they didn’t do at all in 2017), allowed only 15 yards and the Jaguars punted again. One first down and three incomplete passes later, and the Giants punted it right back. Then the Jaguars punted, then the Giants punted, then the Jaguars punted. The game had become a defensive standoff, something I expected from the Jaguars, not the Giants. With 11:24 left in the game, the Jaguars defense basically put the game away when Manning threw a pick-6 into the hands of Myles Jack. 20-9, Jaguars.
The play was deflating. I went from thinking for the fourth straight possession that the Giants might take the lead and win a game I didn’t expect them to win to realizing I was a fool for ever having that thought. But two plays later, Barkley made me regret being so against drafting him with the second overall pick as he broke through with a 68-yard touchdown run.
It’s been so long since the Giants had a good running back. Actually, it’s been so long since the Giants have had an average running back that I forgot what it was like to have someone who can run like that and also catch balls out of the backfield and force the defense to not focus on Beckham. The touchdown made up for Barkley’s inability to get the two yards on the drive that ended with a turnover on downs earlier in the game. Naturally, the Giants’ two-point attempt failed and instead of the game being a three-point game, it was a five-point game at 20-15 with 10:39 remaining.
Another punt from the Jaguars, followed by a punt from the Giants and another punt from the Jaguars gave the Giants the ball at their own 19. The Giants were able to drive the ball 45 yards, but on fourth-and-6 from the Jaguars’ 36, they turned it over on downs for the second time in the second half.
With Leonard Fournette out of the game, the Giants were able to stop T.J. Yeldon and get the ball back with 54 seconds left and no timeouts. (No timeouts because remember the first play in the second half?) But having no timeouts or all their timeouts wouldn’t matter. Recently-signed Kaelin Clay was set to receive the punt, but he muffed it, allowing the Jaguars to recover and take a knee to run out the clock. Why was Clay out there? Why wasn’t the best hands on the team and possibly the league in Beckham not out there? There’s no reason. If you wanted Clay to just catch it and not return, Beckham would have made more sense. And if you wanted a return, Beckham still would have more sense. There’s nothing in a football game in which Kaelin Clay would make more sense than Odell Beckham Jr.
From start to finish it was the exact type of Giants game I have gotten used to watching in my life. Between allowing third-and-longs to convert, to taking two offensive line penalties in the first three plays of the season, to turning the ball over on downs twice, to not being able to convert once in the red zone, to throwing a pick-6, to failing to convert a two-point conversion, to wasting a timeout on the first play of a half, to muffing the punt with a chance to win the game, the game have everything a Giants can could expect. If I were to explain to someone what it’s like to watch the Giants every week of every season, I couldn’t have put together a more accurate depiction of the team if I tried.