For all the good will the Giants earned from last week’s thrilling overtime win in New Orleans, they were hit hard — literally — by a dose of reality in a punishing loss to archrival Dallas that claimed not only their pride but their best players.
Life changes quickly in the NFL, and the Giants learned that truism Sunday in a 44-20 loss to a clearly superior team.
The loss hurt.
The injuries hurt worse.
Saquon Barkley, gone in the first quarter to an ankle injury suffered in a freak collision with a Cowboys defender.
Daniel Jones, gone in the second quarter to a concussion that included some frightening moments as he wobbled back to the huddle after a helmet-to-helmet hit felled him on a bootleg near the end zone.
Kenny Golladay, gone after the first half with a knee injury.
Best running back, best quarterback, best receiver, all gone. And this after their best linebacker, Blake Martinez, was lost for the season to a knee injury in Week 3.
The Giants had breathed some life into a previously winless season with a magnificent comeback victory in New Orleans, but their flickering hopes were snuffed out by a superior Cowboys team and this mind-numbing succession of injuries.
At 1-4 and with uncertainty about when Barkley, Jones and Golladay might come back, the miracle finish against the Saints might go down as the high-water mark of the entire season.
Looking ahead at the schedule doesn’t help. They’re home against the 4-1 Rams and on the road in Kansas City the next two weeks, so 1-6 doesn’t seem all that far off. Even at full strength, facing those opponents is a challenge; facing them without several of their best players makes it next to impossible.
Despite the losses, the Giants remain undaunted.
"We’re positive every week," coach Joe Judge said. "We’re going to look at this game, correct the mistakes, make sure we coach the best we can."
"I think all we have to do is keep fighting and come back to work," said backup quarterback Mike Glennon, who replaced Jones. "This is the NFL. You put your head down and come back the next week and put our best foot forward. You have to come back every day, keep fighting and working and stick together."
Easier said than done, especially with an injury list this long and this littered with key starters. The Giants’ margin for error is slim to begin with; it’s almost invisible without Jones, Barkley and Golladay.
All three were instrumental in last week’s breathtaking performance against the Saints, with Jones having a career day, Barkley catching a critical touchdown pass and Golladay setting up Barkley’s clinching score in overtime.
Without them against the Cowboys, the Giants had no chance.
They did battle impressively in the early going against the Cowboys, fighting to a 10-10 tie in the second quarter. But Dallas found its rhythm, with Dak Prescott throwing for 302 yards and three touchdowns and Ezekiel Elliott grinding down the Giants’ defense with 110 yards, a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown.
It was 27-13 by the end of the third quarter, and the Cowboys blew it open in the fourth.
"It’s crazy just looking at it," Golladay said of the loss of key players. "But I got all the faith in the world in the other guys. It’s next-man-up mentality."
There was one major bright spot for the Giants: rookie Kadarius Toney. The first-round pick had a monster game with 189 receiving yards, but he incurred the wrath of Judge by throwing a punch during a skirmish in the fourth quarter and getting ejected.
"There’s a pretty distinct line in terms of competing and doing things we’re not going to condone as a team," Judge said.
Other than Toney’s pre-punch performance, there was little to celebrate.
And unless there are some quick recoveries by the Giants’ most important players, that might continue to be the case.
"We just got to show up Monday whether they’re hurt or not," cornerback James Bradberry said. "We have a game on Sunday."
The NFL waits for no man, and the Giants are down one too many.
Upon further review . . . three too many.