For all the good the Giants produced during the previous month — up to and including last week’s stunning upset of the Seahawks on the road with a backup quarterback — it all unraveled in spectacular fashion on an overcast afternoon that offered this stark reminder: They have not yet arrived.
They have the good fortune of playing in a division in which hideous performances like their 26-7 loss to the Cardinals on Sunday at MetLife Stadium are not fatal blows in a playoff race that might not be determined for another three weeks.
But they also were reminded that more missteps like the ones they committed in their worst performance of the season likely will close the door on the postseason hopes that were raised during their four-game winning streak after a 1-7 start.
Make no mistake: This was a miserable performance at every level — from Daniel Jones’ inability to run the offense after missing a game with a right hamstring strain, to the return of a fumbling problem he seemingly had overcome, to a putrid performance by an offensive line that yielded a season-high eight sacks, to a defense that wasn’t nearly as effective against Kyler Murray & Co. as it had been the previous month.
Blame offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, too. Especially on a critical third-and-1 play from the Giants’ 16 in the third quarter in which Jones threw a fade route that fell hopelessly incomplete. That was the play call instead of a safer play that had a better shot of maintaining possession in a crucial spot with the Giants down 20-7, yet still in position to come back.
And now it comes down to this: Home to resurgent Cleveland next Sunday, a road game against the dangerous Ravens and then home to the Cowboys to complete the regular season.
The Giants soon will know if they’re good enough to recover from the egg they laid on Sunday or if this loss was a sign that this team is not ready for anything other than the hope of a better tomorrow, even after the promise presented by the previous month’s work.
Coach Joe Judge summed things up perfectly at the outset of his postgame Zoom call.
"We were outcoached, we were outplayed," he said. "A lot of mistakes were made in the game that can’t happen again."
Jones did enough during the week to convince Judge that he could return to the lineup, but he clearly was impacted by his inability to run, which has been a big part of his game.
His turnover problem resurfaced in an ugly way, as he lost a fumble on the first drive on a sack by former Giants pass rusher Markus Golden. He had two other fumbles, neither of which was lost but both of which brought back memories of a problem that has dogged him throughout his career.
Jones came up limping in the fourth quarter, this time with what appeared to be an injury to his left leg, although he attributed it to the "bumps and bruises" of playing and didn’t expect it to impact his availability for the next game. But Judge will have to be careful. Jones can’t be given the ball unless he is capable of running an offense that already is challenged when it comes to scoring points.
The Giants were held without a touchdown until the third quarter and have been held under 30 points in every game but one this season.
That leaves them a very small margin for error, and Judge must decide whether a less-than-100% Jones is worth the risk in the coming weeks.
"I have no regrets on playing him," Judge said. "We made a calculated decision. We have to execute better."
They barely executed at all. Jones threw for only 127 yards and produced a single touchdown drive. Wayne Gallman ran for only 57 yards after last week’s 135 against the Seahawks. The offensive line was atrocious. And the defense was average.
Were the Giants too full of themselves after a month’s worth of winning that led to plenty of bouquets being thrown their way?
"I don’t think it was overconfidence," linebacker Blake Martinez said. "We just didn’t play collectively as a team. It’s a tough moment. The really good teams focus on getting better."
The Giants soon will discover whether they are one of those really good teams or whether they are what they were coming into the season: a rebuilding team with a mostly young roster, a first-year coach and a quarterback still trying to prove he should be the team’s long-term solution.
Three games left to see if this loss was just a clunker or if the Giants aren’t as good as we thought they were.