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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Disappointing opener, but some signs of hope for Giants

Eli Manning looks dejected after Giants lost possession

Eli Manning looks dejected after Giants lost possession during the fourth quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Sep. 9, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Credit: Jim McIsaac

No touchdown passes by Eli Manning.

An offensive line that at times looked as dreadful as last season, when it was as bad as we’ve seen in years.

A defense that gave up a 41-yard run to quarterback Blake Bortles, the longest of his career.

A muffed punt that ruined any hope of a last-second comeback.

Take your pick of what went wrong for the Giants in a 20-15 loss to the Jaguars on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. There was plenty of material for a stinging critique of Pat Shurmur’s head-coaching debut. But Shurmur insisted there was sufficient evidence to believe that the flashes of what can go right eventually will rule the day and become what we’ll remember from this team.

“I told the players the most important part of this game that we can work with is they hung together, they played hard from the first snap to the last,” Shurmur said. “We just didn’t make enough plays in the end to win this game. I’m hugely disappointed that we lost for our fans, our ownership and those players in the locker room. But there’s a lot of good in that locker room.”

A spin-doctoring attempt by Shumur to mask what went wrong? Perhaps.

But it’s important to recognize the possibilities here and not simply dismiss them after a decidedly imperfect opening act in the Shurmur era. The Giants hung with a team that is coming off an AFC Championship Game appearance and boasts one of the NFL’s best defenses — if not the best. In the end, it wasn’t enough, but you saw enough hints about what might be for this to become a quality team over time.

There was rookie running back Saquon Barkley’s dazzling 68-yard touchdown run that got the Giants back to within one score after Manning’s deflected pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

There was Odell Beckham Jr.’s triumphant return from an ankle injury, as the newly minted $95-million receiver had 11 catches for 111 yards and drew two pass-interference penalties.

And there was a defense that, even without its best player, injured linebacker Olivier Vernon, shut out the Jaguars’ offense in the second half.

“I think there were some good things, some big plays,” said Manning, who was 23-for-37 for 224 yards. “Just didn’t make a couple of plays that could have been there.”

Manning lamented his inability to get the ball into Beckham’s hands on two would-be touchdown passes — one in the second quarter on a blitz that required him to get the ball out of his hand quickly, the other on an overthrow of a post route in the third quarter.

“It’s not one person, it’s not one thing, it’s everybody do your job a little bit better,” Manning said. “That’s part of football. It’s a game of inches. Sometimes it’s just a couple of third and fourth downs where we’re inches away from getting first downs. Unfortunately, we weren’t on the side of those inches today.”

He remains undeterred.

“I’m encouraged just because I see the way we’ve worked,” he said. “I see the men in the locker room, the talent we have and guys taking care of each other. Just encouraged by the whole situation and that we can get things going, we can play at a high level and we’ll make it work.”

There was evidence on both sides of the argument about whether it indeed will work over time:

If this offensive line — right tackle Ereck Flowers, in particular — doesn’t show improvement, then forget it. This offense will be severely handicapped. But if the remade line can improve the way the Vikings’ line did last year with Shurmur as offensive coordinator, there’s a chance.

And if Manning, who is being allowed to throw deep again after being limited by Ben McAdoo’s dink-and-dunk offense, can find his rhythm, good things lie ahead.

Shurmur is sure of the latter outcome.

“I’m thrilled that Eli’s our quarterback,” he said. “He responded well throughout the game. He’s into it. He’s sharp. He’s well prepared. We’re very fortunate he’s our quarterback.”

But the margin of error is slim, as Manning knows.

“There’s always little things — almost there — and that’s football,” he said. “But almost isn’t good enough. You’ve got to make plays. You’ve got to be perfect.”

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