SANTA CLARA, Calif. — What did we learn about the 2023 Giants on Thursday night at Levi’s Stadium? Nothing that we did not know before.
Primarily, we got confirmation the 49ers are a far better team at this stage than the Giants, and that they might well be the best team in the NFC.
They proved that on both sides of the ball in a 30-12 victory that dropped the Giants to 1-2 and gave the 49ers (3-0) their 13th consecutive regular season victory dating to last year.
It obviously did not help the Giants that they were without Saquon Barkley and three other starters, two on the offensive line, including left tackle Andrew Thomas.
Having them would have made it a fairer fight. But it is unlikely their presences would have made a difference to the bottom line.
So, to review: Had the Giants not made a huge comeback against the Cardinals to win, 31-28, on Sunday, they now would be 0-3, their season on the brink.
They are not 0-3, though. Yes, they are a big step below San Francisco. But with games against the Seahawks and Dolphins ahead, we will know a lot more about them come mid-October.
It would be foolish and unfair to dismiss them at this early date. The vibe in the losing locker fit that notion. There was disappointment, sure, but nothing close to devastation.
“I felt like we played well,” said Kayvon Thibodeaux, who recorded the Giants’ first sack of the season in the first quarter. “We took a step in the right direction . . . I felt like there were some spurts of the team we could be. We just have to be more consistent.”
Said nose tackle Dexter Lawrence, “Honestly, I like the way we ended the [Cardinals game] and this game we attacked as a defense. It’s very promising. I think we just have to correct the little things that have been hurting us.”
The biggest thing that hurt the Giants on Thursday was their inability to stop the 49ers on third down. San Francisco converted seven of its first nine attempts, including some with double-digit yardage.
That was a key factor in the 49ers having 39:10 in possession time compared to the Giants’ 20:50.
The Giants did plenty of other things wrong as well, including missing numerous tackles against 49ers offensive stars Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel and George Kittle.
“Obviously, we need to put more of an emphasis on tackling,” linebacker Bobby Okereke said.
Oh, and the Giants managed only 29 rushing yards on 11 carries in Barkley’s absence.
Still, after trailing the Cowboys, 26-0, and the Cardinals, 20-0, at halftime in their first two games this season, the Giants made it to intermission on Thursday within realistic reach at 17-6.
They were even more realistically within reach after cutting the score to 17-12 on a Matt Breida touchdown run with 10 minutes left in the third quarter.
But the Giants never scored again. The 49ers scored the final 13 points, and the final score looked like more of a blowout than it was.
That led to some slightly awkward questions and answers postgame, with reporters justifiably asking the team whether where were positives to take out of the experience.
“Right now, we just got done getting beat, so you’re not happy ever when you get beat,” coach Brian Daboll said when asked about the bigger picture.
But, he added, “I have a lot of confidence in the people in our room, and we have a lot of work to do.”
All of that is fair. The Giants looked hopeless for the first six quarters of their season, during which the Cowboys and Cardinals outscored them, 60-0.
But once they get Barkley back, there is no reason they cannot be what they were last year – a midlevel NFC team with a legitimate chance to make the playoffs.
One 18-point road loss to the 49ers does not change that.
The Giants sought to ease the logistical (and physical) pain of a short work week by staying in Arizona after their victory over the Cardinals, conducting walkthroughs at Arizona State’s indoor facility before flying here on Wednesday.
There was one potential positive about the timing: Playing on short rest in Week 3 is far easier on many players’ bodies than doing so late in the season.
Now the Giants have an extra-long rest. They do not play again until Monday, Oct. 2, hosting Seattle in another prime time showcase.
That game figures to be a better barometer of where they stand than Thursday night’s was.
“Obviously, everybody wants to be 3-0 but not everybody can be 3-0 in this league,” cornerback Adoree’ Jackson said. “It’s a long season. We’re only three games in. Still got 14 more to go.”
Jackson’s math and mindset both were correct.