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Giants grades: All D's and F's

Rashard Higgins #82 of the Cleveland Browns pulls

Rashard Higgins #82 of the Cleveland Browns pulls the ball against Isaac Yiadom #27 of the New York Giants during the first quarter of a game at MetLife Stadium on December 20, 2020. Credit: Getty Images/Al Bello

OFFENSE: F

This was the third game this season in which the Giants failed to score a touchdown, even though they had the ball inside the Browns’ 10 twice in the first half. There were a few chances for touchdowns, including a pair of passes for Evan Engram, one that sailed high and one that floated a bit too much, allowing a defender to close in on the open tight end. There also was a pass behind Darius Slayton in the end zone in which the receiver slipped to the ground and was unable to come back for the ball. The running game averaged 3.5 yards per carry, which isn’t awful, but managed just 71 yards. Looking for something positive? After allowing eight sacks a week ago, the offensive line did considerably better and allowed just one, which came in the final meaningless minute of the game. Want to go back to being upset? While we’re grading just this game, it’s worth pointing out that the Giants were held to a combined 13 points in the last two games, both at home, including last week’s 26-7 loss to the Cardinals. It is their lowest point total over any two home games since 1976, when they scored 12 in a 10-0 loss to Philadelphia and a 12-9 victory over Washington with a road game in between. The last time they played so unproductively in back-to-back games at home also was 1976, when they were shut out in back-to-back games by Pittsburgh (27-0) and Philadelphia (10-0).

DEFENSE: D

Baker Mayfield completed an astonishing 84.4% of his passes (27 of 32) for 297 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 126.2. He was sacked just once, an 11-yard loss on a tackle by Dexter Lawrence. For all of his passing yards, though, the play that did the most damage may have been a third-and-4 from his own 11 in the third quarter when the Browns led 13-3. He scrambled for a gain of 5 and a first down and came up smiling, knowing how significant the play was. Instead of the Browns punting from deep in their own territory on a three-and-out, the run extended what turned into a 95-yard touchdown drive and a 20-3 lead. It was just one of the nine third downs that the Browns converted on 13 attempts. Even with all of that, holding the Browns to 20 points was a respectable effort for a team that was playing without its best coverage cornerback and starting nickel back. The Giants defensive backs who did play often began the snaps seven to 10 yards off the line of scrimmage and just tried to keep everything in front of them. For the most part, they did. There were just no sacks, very little pressure on Mayfield, and no takeaways to stop the Browns, who controlled the ball for just over 34 minutes.

SPECIAL TEAMS: F

Riley Dixon’s passer rating (39.6) was only slightly higher than the net yardage on his two punts (31.5). The punter had the opportunity to throw a touchdown pass early in the game when the Giants called a fake field goal on their opening drive. Dixon tried to hit Nick Gates in the end zone but threw it high — and into triple coverage! — for an incompletion. Dion Lewis gave the Giants a nice spark with a 48-yard return on the opening kickoff that set up the drive that ended in the flubbed fake, but he also fumbled a later kickoff return a week after he coughed one up against the Cardinals. This time Levine Toilolo was able to recover it for the Giants. Had the Giants been able to recover the onside kick late, especially after it bounced off the Browns player who touched it initially and lost control of it, it would have helped their grade here tremendously. Instead, the one redeeming quality for the unit was the continued steady kicking of Graham Gano, who connected from 37 and 39 yards for the Giants’ six points in the game. Gano has been successful on 27 consecutive field-goal attempts, one shy of his career high and two shy of Josh Brown’s franchise record.

COACHING: D

There is a time and a place for everything. The 8-yard line on the opening drive felt like neither when it came to the fake field goal Judge called. With a moribund offense and a defense that was shorthanded, he had to do something to get the Giants to score points, and if it had worked, it would have been audacious and gutsy and glorious. It didn’t, though, and it came off as desperate and probably a little demoralizing. Going for it wasn’t the questionable part, but taking the offense off the field and asking Dixon to throw the crucial pass was. It would have been better (nobler?) to be stopped on an offensive play, as they were later in the first half on Wayne Gallman's run on fourth-and-1 from the Browns’ 5. But even if he had kicked those two field goals, the Giants probably would have lost 20-12 instead of 20-6. Play-caller Freddie Kitchens opened up a few things in the passing game, allowing Colt McCoy to try to push the ball down the field. It didn’t always work, but at least it gave the Browns something to think about rather than having them sit on stopping the run. Not that they Giants took much advantage of that. Trailing in the second half, they ran just six times for 20 yards. Judge finally found the red flag and challenged a call for the first time this season. He didn’t stand much of a chance, though, essentially using the tool as a desperation attempt to overturn the call that the Browns recovered the Giants’ onside kick late in the game. There was no video evidence of anything approaching a Giants recovery, but at that point, Judge had nothing to lose.

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