There was little shame in the Giants’ first two losses, both coming against better teams by something close to acceptable margins. They weren’t winning, but there was a sense that things were improving if you looked closely enough.
Sunday’s 36-9 loss to a 49ers team riddled with injuries before and during the game, however, may have eroded any patience and positivity that the dwindling percentage of the team’s fans were clinging to.
Three turnovers, costly penalties and a continued inability to run the football sunk the Giants to 0-3 on the season with their ugliest effort of the year. The Giants did not make a single defensive stop – the 49ers played the entire game without punting, a first for their franchise since 1993. The Giants also did not play a single offensive snap inside the red zone. The Niners converted eight of 12 third downs and backup quarterback Nick Mullens scorched them with a 108.9 passer rating.
For a Joe Judge-coached team intent on measuring its progress this season in day-to-day improvements and sometimes subtle increments, getting battered by Bay-area backups was a colossal step backward for the program.
"It was definitely disappointing," Daniel Jones said. "I don’t think any of us came in expecting this."
Even their attempts at garbage points were trash. Jones hit Darius Slayton for a 22-yard pass to the Niners’ 19 just inside the two-minute warning, but Slayton fumbled it away with 1:49 left.
"It’s not good enough," linebacker Blake Martinez said of the team’s performance. "We have to be able to show up every single day and put the work in and keep chopping wood and know that what we’ve been doing, it isn’t it."
Judge’s displeasure with the result was not voiced publicly – in his postgame news conference he hid behind the screen of having to watch the film to determine whether the 27-point loss was indeed a step backward for the team – but he did apparently express himself in a more clear and precise manner to the players in the postgame locker room. He spent close to 45 minutes with the team after the game.
"Everyone was just listening to what the head guy had to say," defensive lineman Leonard Williams said. "Coach talked to us for a while. Everyone else was pretty silent and listening to what is going on … I was looking around while Coach Judge was talking and made a lot of eye contact with people and people still seemed to have a lot of fight in them."
On the field, that aura was far less perceptible.
The Giants did come back from a 6-0 hole in the first quarter, one dug in part by a fumble from Jones on a flipped end-around intended for Evan Engram, to tie it at 6 midway through the second quarter. They should have gotten the ball in good field position later in that period when the 49ers threw a short checkdown on a third-and-22 from their own 44. Rookie Darnay Holmes was flagged for illegal contact in the deep secondary, though, a penalty that carried just a 5-yard punishment but a more backbreaking automatic first down. The Niners converted a second-and-11 and a second-and-13 on the rest of the drive, then scored the game’s first touchdown on a 10-yard run by Jerick McKinnon with 1:07 left in the half.
Having deferred the opening kickoff, the Giants had a good chance to hit the 49ers with a halftime combo punch, scoring before and after the intermission. Instead, Jones’ pass for Engram was thrown behind the tight end and right into the arms of linebacker Fred Warner with 55 seconds left in the second quarter. The Niners turned that takeaway into a field goal and a 16-6 lead at halftime.
The Giants moved the ball well to open the third quarter, including a 23-yard designed run by Jones who was the team’s leading rusher for the third straight game. He reeled off a 16-yard run later in the drive to bring the Giants to the 14 – they would have had the ball at the 7 with a facemask on the tackle – but a hold by Slayton offset that facemask flag and negated the play. The Giants had to settle for a field goal that made it 16-9 with 8:06 left in the third.
"Anytime you have a penalty it’s frustrating and it costs your team," Judge said. "To me, you have to play with good technique."
The Niners pulled away from there, scoring 20 straight points. Jeff Wilson Jr., the 49ers’ fourth-string running back, scored the final two touchdowns.
"There were a lot of things that were uncharacteristic of who we are and what we can be," Jones said. "We know we are capable of playing a lot better than we did today. It’s important that we correct what went wrong, understand what went wrong, improve from this game and not let it define us as a team."
Williams, who registered his second sack of the season, gallantly tried to insist the loss was not as disheartening as it looked.
"I believe that we’re right there," he insisted, noting that Judge preached that sentiment in his lengthy post mortem. "He said now is not the time to reinvent the wheel. He believes in this team and believes that we work hard and fight for it … One day it is going to come through."
Sunday was not that day.