When maneuvering through a season with a rookie quarterback, a team has to resign itself to some displays of uninspired football. There are going to be turnovers and mistakes, misreads and miscalculations. There are going to be games with no real path to victory that you simply chalk up as part of the learning curve. The Giants were coming off two of those in recent weeks.
But there also are supposed to be games that present an opportunity for the young passer to display his growth against a struggling opponent and boost his confidence — as well as the fan base’s and franchise’s in him — with a solid performance and a much-needed win.
Sunday’s Giants game against the Cardinals was supposed to be just that for Daniel Jones. They faced a team with its own rookie quarterback, with its best running back on the sideline, and with a defense that was among the league’s worst in nearly every category in which the NFL keeps track. Through five games the Cardinals had recorded only 14 sacks and zero interceptions and had allowed every opposing quarterback to walk off the field with a rating of at least 100.
This was one of the few winnable games on the Giants’ schedule, but Jones and the Giants couldn’t win it. In fact, they looked overmatched and outclassed in falling to the Cardinals, 27-21, at MetLife Stadium.
“That’s very frustrating,” wide receiver Golden Tate said of the Giants’ offensive showing Sunday. “I mean, we made those guys look like the ’85 Bears.”
It was a third consecutive defeat for the Giants and what felt like a third consecutive step backward for Jones. The rookie quarterback fumbled three times (the Cardinals recovered twice) and threw an interception. After starting his career with a stirring comeback victory over the Bucs and a win over Washington, Jones has turned the ball over seven times in the last three losses.
Pat Shurmur said he is not concerned about the pace of Jones’ development.
“He’s a tough son of a gun and he’s fighting through it,” the coach said. “He made some good throws today, did a lot of really good things. We just have to try to cut back on some of the mistakes.”
The rest of the Giants, from top to bottom, did him no favors. Suspect play-calling late in the fourth quarter, a lack of consistent production from Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram in their returns from injury, and an inability to pick up relentless blitzes led to this latest low point for the Giants. Jones was sacked eight times, Barkley scored a late touchdown but was held in relative check (72 rushing yards on 18 carries) and Engram caught only one pass.
“With the offensive talent we have, we expect to always put up points,” guard Kevin Zeitler said. “We feel like we should never be in a position where we can’t score points. It sucks.”
Even with all of those issues — and a defense that allowed 17 points in the first 16:30 of the game — the Giants still had two chances to win in the final minutes.
They had the ball with 4:23 left, trailing by three, and went nowhere. After Jones was sacked for a loss of 8 yards and threw an incomplete pass toward Tate, the Giants ran a draw on third-and-18 from the 30. Barkley gained 3 yards, but rather than punt, Shurmur chose to go for it on fourth-and-15 from the 33. Patrick Peterson came on a blitz from the corner and drilled Jones from behind, forcing a fumble.
“I need to see it and try to pick it up,” Jones said. “Just need to get rid of the ball.”
That gave the Cardinals the ball deep in Giants territory with 2:28 left. They took only 19 seconds off the clock before kicking a field goal with 2:09 left to go ahead 27-21.
The Giants had the ball back, still down by less than a touchdown. But after a first-down completion, Jones was sacked twice, threw an incomplete pass and then was hit on a pass chucked hopelessly from his end zone on fourth-and-29 from the 4 with 34 seconds left to end the game.
A victory would have left the Giants tied for second place in the NFC East. The loss dropped them to 2-5 and two games out of first. They will face the Lions, Cowboys and Jets before their bye in Week 11.
“By no means are we out of this,” said Tate (six catches, 80 yards). “We’re not going to tank. We’re going to show up Monday]. We’re going to be very critical of this film. We’re going to fix this crap and we’re going to be ready to go on Wednesday. That’s the only thing we can do.
“I don’t think we’re a bad team by any means,” he added. “I think we have a lot of talent . . . I believe that we can win and we will win.”
Sunday felt like a lost opportunity to demonstrate that.