Daniel Jones is elusive. He is able to extend plays and keep his options available. But on Sunday, there were two things he was unable to avoid.
The Vikings’ defense was one.
Reality was the other.
After winning his first two starts and pivoting the possibilities of the franchise, the rookie quarterback took his first career loss as the undermanned Giants fell to the Vikings, 28-10, at MetLife Stadium.
With the Giants playing most of the game without anyone who was listed as a running back on the Week 1 roster, and with a shorthanded defense that was without three of its four starting linebackers, not even the magical touch that Jones exhibited through the opening chords of his career could overcome the team’s holes.
Jones has shown a penchant for turning nothings into somethings on a down-to-down basis. This game had too much nothing to overcome.
The better team, with by far the better defense and the healthy offense, won. The Vikings did so handily. And they did it in a very predictable fashion.
That Jones faced the most ferocious defense he has ever seen in his life made the loss no easier to digest.
“It’s not going to change my sleep pattern knowing that we played against a good defense,” Pat Shurmur said. “That’s a [expletive] mentality. We’re out there to win games regardless of how good the team is.”
That’s useful, because this week the Giants play the reigning Super Bowl champion Patriots, who have a defense that is statistically better than the Vikings’. If Sunday’s game was a dose of reality for the Giants, Thursday’s in Foxborough might feed it to them intravenously.
“I’m looking for guys who get discouraged. Those are the guys we’re going to get out of here, the ones who get discouraged,” Shurmur said. “You can’t get discouraged. We didn’t make enough plays, so everybody goes back, we’ll do it quickly because we have a game on the short horizon here, and we’ll make our corrections.”
There was a lot to correct, as well as regret, for the Giants. They had the ball inside the Vikings’ 10 twice in the third quarter and came away with only three total points.
After trailing 18-7 at halftime, the Giants kicked an apparent field goal on the opening possession of the third quarter but took the points off the board when a penalty for illegal contact with the long snapper gave them first-and-goal at the 5. They then were pushed back to the 20 on a sack and a penalty before eventually kicking a 32-yard field goal . . . two yards longer than the one they attempted just a few plays earlier.
The Vikings scored a quick touchdown on a five-play, 67-yard drive to go ahead 24-10 — a taunting penalty against rookie cornerback DeAndre Baker turned what would have been a third-and-8 from the 35 into a first-and-10 at the 50 to extend the possession — and the Giants answered by again penetrating to the threshold of the end zone. This time they had third-and-2 from the 3. Jones threw an incomplete fade to Evan Engram in the end zone and then, on fourth down, was mobbed for a 9-yard sack.
“We got freaking close there,” tackle Mike Remmers said. “We just have to score touchdowns when we get the opportunity. Score some touchdowns there and it’s a different ballgame.”
Have a few healthy players available — such as Saquon Barkley, who is out with a high ankle sprain, or replacement Wayne Gallman, who left with a concussion early in this game — and it might have been different, too. Instead, the Vikings never felt threatened by the running back tandem of Jon Hilliman, who began the season on the practice squad, and Eli Penny, who is the Giants’ fullback. That allowed their defense to overwhelm the offensive line with a pass rush that sacked Jones four times and landed eight quarterback hits.
The Giants’ defense, meanwhile, had its own issues. It was unable to contain running back Dalvin Cook (132 rushing yards, 86 receiving yards, three plays of at least 20 yards), which opened the play-action for the Vikings. Minnesota’s passing offense entered the game as the 31st-ranked in the NFL, but Kirk Cousins completed 22 of 27 for 306 yards and Adam Thielen caught seven passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns.
An 11-play, 98-yard drive for the Vikings’ first touchdown of the game showed just how easily they could march on the Giants; they faced a third-and-5 or longer only once on that possession.
The best defensive play by the Giants wound up costing them points. Jabrill Peppers hustled and punched the ball away from Cook at the 1 at the end of a long run, saving a touchdown. But on the next play, the Giants handed off to Jon Hilliman and he was swarmed for a safety.
It was that kind of game for the Giants. The good turned bad and the bad turned worse. Now the key is making sure the season doesn’t follow that pattern.