Eli Manning wasn’t the only one who delivered a speech at halftime.
While the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback was being feted with ovations on the field, back in the locker room at MetLife Stadium Saquon Barkley was addressing a much smaller but more significant crowd. The running back made an impassioned plea to his teammates.
"I told the guys that we’ve got something special and I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but we have to start believing, we the players," Barkley said. "We have to start believing in each other."
It was an important message. It was also a recycled one, alarmingly similar to the kind of verbal pushes Barkley has been providing since he arrived in town in 2018. Even he knows that it’s getting redundant.
"We’re this close," he said. "We keep saying it. We keep saying it. We’re this close, we’re this close. But somebody has to do something about it."
No one did on Sunday as the Giants lost to the previously winless Falcons, 17-14, on a last-second field goal by Younghoe Koo. It was the second week in a row they blew a late lead — this time up 14-7 late in the fourth — only to lose on a kick as time expired.
The Giants have become as predictable at football as Charlie Brown, only in this case the ball actually gets kicked. It’s just by someone else.
The repetitiveness of it all made it no easier to digest. Add to that a swath of key injuries — wide receivers Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton both left in the first half with hamstring injuries and linebacker Blake Martinez limped off with an ominous-looking non-contact knee buckle in the first quarter — and the future does not look much brighter.
"Guys are frustrated and certainly disappointed in the results," said Daniel Jones, who had a second-straight sold performance (24-for-36 with 266 yards passing with 39 rushing yards on 8 carries plus a key two-point conversion) spoiled.
It wasn’t just a dour, disheartened locker room.
As Koo’s kick was sailing through the uprights someone from the booth where the Giants’ highest level of decision-makers watch the proceedings emerged for the long elevator ride down to the ground floor and smashed one metal garbage receptacle into another. Whether or not it was co-owner John Mara who delivered the loud crashing blow is unknown, but he was among that group and likely already in a bad mood after being booed during the halftime ceremony to honor Manning. He also has a history of flinging furniture in such situations.
Unfortunately for him most of the past decade has seen a lot of such situations.
"We didn’t finish," Barkley said. "It’s been like that for the last, what, four years? Three or four years?"
That covers just Barkley’s time here. The losing runs much deeper than that.
If the Giants learned anything on Sunday it is how winners in New York are treated. The roars that Manning and his ring-clad teammates received at halftime when his jersey was retired were some of the loudest cheers MetLife has heard since, well, many of those same players were in uniform playing in actual games.
The chance this current crop of players will ever reach that level of adoration gets less and less likely with each passing performance like Sunday’s.
The Giants took a 14-7 lead with 12:53 left in the fourth when Barkley crowd-surfed into the end zone for a 1-yard gain, his first touchdown since 2019. He took off from the 3 and rode atop the mass of blockers at the line of scrimmage. The Giants went for two and Jones scored it on a keeper, lowering his shoulder and running over 305-pound defensive lineman Grady Jarrett.
But the Falcons responded with a 15-play drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown of their own. It wasn’t the scoring play that doomed the Giants on that drive, but a third-and-8 conversion early on from the Atlanta 30, Logan Ryan’s missed tackles and pass interference penalty in the end zone against Kyle Pitts, and perhaps most costly was the dropped interception in the end zone that Adoree’ Jackson couldn’t handle which would have gone a long way toward sealing a victory with 5:01 left.
"It’s obviously a situation where we get the ball back and who knows what happens," Jackson said.
They didn’t. And everyone knew what would happen.
Matt Ryan found Lee Smith on a play-action pass from the 1 with 4:13 remaining and the Falcons tied it at 14.
The Giants were close to field goal range on their final drive, but a sack of Jones on second-and-10 from the 49 pushed them back nine yards and they eventually punted on fourth-and-9 from the 50. Riley Dixon put the punt in the end zone for a touchback with 1:50 left, rookie Rodarius Williams missed a tackle on a screen to Cordarrelle Patterson for a gain of 28, then Pitts caught a wide-open 25-yard pass to put them well within Koo’s range, to secure the multi-faceted collapse.
"Ultimately we didn’t finish," Joe Judge said. "We’ve got to do a better job of finishing drives, finishing the game."
They haven’t been able to for a long time. Now they may be finished for the season.