FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Giants didn’t beat the Patriots.
But there might be about 30 other teams in the league they could have beaten with the defensive effort they put forth on Thursday night.
For most of a game that ended with a lopsided 35-14 final score, the Giants stood eye-to-eye with the reigning Super Bowl champions, the greatest quarterback of all time and a team that improved to 6-0 after the result was finalized.
It felt good.
“There’s no moral victories, no excuses,” safety Michael Thomas said. “But at the same time, this is the standard from here on out. We have to go and correct the self-inflicted plays that we gave up, the mental mistakes, the miscommunications. But how we played today? How hard we played and how we battled and made plays? That’s the standard from here on out, man.”
If they can maintain it — and get their offensive playmakers back on the field — the Giants might be able to make a little noise this season. They fell to 2-4 at Gillette Stadium, but they finally may have found a defensive identity.
“Every time you lose, you always have to take the lesson and learn from it, and there is a positive in every loss, I believe,” safety Jabrill Peppers said. “There are no moral victories, but there is a lot we can build on … I think you guys will start to see a defense that the Giants are accustomed to.”
It’s hard to statistically rationalize that kind of optimism. The Giants allowed three offensive touchdowns and 427 offensive yards. They “held” Tom Brady to 31-for-41 passing for 334 yards and Sony Michel to 86 yards on 22 carries.
But for most of the night, they also kept the Giants in a game they had no business being in.
“I thought they battled,” Pat Shurmur said. “They gave us a chance to win the game.”
Especially when they scored on a strip-sack by Lorenzo Carter and a 42-yard fumble return by Markus Golden. Or when Janoris Jenkins intercepted Brady a play after Daniel Jones threw an interception. Or when they forced the Patriots to turn it over on downs in the fourth quarter to get the ball in the hands of the offense with 9:28 left and the Patriots leading by a touchdown.
“The defense played out of its minds,” rookie receiver Darius Slayton said. “We gave them 14 points with our offense and special teams, our defense played out of this world. We play a little better on offense, cut down our mistakes, I feel like this is a different game.”
And maybe, moving forward, a different defense.
“We just need to build off it,” defensive lineman B.J. Hill said. “We don’t like to lose and it happened today, but we just keep on moving and keep on fighting.”