FOXBOROUGH, MASS. – It wasn’t the offensive playbook or the defensive philosophy or the coaches or the general manager that stood out as the newest and most refreshing elements in Thursday night’s preseason opener against the Patriots.
It was the win.
One that came in August, one that came mostly on the backs of some players who may never appear in a regular season game, and one against a team that decided it was more prudent to rest its best lineup than trot them out onto the field for a handful of snaps. But thanks to a 69-yard drive that ate up the final 4:51 of the night and a 24-yard field goal by Graham Gano as time expired, the Giants got to do something that they haven’t had much opportunity to in recent years.
“It’s always fun to win, even in the preseason,” Daniel Jones said.
When you’ve been through everything Jones and the other longer-tenured Giants have been, you’ll take it. The fresh air in the postgame locker room – opened to the media for the first time in two years with COVID protocols eliminated – was palpable.
The first game of the Brian Daboll Era was in that way a success.
The signs gleaned from the game which could impact the Giants when things get real in a little less than a month were slightly less emphatic. The Giants probably would have felt much better about their first team offense had they not seen as much of it.
Jones led the starting unit down the field for a field goal with a 13-play, 68-yard opening drive in Thursday night’s preseason opener against the Patriots. It was just about everything anyone could have hoped to see from the new system in a game which traditionally functions without any zest in the play-calling or thought to the game-planning.
The ball moved forward – never backward – on each snap, there were no penalties, Jones had time to throw, and even Saquon Barkley, who hasn’t appeared in a preseason game since his rookie year in 2018, had a few carries. Things were going swimmingly right up until Jones tried to hit Kenny Golladay on a third-down pass from the New England 6 that the receiver dropped. Gano trotted out for a 25-yard field goal to cap what should have been a satisfying initial excursion.
But Daboll wanted to see more. Instead he saw less.
He sent most of his starters out for a second drive that was far less inspiring. Jones was roughed up and took his first sack and only sack of the game when tight end Chris Myarick appeared to miss his block, rookie guard Joshua Ezeudu was pushed back into running back Gary Brightwell on a play that resulted in no gain, and the Giants wound up punting after gaining just 19 yards on the drive.
“There was some good and some things we could have back,” Daboll said.
“I thought it was clean,” he said of the first drive. “We moved the ball, converted some third downs. Then on the second drive we got in some tough situations there. There are certainly some plays we can do better but overall I thought it was good.”
The majority of the starting defense played two series as well and faced nearly the same phenomenon. They had a strong first drive to force a punt then allowed the Patriots to march down the field for a touchdown on the final play of the first quarter.
There are fewer concerns about that side of the ball going into this season, however, and the exotic blitzes and stunts coordinator Wink Martindale has been throwing at his own team throughout training camp were tabled for when the games actually count. Martindale spent the night pretending to be driving a Mister Softee truck delivering nothing but soft-serve vanilla.
Backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor hit receiver Richie James for a 7-yard touchdown late in the second quarer to give the Giants a 10-7 lead at halftime. Antonio Williams scored on a 2-yard run in the third quarter that made it 17-14 for the Giants. The Patriots went ahead 21-20 on a touchdown with 4:51 remaining before third-string quarterback Davis Webb led the game-winning drive.
Jones finished the game after that second drive with six completions on 10 attempts for 69 yards and an 80.8 passer rating. Barkley carried the ball four times for 13 yards, none longer than 5 yards, but also caught an 8-yard reception to convert a third-and-5.
Promising, sure, given the recent state of matters with the offense.
But not nearly as exciting as the meaningless result that felt anything but inconsequential to the growth and direction of the team.