When the Giants forced a three-and-out and a punt that gave them the ball at their own 20 with 2:05 left in Sunday’s game, they felt pretty good about their situation.
"The confidence is high," Daniel Jones said of the mood in the huddle. "Those are the opportunities you want as an offense, to go down there and score in a two-minute drive. We were confident, we were excited and we got off to a good start and got the ball going."
Jones hit Darius Slayton for a 33-yard slant, then ran for a pair of first downs to bring the ball to the Rams’ 18 with less than a minute remaining. The Giants needed a touchdown and two-pointer to tie it and send the game into a likely overtime.
"Stuff happens," as center Nick Gates said.
It happens a lot to this team.
Jones, who appeared to have room to run for a first down on second-and-5 from the 18 with a timeout still in the Giants’ pocket, began to scramble, then tried to thread a pass to Damion Ratley near the sideline. It was intercepted by Darius Williams at the 7 with 52 seconds left, and an otherwise encouraging day for the Giants ended in another disappointing loss, this time 17-9 to the Rams at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles.
It was the seventh turnover of the season for Jones, the fifth interception in four games and the 17th in his 16 career starts.
"I’m certainly frustrated, or it’s frustrating for me," he said. "We’re at the end of the game with a chance to score and go for two and tie up the game, it’s certainly frustrating."
Jones said he wants to learn from the gaffe, and listed several lessons he might have learned from it.
"You can’t force the ball in those situations," he said. He added that he thought he had a chance to run for the first down — possibly more — before throwing the ill-fated pass (though he wanted to go back and watch the film before issuing a final judgment on that).
The biggest lesson, though? That one play can overshadow an otherwise positive game by the entire team and sink them into an 0-4 hole.
They beat the Rams, a team that was in the Super Bowl less than two years ago, in just about every aspect of the game . . . except for the final score.
"I’m proud of the way they played," Joe Judge said. "We have to make sure we clean up and eliminate some mistakes and keep making more positive plays down the stretch . . . We’ve got to make sure we don’t have the self-inflicted wounds that stop us from getting the wins we need."
The defense, too, had a stellar outing, with one outlier of a play ruing their effort. Jared Goff hit Cooper Kupp for a 55-yard touchdown with 6:56 left to give the Rams a 17-9 lead. It was the first defensive breakdown of the game for the Giants’ defense, which had held the explosive Rams without a play longer than 16 yards to that point.
The Giants blitzed on the play, sending cornerback Darnay Holmes from the slot. That should have left safety Julian Love in coverage on Kupp, but he instead seemed to be playing zone coverage. Kupp caught the ball and James Bradberry had a chance to make a tackle but missed, allowing Kupp to scoot into the end zone.
"If they don’t score, they don’t win," Bradberry said twice after the game, referring to the defense’s job in trying to prevent opponents from reaching the end zone.
He’s more correct about his own team, though. They don’t score and they don’t win. In a league in which points are being racked up at a record pace, the Giants have scored only three touchdowns through four games and are averaging less than 12 points per game.
They trailed 7-0 and 10-3 in the first half on Sunday but had charged back to close to 10-9. They were moving the ball well midway through the fourth behind runs from Wayne Gallman, including a season-long 26-yarder, but on fourth-and-4 from the 48, Judge decided to punt. That gave the Rams the ball at the 9 with 9:46 left, setting them up for the Kupp touchdown.
The Giants still had two chances to tie the score after that long, deflating play. On the first, they drove to the Rams’ 30. But after Jones was sacked for a loss of 5, he threw an incompletion to Evan Engram and a short pass to Dion Lewis to set up fourth-and-11 from the 31. Jones threw an incomplete pass to Golden Tate, throwing the ball high and through Tate’s hands, to turn it over on downs with 2:33 remaining.
Then the defense forced a punt and gave them the ball with 2:05 left.
"We’ve shown we can move the ball," Jones said. "We have to be better and can’t afford negative plays, can’t afford penalties, and just have to take advantage of the opportunities [in the red zone]. We just have to execute."
Until then, stuff like this will continue to happen.