The Giants were officially eliminated from postseason consideration with a 17-0 loss to the Titans at miserable MetLife Stadium on Sunday. Not only did the result end their exceedingly slim chances of capturing an NFC wild-card spot, but the way the game was played reminded everyone exactly why that opportunity was such a long shot to begin with.
It was a throwback to the first half of the season, when the Giants were 1-7, struggled to move the ball and gave up untimely running plays on defense.
“We didn’t do anything well enough to expect to win,” Pat Shurmur said.
The loss dropped their record to 5-9, securing their fifth losing season in the last six.
There was a complicated calculus involving at least five teams other than the Giants that would have allowed them to slip into the final NFC wild-card spot, but all of that was contingent on the Giants finishing 8-8. So on a day when the Giants hoped to win and do some scoreboard-watching, it was their own stagnant status on the scoreboard that did them in.
Even in those early losses, the Giants were able to score points. Their previous low this season was 13, which happened twice in losses to the Cowboys and Eagles. A week after putting up 40 points in a win over the Redskins, the Giants were blanked for the first time since Week 16 last year against the Cardinals on Christmas Eve. It was their first home shutout since 2013 against the Seahawks.
“When you don’t get in the end zone,” Shurmur said, “you can’t win.”
Their best chance to score while the game was up for grabs was on the opening drive of the second half, when they marched all the way to the Titans’ 18. A penalty against guard Jamon Brown pushed them back 10 yards, and two plays later, Eli Manning’s pass intended for Russell Shepard was intercepted by Kevin Byard at the 15.
Had the Giants run the ball on that play, they could have kicked a field goal to make it 7-3. Why didn’t they?
“I wanted to throw it there, that’s why,” Shurmur said. “We certainly don’t want to throw an interception.”
The Giants forced the Titans to punt after the turnover, but Manning was sacked and fumbled at his 14 three plays later. The Titans converted that takeaway into Derrick Henry’s second 1-yard touchdown run of the game, making it 14-0 with 2:20 left in the third. A 22-yard field goal with 5:06 left in the fourth made it 17-0.
The Giants reached the Titans’ 4 at the two-minute warning, but three straight incompletions by Manning – one underthrown with Evan Engram open on a fade – ended any chance at points.
Henry, who had rushed for 238 yards on 17 carries against the Jaguars in his previous game (including a 99-yard touchdown run), rumbled through the Giants’ defense for 170 yards on 33 carries. On a day when the weather made both teams one-dimensional, the Titans’ dimension was much more effective than the Giants’. Saquon Barkley was held to 31 yards on 14 carries.
“We have to run the football,” Shepard said. “Last week we ran the football and you saw what happened. When you can run the football and run it well, especially in these type of conditions, it’s huge. You know, we play in New York in November and December, so you have to be able to run the football. That’s the most efficient, safest way to win a football game. If we can’t establish the run and run the football, we’ve got a tough thing going.”
And when they can’t run and Manning (21-for-44, 229 yards) is inaccurate, well, you get games like Sunday’s offensive whimper.
“It was just tough to get things going,” Manning said. “They played well and we didn’t. We didn’t execute well enough or make the plays we need to make. They just outplayed us.”
With the playoffs no longer a reality, 2018 will become the 13th of Manning’s 15 seasons with the Giants without a playoff win (although the two years in which he did win a postseason game, he went on to win a Super Bowl). With his position as the quarterback of the team tenuous moving forward, this also could have been his last chance to get the team to the playoffs.
“It hurts,” Manning said. “Obviously, you want to make the playoffs. We didn’t play well enough early in the year to put ourselves in a good position. I knew we still had a chance if we won out, but we didn’t play well enough today to do that.”
The Giants have had too many such days this season. Sunday was just the latest. And as far as having an impact on the team’s minuscule postseason hopes, the last.