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Giants' new-look offensive line suffers big blow after Nick Gates fractures left leg

Nick Gates of the Giants exits the game

Nick Gates of the Giants exits the game following an injury during the first quarter against the Washington Football Team at FedExField on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021 in Landover, Md. Credit: Getty Images/Patrick Smith

LANDOVER, Md. – Nick Gates showed he was the Giants' most consistent offensive lineman in the opener. He showed he is its most versatile at the start of Week 2. When he was carted off the field with a fractured lower leg in the first quarter of Thursday night’s game against Washington at FedEx Field, the Giants hoped he was not their most indispensable.

Gates, voted a team captain this season, almost certainly will be lost for the season after sustaining an injury so gruesome that the NFL Network declined to show it on replay. Medical crews immediately rushed to his aid and strapped an air cast around his leg before hoisting him onto the cart. The entire Giants team came onto the field to see him off and Gates waved to the crowd as he headed for the tunnel and a long recovery.

It was a huge loss for a Giants offensive line that was just starting to find its footing. After a less-than-awful showing in the Week 1 loss to the Broncos, the Giants made some changes. They slid Gates, who had started each of the previous 17 games at center, to left guard in place of the injured Shane Lemieux (he was placed in IR with a knee injury on Thursday). Billy Price started at center, snapping the ball to Daniel Jones after just four practices with the team that acquired him in a trade from the Bengals on Aug. 30.

For the first drive, it looked like those were some effective moves.

The Giants marched 79 yards on 11 plays to take a 7-0 lead on Daniel Jones’ 6-yard quarterback draw. Gates had a key block on the run.

Then, on the second play of the second drive, Jones threw an incompletion to Saquon Barkley and Gates was injured on the backside of the action. It marked the second year in a row in which the Giants lost an offensive captain before halftime of the second game of the season. Last year, Barkley tore his ACL in a Week 2 game against the Bears. Ben Bredeson replaced Gates, leaving the team with just two of the players they projected as starters in the offseason on the field: left tackle Andrew Thomas and right guard Will Hernandez.

The Giants had trouble overcoming the loss of Gates for the rest of the half. They made some big plays – Barkley had his first long run with a 41-yarder the play after Gates was hurt and Jones ran for a 58-yard would-be touchdown called back by a holding penalty in the second quarter, with the Giants settling for a field goal on the drive – but Jones also was under constant pressure and sacked three times in the first half. The Giants trailed Washington at halftime, 14-10, giving up a 2-yard touchdown run 21 seconds before the intermission.

Prior to the changes and injuries, there was some glimmers of competence from a unit that had been maligned throughout the preseason.

"I saw some improvement last week," NFL Network analyst and future Hall of Fame tackle Joe Thomas said of their performance against the Broncos.

Thomas did warn it could be a fleeting step forward. And that was before the changes in personnel.

"Unfortunately for them they have the best defensive line in the NFL," he said of the matchup against Washington. "Montez Sweat is a monster… They better have a good gameplan with a healthy dose of Saquon Barkley because that offensive line isn’t ready yet to sit back and try to throw the ball down the field, which happens to be what Daniel Jones does well.

"The way the Giants can be successful is being realistic about who they are," Thomas continued. "’Our offensive line, they’re a work in progress. We think they are better than they were last year, but they just can’t hold up throwing the ball down the field 40 times against Washington’s front 4 or front 7. So let’s run the football, try to hit some play actions, take our chances when we can to throw the ball down the field.’ That’ll be their best opportunity for success."

Notes & quotes: RB Saquon Barkley (knee) was active despite being listed as questionable and raising concerns during the week that he might not be ready for a second game in five days after his return from ACL surgery. "I feel like the warming up and all that stuff will definitely indicate it," Barkley said of his readiness. "When I’m able to start moving around a little bit more, see how my body feels and see how my body reacts." Barkley participated in a brief pregame warmup on the rain-slicked FedEx Field grass before he was declared active for the game … TE Evan Engram (calf) was inactive but went through a rigorous pregame workout, an indication that he should be ready for the Week 3 game against his hometown Falcons at MetLife Stadium next Sunday … The Giants promoted WR/KR C.J. Board and TE Chris Myarick as gameday elevations from the practice squad.

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