New York Giants
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

In Sunday’s tough loss, the New York Giants managed to take care of two long droughts. It’s up to them to keep the momentum.

Geoff Magliocchetti

The New York Giants have suffered some brutal defeats over the past two seasons. In terms of pure heartbreak, Sunday’s loss might’ve been the most painful over this brutal stretch of New York football.

The Giants broke two unsightly streaks, scoring 30 points for the first time in 38 games, and saw Odell Beckham Jr. earn his first touchdown in just under a calendar year.

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In a feat that perhaps personifies the frustration of the post-Tom Coughlin era, the Giants still ended up the losing end of an NFL football game, with Graham Gano booting a 63-yard field goal as time expired to give the Carolina Panthers a 33-31 victory, marking back-to-back years where the team has lost on a game-ending field goal from at least 60 yards out.

Though head coach Pat Shurmur has overseen just five games of an agonizing stretch, his emotion, brought on by a combination of unforced errors, questionable calls by officials, troublesome interview comments from his star receiver, and sheer bad luck was on full display in his postgame press conference, the fourth meeting with the media that has followed a defeat.

“We played hard. We played tough. We played the way that I know that our team is, for the record,” Shurmur said, according to Ed Valentine of Big Blue View. “Our team is tough. They play hard and I’ve got no issues with the way they play. There’s still some things we’ve gotta clean up and play better, but we’ll get that fixed as we go.”

The comments can be interpreted as emotional, yet coated with a dressing of hope. Despite another loss that transcends expectations from even the most pessimistic of fans, there’s reason to look on the bright side, as a long-dormant offense may finally be ready for an eruption.

One more milestone the Giants reached on Sunday was the 400-yard mark, reaching that precipice for just the third time over two seasons. For comparison, the defending Super Bowl champions and the Giants’ Thursday night opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles, have reached the 400-yard mark on ten occasions in the same stretch. Their 432 yards were a season-high and the Giants are benefitting from some variety in the offense.

One of the biggest benefits of the Saquon Barkley drafting is that it played a huge role in ensuring that Beckham miracles alone are no longer needed to put to points on the board. For example, four different Giants tallied at least 50 yards receiving, as Eli Manning spread the ball out as the team fought back from a deficit that swelled to two touchdowns. Whereas previous games saw the Giants quickly fold after falling behind, the variety helped them crawl back into the game. Beckham still paced things with 131 yards receiving, but unsung would-be heroes came up big. Russell Shepard, for example, tallied a 40-yard reception that kept the Giants’ final drive alive.

New York Giants

The revitalization of the offense could loom in an expected, yet somehow still surprising, part: Saquon Barkley.

Silly as it is to continue to engage in the Barkley or quarterback debate that dates back to April’s draft, the running back continued to fulfill the Giants’ faith in him with big plays and showstopping highlights, including the score that briefly gave the Giants the late lead on Sunday. He continues to leave his mark on the NFL stat sheets as well, currently fifth amongst all running backs in all-purpose yards (582).

As if not swayed by his numbers, the Barkley critics would be well to realize that his arrival has opened new avenues for the offense, ones not available for quite some time.

The mere threat of Barkley on the field has defensive coordinators trying to keep up. Sometimes, these efforts of stifling the run game have been effective — Carolina limited Barkley’s production on the ground to 48 yards on 15 attempts… but his presence is felt in other ways. For example, the Giants picked up a key two-point conversion through play action, a strategy not available to an anemic New York run game that hasn’t ranked in the upper half of the league’s rushing rankings since 2012.

Barkley was also the beneficiary of perhaps the most successful trick play involving a Giants team since the Annexation of Puerto Rico, the receiver of Beckham’s 57-yard touchdown throw in the first half. Just five games into his NFL career, Barkley has become the undisputed MVP of the Giants offense, someone who is a threat whether the ball is going to him or not. The results have yet to reflect in the win column, but the optimism he brings will be vital for the team going forward, be it in this season, where the 1-4 Giants still miraculously remain in contention for the division, or in the future. The latter timeline is especially important because not only does Barkley take pressure off of the ostensibly declining Manning now, but off his throwing successor later.

The 2018 Giants partake in an NFL where offense is king. Entering Week 6, individual teams are averaging an NFL-record 24 points per game, an average mark the Giants have reached only one time over the past five full seasons. Simply put, what they were doing wasn’t sustainable by any stretch.

Despite the losing result, Sunday could very well be a turning point in Giants history, a place to look back on with nostalgic pleasure once this rebuilding period is all said and done.

“You’ve got to give credit to our team,” Barkley said, per Dan Salomone of Giants.com. “From start to finish, they fought that whole game. We were down a couple times, we found a way to fight and get back on top.”

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