The Brian Daboll era has begun with a stunning triumph.
The Giants upset the Titans, 21-20, on Sunday — escaping Nashville with a thrilling win after Tennessee kicker Randy Bullock missed a game-winning field goal attempt as time expired. The Giants had gone ahead moments earlier when Daboll boldly went for two and played for the win on the decisive drive.
It’s the first time the Giants have won the season opener since 2016, when they beat the Cowboys on the road in former coach Ben McAdoo’s debut. That is the last time they won more than six games in a season; it is also their last playoff appearance.
While the Titans were fast out of the gate and took a 13-0 lead into the locker room, the Giants never gave up. Quarterback Daniel Jones improved — save a disastrous interception earlier in the fourth quarter — and the defense kept Derrick Henry, Ryan Tannehill and the Titans at bay just enough to eke out the victory.
Some thoughts on the team’s first game (and victory) of the 2022 season:
Jones’ day. It’s the beginning of a make-or-break year for Jones. General manager Joe Schoen declined his fifth-year option this past offseason — Jones needs to make strides and the Giants must win games for him to return in 2023.
And while the fourth-year player looked sharp at times early on, the turnover issue reared its ugly head.
Jones lost a fumble in the second quarter and threw a back-breaking interception with less than nine minutes remaining, with the Giants knocking on the doorstep down by seven.
But it’s how you finish. Always.
And on a late fourth-quarter drive, with the Giants down 20-13 with a 4th-and-1 at the Titans’ 17-yard line, Jones kept it on a bootleg and just reached the first-down marker. Four plays later, Jones completed a pass to tight end/fullback Chris Myarick in the end zone off a roll-out play. The Giants then went for two, with Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka making a statement in their team debuts. Jones shoveled a pass to Barkley, who fought his way across the plane for the conversion, the lead, and the eventual win.
Overall, Jones was 17-of-21 with 188 yards and two touchdowns — one to Myarick and one to Sterling Shepard in the third quarter on a big 66-yard score.
Barkley back? Running back Saquon Barkley looks great after three straight injury-hampered seasons (2019-21).
The fifth-year back, who’s in his potential final season as a Giant, provided a crucial offensive spark. Barkley’s final numbers were 164 rushing yards on 18 carries. His rushing total included a 68-yard run in the third quarter that set him up for a five-yard touchdown run to get the Giants on the board (it was 13-6 following a bobbled snap on the ensuing PAT attempt). He also converted the late two-point conversion to take the lead.
On Sunday, Barkley might have proven the injury-related issues are behind him.
Offensive line woes. Fans thought the team finally made some progress with the offensive line in the offseason. Schoen signed starting center Jon Feliciano and right guard Mark Glowinski. He also drafted starting right tackle Evan Neal in the first round.
But it’s clear this unit is already a mess, as it couldn’t weaken the impact of a talented Titans pass rush.
The Giants allowed five sacks, one of which was from Tennessee defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons that resulted in a strip of Jones in the first half. Titans outside linebacker Bud Dupree eventually recovered the fumble.
The Giants also made multiple mid-game changes on the line. After starting Ben Bredeson at left guard, Big Blue made the switch to rookie left guard Josh Ezeudu after two below-average series from Bredeson. But after another two series, Bredeson was back in the game after Ezeudu allowed the aforementioned strip-sack of Jones.
Toney? The hope was wide receiver Kadarius Toney would put his rookie-year difficulties in the rearview and become an impactful offensive weapon in his second season. But on Sunday, he was much of a non-factor. Even with Darius Slayton’s healthy scratch and Wan’Dale Robinson’s knee injury (which knocked him out in the second quarter), Toney failed to provide any sort of spark.
The 2021 first-rounder finished with zero catches and racked up 23 yards on two carries. Daboll and Kafka favored Richie James, who was a roster-bubble player in the preseason but finished with 59 yards on five receptions in the opener.
Will Toney be more involved in next week’s gameplan? Or will he continue to be a mystery like he’s been for much of the last year-plus?
Only time will tell, but the general uncertainty is getting old.
Defense’s up-and-down day. New defensive coordinator Wink Martindale runs a blitz-heavy scheme, but an inexperienced secondary can be the kiss of death for that type of gameplan.
Unfortunately, the Giants defensive backfield is very young and quickly showed its lack of age Sunday.
The Titans and quarterback Ryan Tannehill executed a quick opening drive — it took Tennessee just five plays to find the end zone. Tannehill was three-for-three on the drive and hit running back Dontrell Hilliard in the end zone over Giants linebacker Austin Calitro.
Then in the third quarter, with the score tied at 13, Adoree’ Jackson was called for pass interference on Titans receiver Robert Woods. This led to an automatic first down and another touchdown reception for Hilliard, who beat linebacker Tae Crowder out of the backfield.
Also on the Titans’ final drive, with Tennessee down 21-20, defensive holding penalties were called on Calitro and nickel corner Darnay Holmes. Holmes additionally allowed a deep pass to Titans receiver Kyle Phillips that put Tennessee in field goal range prior to the missed game-winning attempt.
The run defense was better, but still allowed star Titans running back Derrick Henry to rack up 82 yards.
Overall, while much needs to be cleaned up ahead of Week 2, the defense didn’t fully break, and that’s what helped the Giants earn the victory. And the unit should get a boost with the eventual returns of starting outside linebackers Kayvon Thibodeaux (knee) and Azeez Ojulari (calf). Both sat out the opener.