The Giants hosted the divisional-rival Cowboys on Monday night for their first NFC East matchup of the year. A primetime setting, a MetLife Stadium whiteout, a halftime Ring of Honor induction ceremony, and an undefeated Giants team looking to start 3-0 with a big win over a division foe.
But the night concluded with a defeat and a banged-up Big Blue team finally in the loss column, with the Cowboys escaping East Rutherford as 23-16 victors.
It started off slow, like how each Giants game has this season. That’s what happens when you have a weak offense and a competent defense that’s only needed to face Ryan Tannehill, Baker Mayfield, and on Monday night, Cowboys backup Cooper Rush, who was starting in place of the injured Dak Prescott (thumb).
Of the nine possessions in the first half, only three led to scores — all field goals.
While the Giants couldn’t contain the Cowboys run game in the first 30 minutes (Tony Pollard gained 71 yards on six carries; Ezekiel Elliott ran for 55 yards on eight carries), Dallas still failed to find the end zone. The Cowboys were just 3-for-7 on third-down conversions in the first half. This inefficiency led to two punts, two field goals (both by Brett Maher, one from 26 yards and one from 28), and a missed 59-yard attempt to end the first half.
The Giants offensive woes, on the other hand, were to be blamed on the putrid offensive line that still hasn’t been fixed after a decade. While left tackle Andrew Thomas has been solid thus far on the season, rookie right tackle Evan Neal is experiencing heavy growing pains. The No. 7 overall pick was responsible for two DeMarcus Lawrence sacks in the first half. Star Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons also put Giants right guard Mark Glowinski on his rear end and forced Jones to throw a third-down incompletion in the second quarter.
These issues prevented the Giants from finding any consistent rhythm and led to a poor offensive half. On four possessions, New York came away with a 42-yard field goal by placekicker Graham Gano, a blocked 47-yard attempt, a punt, and a turnover on downs.
Not ideal, as the Giants entered the half down 6-3.
Jones and the Giants went right down the field to start the third quarter, and although Neal allowed another Lawrence sack, the offense was able to find its footing and Jones hit Sterling Shepard on consecutive passes to put the Giants in field-goal range. Gano took care of the rest and connected on a 51-yard attempt to tie the game at six.
After a three-and-out by the Cowboys offense, the first by either team all night, these two hated rivals traded touchdowns on back-to-back drives.
Barkley scampered for 36 yards for his second score of the year to conclude a six-play, 77-yard drive. On the following possession, Elliott crossed the plane with 27 seconds remaining in the third quarter after poor secondary play from New York allowed the Cowboys to travel 75 yards on nine plays. The score was tied at 13 entering the final quarter.
The next scoring play didn’t come until 8:30 remaining in regulation. Rush tossed a beautiful dime into the outstretched left arm of CeeDee Lamb in the back corner of the end zone. It was a spectacular, Randy Moss-esque reception for Lamb over Adoree’ Jackson, who actually had great coverage on the play.
The Cowboys defense then continued its strong night by forcing a three-and-out, which culminated with a drop from disgruntled Giants wide receiver Kenny Golladay. A short punt from Jamie Gillan and a 28-yard return set the Cowboys up at New York’s 35-yard line. Four plays later, Maher had booted his third field goal of the night to take a late 23-13 lead.
From then on out, Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn dialed up the blitzes against this inept Giants offensive line and New York couldn’t find the end zone to spark a comeback, only getting another 51-yard field goal from Gano to make the final score 23-16. The Giants had a shot at the end to go 91 yards for a game-tying touchdown, but the back-breaking late-game turnover arrived, as if we all saw it coming. Trevon Diggs picked off Jones after David Sills slipped on a route, sealing the victory for Dallas.
Some thoughts on the Giants’ first loss of the year:
Offensive line still not fixed. This offensive line was below-average through the first two weeks and the struggles were only masked by the superb play of third-year left tackle Andrew Thomas.
On Monday night, the unit took a monstrous step back. DeMarcus Lawrence overpowered Evan Neal on various occasions and finished the game with three sacks. Neal also committed a crucial false start penalty on the Giants’ final drive right before Jones’ interception. The professional game clearly hasn’t slowed down for the rookie, who will need to improve alongside this unit.
In total, the Giants allowed five sacks. The poor pass-blocking performance was a big reason why Jones needed to spend much of his night scrambling for his life. The fourth-year quarterback finished with 75 rushing yards on nine carries.
Shane Lemieux could return as early as Week 5 and the Giants would be desperate for his help on the interior. Left guard Ben Bredeson isn’t made to be a starting NFL lineman and committed a critical third-down holding penalty late in the game down 10 points.
No Golladay…again. Golladay was a non-factor in Week 3. Just eight days after he played only two snaps in the Week 2 win over Carolina. Just five days after he put his frustrations on display when speaking to the media.
The $72 million wide receiver didn’t record a single catch and dropped a crucial third-down pass in the fourth quarter when down a touchdown.
His disastrous tenure continues. And it can’t (and won’t) end until next offseason when the Giants could make him a post-June 1 cut and save $13.5 million in cap space. They can’t trade him without taking on the majority of his contract. All they can do is ride this rocky relationship out.
Stop the run…or not? The Giants needed to expect a heavy dose of the Elliott-Pollard Cowboys rushing attack. It was obvious Dallas was going to utilize that two-headed monster to take pressure off Rush, and did the Cowboys ever.
Overall, Dallas ran for 176 yards. Pollard led the way with 105 yards on 13 carries while Elliott racked up 73 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. This allowed Rush to remain comfortable and take advantage of the shorthanded Giants secondary (starting corner Aaron Robinson was inactive) when executing the play action. Overall, Rush threw for 215 yards and one touchdown on 21-of-31 passing.
Wink Martindale’s unit needed to prevent huge performances from these two backs. The group’s failure to limit their impacts was a huge reason for the loss.
Crickets in WR room. So who do the Giants have left to work with? The coaching staff doesn’t love Golladay, nor does it love second-year receiver Kadarius Toney, who missed Monday’s game with a hamstring injury. And rookie Wan’Dale Robinson has been hurt since the season opener with a knee injury.
Now, we could see another lost season for Shepard. The veteran went down on the same play as Jones’ late interception. It appeared to be a non-contact leg injury, just like what happened with Shepard last year. The longest-tenured active Giant suffered a season-ending Achilles tear in Week 15 last December and was miraculously ready for Week 1 of 2022.
The team should garner more information Tuesday, but it looks like Shepard might be out the rest of the year. Which would be detrimental for one of the Giants’ worst position groups.