EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The pain of the Giants' final play defeat to the Atlanta Falcons yesterday was compounded by the loss of three players, one on defense for the remainder of the season and two on offense for an undetermined time period.
Middle linebacker Blake Martinez, the team's most prolific tackler and defensive captain and signal-caller, will not play again in 2021 after suffering a torn ACL in the 17-14 loss in MetLife Stadium.
Martinez was hurt on the game's fifth play (plus one that was nullified by a penalty). He was soon joined in the locker room by wide receivers Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard, who each left the game with hamstring injuries.
The Giants next play Sunday in New Orleans. It was too early for coach Joe Judge to definitely state if the two wideouts will or won't be available, but hamstring injuries rarely heal in one week.
"We're actually waiting on both guys," Judge said. "Both guys came off yesterday with leg injuries. We'll see where they are in terms of the doctors and follow-ups today. Hopefully, we'll get some news by the end of the day. I think both guys' (injuries) are really different. I don't think either one is the same deal."
Slayton and Shepard have the Giants' only two receiving touchdowns this season.
Since missing the first two games of his career with a hamstring injury, Slayton has played in 33 in a row, including 24 starts. This season, he has seven catches for 127 yards, including a 33-yard score in Washington.
Shepard, the Giants' longest-tenured player, leads the team with 18 receptions and 227 yards. He scored the team's first touchdown of the season on a 37-yard reception against Denver.
Injuries forced Shepard to miss a total of 10 games in 2019-20.
In their absence Sunday, Collin Johnson led the wideouts with five catches for 51 yards in his Giants debut. Kenny Golladay had four receptions for 64 yards and rookie Kadarius Toney chipped in with two for 16 yards. If Shepard and Slayton remain sidelined, those three players, plus C.J. Board, will be called on to fill the void.
"In terms of the receiver position, there's a lot of things we can do with the guys we have right now," Judge said. "Saw a lot of guys make plays. I was pleased with the progress I saw from Toney and Collin Johnson yesterday at the receiver position. Obviously, Kenny (Golladay) was making a lot of plays for us. C.J. Board made some nice plays for us. At some point, we're hoping to get John Ross back off I.R. We'll see where he's at health-wise in terms of if that's sooner or later. But that, combined with the tight ends and skill players, it's our job to make things work and function with who we have available.
"Obviously, we're without Shep or Slayton. Those are two key parts of our offense that we don't want to be without, two leaders on our team and hard workers, but we have confidence in guys in the locker room and guys on the roster to turn around and use these guys to keep going forward."
The news on Martinez was, unfortunately, more conclusive. The team's leading tackler last season with 151 – the NFL's third-highest total – Martinez is headed for the surgery and long rehabilitation required after all ACL tears.
Martinez was voted a captain in each of his two Giants seasons. He is a take-charge pro in the huddle, and he was the only player in the league with at least 140 tackles in each of the previous four seasons (including three with the Green Bay Packers). He joined center/guard Nick Gates (fractured lower left leg) as team captains lost early with season-ending injuries.
"Obviously, losing Blake, you hate it for Blake because he's a guy that brings a lot of leadership and passion to this team," Judge said. "He's a guy that really loves being on the football field at the end of the day and really works hard and is a tremendous leader on this team. I think everyone on our team, when you see a guy like him and a guy like Nick Gates get hurt and lose the rest of their season, everybody hurts for them because they know what they put into it in terms of their own performance, but also to really help the team going forward. We're going to keep both those guys, Blake and Nick, involved going forward as leaders and keep them involved with the team."
After Martinez was helped off the field, second-year pro Tae Crowder called the defense in the huddle Sunday and is a candidate to continue in that role.
"In terms of who will have the green dot directly this week (signifying the player who receives the signal from defensive coordinator Patrick Graham), it will be a mix of either Tae Crowder as he wore it yesterday or working with either Reggie Ragland, Justin Hilliard or any other linebackers at the game. Overall, I thought Tae played a good game yesterday. There were some things we want to clean up here or there, but I thought in terms of him jumping into the position as a signal caller, it was something we work on during the week to make sure he's ready if it comes up. I thought he did a good job of that. We had the one communication issue where the headset went down in the game and we had to call a timeout. Other than that, he was very good with making sure everyone had the call, got it directly, got his guys lined up. I thought he played well. I thought he showed some physicality, some real aggressiveness with how he played, so I was really pleased with what Tae did yesterday in the game."
Crowder will likely get many more opportunities to impress the coach in the coming weeks.
Check out the best photos from the New York Giants' Week 3 contest against the Atlanta Falcons.
*Tight end Evan Engram caught two passes in his first game of the season but was booed for the remainder of the game after losing a fumble in the second quarter. To his credit, Engram addressed the topic Monday on a Zoom call with reporters.
"I'm more focused on playing for my team and my teammates," said Engram, a 2020 Pro Bowler. "Obviously, it's not ideal and it's something you don't want to see or hear. But, that's my focus – is playing better football for my teammates and my team and giving the fans and giving our supporters something to cheer about and something to be proud about on the field."
Engram was asked if he was hurt by the fans' treatment.
"Actually, I think I handled it pretty well," he said. "I was able to stay focused and stay locked in on my job on the field. It definitely was an opportunity to be a distraction, but I didn't let that get to me and I just stayed focused on my task at hand and playing the game and finishing the game.
"I've been playing football for a long time. I've played in front of a lot of fans for a good amount of time. We're trained to stay focused in between the lines. That's the best way I tried to handle that yesterday was to stay in between the lines and stay in the game."
Judge voiced his strong support for Engram.
"I think Evan's an extremely mentally tough player," Judge said. "Have I talked to Evan? Yeah, I talked to him yesterday on the sideline, I talked to him in the locker room. I talk to these guys all the time. Two things on that – one, it's our job to give the fans something to cheer about. We talk about it all the time, about you better embrace the pressure and the atmosphere in New York because it's absolutely great. You've got to work for the respect of people here, but it's that much more valuable when it's a game. Secondly, in terms of the players, I'm always going to make sure our players stay focused in the middle of the game and throughout the game and understand that when things aren't going right externally, we've got to make sure we show internal support for our teammates and our players and keep it moving forward."
*The Giants signed cornerback Jarren Williams to their practice squad. Williams was released by the Giants on Aug. 21. He spent most of the season on the practice squad in 2020, when he played in two December games, recording one special teams tackle.
View photos of the New York Giants' active 53-man roster as it currently stands.