EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – For a starting running back who accumulated only 17 yards for a team that lost by 18 points, Matt Breida was decidedly upbeat late Thursday night.
"This game told me a lot about our team," Breida said in the Giants' postgame locker room after a 30-12 defeat to the San Francisco 49ers in Levi's Stadium. "It says that we've got a lot of resilience, you know what I mean? We were with them in the game the whole time. I think we had some self-inflicted wounds that if we didn't cause, we probably would have been in the game even more in the end. But we've got to learn from this to get better. That's all."
The Giants have had an unusual three-game start to their 2023 season. In Arizona last Sunday, they rallied from a 21-point third quarter deficit to defeat the Cardinals, 31-28, their greatest comeback victory in 74 years. But in their other two games, the opener against Dallas and last night against the 49ers, both in prime time, the Giants were thumped by a combined 70-12.
The players remain absolutely confident the final half against the Cardinals is far more indicative of this team's capabilities than the season's other 10 quarters. They get their next chance to prove that on Oct. 2 when they host the Seattle Seahawks in a Monday night game.
"We're trying to build it brick by brick," second year outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux said. "We started playing a little bit of complementary football. I feel like there was some spurts of the team that we could be, we've just got to be more consistent."
"It's just a lot of football that we don't feel like it is reflective of our best, what we feel like the fans deserve, the organization deserves," tight end Darren Waller said. "But, you know, we go home first off, we can rest. (We just played) two games in five days, it's tough, it's tough for anyone. You start by game planning for the Seahawks and take care of that win at home because that's something we didn't do Week 1. So, that's a good way to start there and we want to build some momentum."
The Giants played without three offensive starters last night in Pro Bowl running back Saquon Barkley (ankle), All-Pro left tackle Andrew Thomas (hamstring) and left guard Ben Bredeson (concussion). In their absence, the team did not sustain a ground game, running just 11 times for 29 yards. That contributed significantly to their overwhelming disadvantages in total yards (441-150) and San Francisco's near 20-minute edge in time of possession.
On a Zoom call with reporters Friday, coach Brian Daboll showed little interest in taking a deep dive into his team's shortcomings. He answered an 81-word question by saying, "I'd say really in all three phases, we've got to do a better job, everybody." A 93-word follow-up query was answered with, "Yeah, I'd just say we need more from everybody. Coaching, playing, everybody."
While Daboll understandably will look at the operation, plenty of specifics jump out. With or without Barkley, they need a rushing attack that produces more than 2.6 yards-per-carry and a long run of eight yards. The return of Barkley and Thomas, perhaps against Seattle, will certainly improve those numbers.
Daniel Jones did not have his best night. Completing 22 of 32 passes is certainly respectable, but when they gain only 137 yards, that's only an average of 4.3 yards an attempt. The Giants had a couple of chances for long gains that dissipated when Jones did not connect with his target.
"I think there were plays across the board that I would like to have back and those are definitely two of them," he said.
In addition, Jones, who averaged 7.5 rushing attempts per game in 2022, had only two last night, for five yards.
"We had a few of them in the game plan, didn't get to them," Daboll said.
Waller, expected to be a much-needed missing link in the Giants' offense, has three receptions in two of the Giants' three games and has yet to score. Isaiah Hodgins, who scored a big touchdown against the Cardinals, did not catch a pass in San Francisco. And rookie speedster Jalin Hyatt, who had 89 yards on just two catches Sunday, played only 16 snaps and was not targeted last night.
"I don't think we had very many snaps on offense in general," Daboll said. "I think we had 45 or 46. So, there's a plan for Jalin, a plan for all the guys, and based on personnel that we choose to use on a given play, it could be more, it could be about the same. So, we'll keep on giving him reps and hopefully we have more than 45 plays in a game."
On the other side of the ball, the Giants struggled at times with the most fundamental aspect of defensive football – tackling. That shortcoming handed the 49ers valuable extra yards.
"Definitely an area we've got to get better at," Daboll said. "We'll continue to work at it every week, but it's something that we've got to do a better job of. … I'd say it's just overall not where we need to be. So, we'll continue to work at it. That's an area that's got to get better."
The most glaring statistical issue was the inability to stop quarterback Brock Purdy and Co. on third down. The 49ers converted 7 of 10 opportunities in the first half and 9 of 16 (56.3%) in the game. On many of them, Purdy flipped a short pass to wide receiver Deebo Sanuel, tight end George Kittle or running back Christian McCaffrey, who then scampered for big gains.
"We didn't execute," cornerback Adoree' Jackson said. "We didn't tackle well. That was just it. We had them in third-and-long situations. We just didn't tackle. We didn't execute our assignments."
Despite all the issues raised out west, the Giants remain big believers that they will be in the hunt at the end.
"I love this team," Jackson said. "I love the way we fight. I love the way we battle. Early in the season, obviously, I don't want things to go the way they went, obviously. Everybody wants to be 3-0, but not everybody can be in this league. So, for us just look at the film, look at the tape, correct it and like I said, it's a long season, only three games in, still got 14 more to go. Can't hang your head too low and even if you win, you can't hold your head too high. You know what I mean? You gotta be humble, take it with a grain of salt and keep working."
View photos from the Giants' Week 3 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday Night Football.