The Giants kicked off the preseason with a 23-21 victory over the Patriots in Foxborough on Thursday night.
While the team's healthy starters saw limited playing time, most of the snaps were taken by second and third team. After the game, coach Brian Daboll and players spoke to the media. Here is what we learned:
1. Daboll wins head coaching debut
It was only the first preseason game, but as long as they kept score, Daboll was going to try to win it. And that's just what he did in his head coaching debut. Graham Gano made a 24-yard field goal as time expired as the Giants prevailed in a back-and-forth game. It wasn't perfect, but overall Daboll was pleased with the effort and sideline operation.
"The guys played competitive," Daboll said. "I thought the organization on the sideline was good. [We] didn't have any wasted timeouts on substitution errors or getting calls in late. Lost a timeout there on the challenge, so that was my first one, and I lost that one. But some good, some bad. A big week for us this week coming up. I liked how they competed. I liked how physical they played. Certainly, there's a lot of areas to clean up, and that's what we'll try to do after we watch the tape."
Thursday night marked another debut for a member of the coaching staff as offensive coordinator Mike Kafka called plays for the first time in a game setting. Daboll has not officially announced who will do it during the regular season, but he liked what he saw from Kafka up in the booth against the Patriots.
"You know, it's a tough job to call plays, and you have to really put a lot of time and effort and energy into it, and Mike has done a good job with it," Daboll stated. "Again, it's his first game. Certainly, there's no game-planning going on [in the preseason], but again, the operation of calling it, getting it in quick to the quarterback, giving little reminders. I thought he did a good job."
2. Run game shines
Saquon Barkley saw preseason snaps for the first time since his rookie campaign, playing in the first two offensive series along with the rest of the first-team offense. Barkley touched the ball five times (four carries, one reception) for a total of 21 yards with one broken tackle.
"I felt good," the running back said. "I think our offensive line did a great job. We were able to move the ball. I was able to get a catch on a third-and-five to keep the sticks moving. It was a great throw by DJ [Daniel Jones], great read by DJ. My body just feels really good. So, like I said, taking it one day at a time and improve off this. … I think we've been doing a great job, not only in the game but in practice. I think the offensive line has been doing a great job, and the running backs have been getting downfield."
The Giants totaled 177 yards on 33 carries, an average of 5.4 yards per attempt. Antonio Williams led the way with nine rush attempts for 61 yards (6.8 avg.) and the team's lone rushing touchdown. He forced three missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus, and gained more yards on the ground than the entire Patriots team, a good sign for the Giants on the other side of the ball. Gary Brightwell also added 40 yards on seven carries (5.7 avg.) while catching two passes for 19 yards.
3. Injury report
The offensive line has already taken a few hits since the start of training camp. Tackle Matt Gono was placed on the Exempt/Left Squad list before being released a few days later, and rookie guard Marcus McKethan suffered a torn ACL. The unit took another blow Thursday night after starting left guard Shane Lemieux (toe) and reserve lineman Jamil Douglas (ankle) were both forced out of the game. Lemieux was seen in a walking boot after the game, but Daboll did not immediately know the severity of the injury.
"I always think you can use as much depth as you can get, but those guys that came in relatively new too up front really did a good job," said Daboll. "I thought [offensive line coach] Bobby Johnson had them prepared just learning calls and communicating with one another."
Tackles Devery Hamilton (70 snaps according to PFF) and Garrett McGhin (67 snaps), along with guard Ben Bredeson (64 snaps), stepped in as the next men up. Rookie Joshua Ezeudu also saw time with the first team in place of Lemieux and did not allow a single pressure on 27 pass block snaps, according to PFF. Bredeson went 38 pass blocking snaps without surrendering a pressure.
"I think he has had a good camp," Daboll said about Bredeson. "He has been flexible for us inside and snapping and also playing guard. He is smart, tough, dependable. Again, I have to go back and watch all the tape, but boy, is he competitive on the sideline too. Tells you what he sees. Good communicator. He is a good player for us."
While playing limited snaps at the beginning of the game, left tackle Andrew Thomas picked up where he left off in 2021 and did not surrender a pressure on seven pass block snaps.
View photos from the preseason opener between the Giants and Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
4. Rookie LBs step up
Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale talked this past week about "finding out who's the smartest, who's the toughest and who's the most dependable" in the preseason. The linebacker unit had several players step up against the Patriots, including veteran Austin Calitro, who had the team's only takeaway with his fourth-quarter interception. Signed just weeks ago, Calitro also had four tackles (two solo) and a quarterback hit.
The team also saw flashes from two rookie linebackers. Darrian Beavers made three solo tackles in his first NFL action, including a tackle for loss, while Micah McFadden had four tackles (two solo) and registered a run stop rate of 10 percent.
"You want to see how you compete against other guys in the league," Beavers said. "So, when it comes down to it, you're just playing football. So, I just feel like you don't have to think about those things. You just have to think about playing football. Doing your job and trying to make plays when the plays come."
Quincy Roche recorded three tackles (two solo), one tackle for loss and one quarterback hit, finishing the game with two total pressures and a pressure rate of 13.3 percent on 15 pass rush snaps. Meanwhile, Elerson Smith also added a pressure on his 11 pass rush snaps.
5. Collin Johnson, Richie James take advantage of opportunities
With Kadarius Toney missing Thursday's game and Sterling Shepard still on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, several of the team's other wide receivers had the opportunity to showcase their skills Thursday night.
While he did lose a fumble early in the second quarter, Collin Johnson led the team with seven receptions for 82 yards. Johnson helped the offense move the chains on several occasions and generated a passer rating of 109.9 on his targets.
"He has been moving around a lot and he is good player," Jones said about the 6-foot-6, 220-pound receiver. "He brings a lot to the table with his size and route-running ability. He played well tonight, and he has played big for us all camp. We will keep working with him."
Veteran Richie James also displayed strong hands against the Patriots. James finished the game with three receptions for 44 yards, including a play where he caught a tipped ball for a 26-yard gain, showcasing great reflexes and hand-eye coordination. James also caught the team's only receiving touchdown, finishing with a 150.0 passer rating generated.