EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – In a season when good news has often been scarce, the Giants had plenty of positive takeaways in the wake of their loss Sunday night to the Buffalo Bills in Highmark Stadium.
Their defense was superb, holding the NFL's third highest-scoring team without a point for three quarters and 100 yards below its per-game average. Linebacker Bobby Okereke posted a team-high 11 tackles, including two for loss, tipped a Josh Allen pass and forced a Gabe Davis fumble. Fellow linebacker Micah McFadden secured the ball each time.
The oft-maligned offensive line, already down three players, suffered another injury when left tackle Josh Ezeudu left in the first quarter with a toe injury. That forced a radical in-game realignment that left Justin Pugh playing left tackle, a position he had last played so long ago he couldn't remember when it was and where he hadn't taken one practice rep since his arrival two weeks ago.
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor played well in place of the sidelined Daniel Jones, who was inactive with a neck injury. Taylor threw for 200 yards, did not turn over the ball, and gave the Giants a chance to win the game in the final moments.
Taylor took responsibility for the clock expiring before the Giants could run another play from the one-yard line at the end of the first half. He changed the call to a run, Saquon Barkley got stuffed for no gain, and the Giants couldn't get off another play before the clock showed all zeroes.
"I should have just left the play on and shouldn't have alerted it," Taylor said.
Barkley returned after missing the previous three games with a sprained ankle. After scraping off some rust, Barkley ran for 61 of his 93 yards in the fourth quarter.
Young wide receivers Jalin Hyatt and Wan'Dale Robinson played season-high totals of 56 and 46 snaps, respectively, combined for 11 receptions and demonstrated they will likely be major factors in the offense in the final 11 games.
Alas, all the good was eclipsed by a failure to score from the one-yard line at the end of each half and the result, a 14-9 defeat that was the Giants' fourth in a row and left them with a 1-5 record.
"You don't get trophies for trying," a subdued Brian Daboll said at his postgame news conference.
The Giants have played four road games in five weeks and four consecutive games against teams with winning records. The road ahead is daunting. Each of the Giants' next three opponents – Washington, the Jets and Las Vegas – improved to 3-3 with victories on Sunday. They host the Commanders and Jets the next two weeks.
They can certainly reverse their recent fortunes if they duplicate or improve the performance they displayed in Buffalo.
The defense entered the game allowing 378.0 yards a game but held Josh Allen and the Bills to only 297, including 169 through the air – 105 less than the Bills had averaged in their first five games. The defense has five takeaways the last two games after getting none in the first four. Last week in Miami, the Dolphins had seven plays of 20 or more yards, including three of more than 60 yards. The Bills had one chunk play, a 28-yard pass to Stefon Diggs.
"They have improved," Daboll said today of the defense. "I think Bobby O has done a great job of getting the ball and getting hands on the ball. A bunch of those turnovers are a result of his play, along with the rush that goes along with it but seeing the quarterback, getting hands on the ball. Obviously, we had some big plays last week. We limited those this week. Improving the fundamentals, they've done a good job, they've improved so we're going to need to continue to do that."
The same is true of the offensive front, which missed All-Pro left tackle Andrew Thomas (hamstring) for the fifth consecutive week and center John Michael Schmitz (shoulder) for a second game. When Ezeudu went down, Pugh shifted from left guard to tackle, Mark Glowinski from right to left guard and Marcus McKethan took over at right guard, where he had started the previous four games. Right tackle Evan Neal and center Ben Bredeson stayed put.
"Very, very proud of the guys," Bredeson said. "I think we showed a lot of teamwork and versatility, and you know, playing together as a unit and battling all night."
Pugh added another chapter to his inspirational comeback story. A year ago today, he tore his right ACL playing for Arizona in Seattle. The Giants signed Pugh to their practice squad on Oct. 3 and the team's 2013 first-round draft choice set out to both learn the Giants' offense and get back into football condition. He was elevated to the roster on Saturday and played all 77 snaps last night.
It's no wonder that in his introduction announcement for the NBC telecast, Pugh eschewed his college – Syracuse - for "Justin Pugh, straight off the couch." He said, "you'll have to look it up" when asked about his most recent action at left tackle.
"I've never in my whole career been a part of something like that," Pugh said of the line shuffle. "But it's just a testament to the guys we have in the room, the fight we have in the room, guys are willing to do whatever it takes to try to go get a win. Obviously, I made mistakes (two false start penalties). I was having issues with the cadence, and it wasn't even physical issues. It was more like getting the cadence. I wish I could get those plays back but we fought, we had a chance. We were on the one-yard line to beat the Buffalo Bills on Sunday night football in Buffalo. I'll take that all day long."
"We talked about it with Pugh Saturday morning, just, 'Hey, you might need to do this, you might need to do this,'" Daboll said. "He's a true pro."
As, of course, is Barkley, who have the Giants' rushing attack a much-needed lift. He opened the Giants' first fourth-quarter drive with runs of 19 and 34 yards, setting up a 29-yard Graham Gano field goal that gave the Giants a 9-7 lead.
"I wish that I got off to a better start," Barkley said. "I did feel the rust a little bit, not playing three weeks. I was too out of my cuts slipping a little bit, but I feel like I kind of found myself toward the end of the game. I just got to keep improving, keep getting this thing healthy and keep getting stronger so I can be out there for my team and try to help us win games."
Daboll did not have an update on Jones, so it's possible Taylor will play again when the Giants host the Commanders. Taylor completed 24 of 36 passes for 200 yards.
"I know what I'm capable of doing," he said. "I never doubted that. I've always had confidence in myself and what I could do. It's not an individual game; it's a team game. I'm proud of the way the guys came out and played on both sides of the ball, and special teams as well. We gave ourselves a chance to win at the end of the day, and we didn't come away with it. But I didn't surprise myself at all. I may have surprised some other people, but I didn't surprise myself."
View photos from the Giants' Week 6 matchup against the Buffalo Bills.