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Cover 3: Takeaways from Giants vs. Patriots

Three Giants.com writers share their biggest takeaways from the Thursday night loss in New England and what it means for the Giants moving forward:

John Schmeelk: The Giants lost by three touchdowns to the Patriots, but there were encouraging signs of growth from the defense. New England scored one of their touchdowns on special teams and another on defense. The Patriots didn’t score on their first five offensive possessions. Their first offensive touchdown came on a short field, when they took over on the Giants 20.

The Giants have adopted a defensive approach that consists of playing a lot of zone with a limited number of blitzes. It is a strategy that can work if the defense tackles, which is something they didn’t do well against the Vikings in Week 5. Their tackling was far from perfect, but it did improve against the Patriots, who did not have a play go for more than 40 yards. They did have six pass plays go for 20 or more yards, and two runs. Those are still too many, but it is a step in the right direction.

When the Giants defense did allow the Patriots to put together lengthy drives, they tightened and performed well on fourth down and in the red zone. The Patriots went 0-2 on their fourth down opportunities, and scored on only three of their six red zone appearances. Those stops kept the game a one score contest heading into the fourth quarter. The Vikings scored on just two of their five red zone opportunities the week prior, which kept that game within arms-reach.

Making plays at those critical times can make the difference between a defense keeping their team in a game and letting it get out of hand. If the Giants defense is going to have to play a less aggressive style and concede some small gains to prevent larger ones, continuing to play good red zone, third down and fourth down defense will be critical to give the team and offense the chance to win games.

Dan Salomone: There are plenty of adjectives you could use for Daniel Jones’ night in Foxborough, the fourth start of his young career. Undermanned, for starters, is one of them (even though he would never admit it). Understandable is another, given the opponent and his lack of experience. Unsustainable is fair after he threw three interceptions, which increased his season total to six, in addition to two lost fumbles. One that doesn’t fit, however, is overwhelmed.

“I don’t think so,” Jones said late last night in the same tone he spoke with after victories over Tampa Bay and Washington. “I mean, I think I didn’t play well by any means. I don’t mean to confuse that, but I don’t think it was overwhelming. I think it was just bad plays, bad decisions.”

Against the NFL’s No. 1 defense, Jones completed just 48.4 percent of his passes for 161 yards and a 35.2 passer rating. All three statistics were the lowest of his four career starts, which have resulted in two wins and now two losses. And so he capped a month of learning how to play in the NFL. The stockpile of experiences will help him to be appropriately aggressive with the football.

Lance Medow: If there’s one phrase that could best describe Thursday night’s game for the Giants, it’s “missed opportunities.” When you play a disciplined, sound team like New England, you have to capitalize on your chances to do damage. Unfortunately, the Giants did not do that consistently against the Patriots. The first opportunity came right after the opening drive of the game when the Giants stopped New England deep in their territory on third and fourth down, and took possession of the ball on downs. The Giants then went three-and-out. Later in the quarter, Janoris Jenkins picked off Tom Brady one play after Daniel Jones was intercepted, but, again, the Giants went three-and-out.

The turning point came when the Giants started the second half with an impressive drive, but Jones was picked off cornerback Stephon Gilmore at the New England 18. Turnovers hurt no matter where they occur, but this one was costly because: a) the Giants were nearing the red zone, and b) it was a one-possession game. Fortunately for the Giants, the Patriots followed that interception with a 40-yard missed field goal attempt by Mike Nugent, but as had been a trend throughout the game, the Giants then ran six plays and were forced to punt. Yet another missed chance at stealing some momentum. However, another opportunity presented itself as the Patriots’ ensuing drive stalled at the Giants 32-yard line after a failed conversion attempt on 4th and 5. For the second time, the Giants forced New England to turn it over on downs and kept the score within a possession. A few plays later, however, Jon Hilliman lost a fumble and the Patriots returned it 22 yards for a touchdown, an early exclamation point.

The best way to spell out missed opportunities: the Giants scored just seven points after two takeaways and twice regaining possession on downs. Conversely, the Patriots scored 14 points on four takeaways and also returned a blocked punt for a touchdown. Takeaways are great, but it’s all about what you do with them. In the Giants’ case, they weren’t able to take full advantage. When you are at full strength against the Patriots, you can’t afford to turn the ball over four times. When you’re without four key offensive weapons, the margin for error is non-existent. Effort wasn’t an issue Thursday night, but executing when handed opportunities was, and it came back to haunt the Giants.

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