EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants' recent good times were interrupted Sunday afternoon.
Soaring into their MetLife Stadium matchup against the Arizona Cardinals with a four-game winning streak, the Giants were grounded by an ineffective offense and lost, 26-7. The defeat dropped them to 5-8 and likely set up a wild three-week finish to the NFC East title chase. Just one week ago, the Giants earned their most impressive victory of the season, against the Seahawks in Seattle.
"I don't think we had any kind of a hangover from going out to Seattle last week," coach Joe Judge said. "I don't think that's the cause of it. Again, this game is completely independent of anything that has happened before. We simply didn't come out today and we didn't coach well enough and we didn't play well enough. That's the hard truth of it. We have to do a much better job."
They'll get an opportunity next Sunday night against the Cleveland Browns, who are 9-3 entering their clash tomorrow against the Baltimore Ravens.
Quarterback Daniel Jones, who missed the Seattle game with a hamstring injury, returned to the starting lineup, but his comfort level appeared to be less than optimal.
Jones completed only 11 passes, his lowest total in any of his 24 career starts. His 21 attempts and 127 yards were this second-lowest figures. Jones was sacked six times, tying the second-highest total he's absorbed in a game. He fumbled three times, losing one. And for the first time as a pro, he did not have a rushing attempt.
"I think I wasn't able to run like I normally do, but I felt good during the game," Jones said. "I was able to move around the pocket and do what I needed to do throwing the ball. I think I got to do better with that still."
"Something that has been very positive for our offense this year is Daniel being able to run the ball and extend some plays right there," Judge said. "He had a few today. He got outside of the pocket. He had some passes down the sideline. He had a throw away and a completion down there at one point. Obviously, you take away part of the offense in any regard, it's going to affect how everything else complements itself right there."
Jones was replaced for the Giants' final offensive series by Colt McCoy, who played the entire game last week.
"It (the injury) wore on me a bit during the game," Jones said. "Just got to do a good job staying on top of it and making sure it's healing up like it should."
Judge had numerous conversations with Jones in the days leading up to the game.
"I thought he was able to protect himself in the pocket, which was the main concern as in can he step up and can he move in it," Judge said. "We knew there were going to be some situations today where he wasn't going to pull it down and just run like he's done in the past. We knew that he was going to either end up throwing the ball away or take sacks at certain point. We knew that going into the game and we saw that early on. But I thought, overall, that he showed that he was able to protect himself in the pocket. I checked on him at halftime. I checked on him throughout the course of the game. That was really kind of the feedback we got right there."
In response to a follow-up question, Judge said, "No, I have no regrets on playing him. We made a calculated decision based on what he could do as a player. We went out there, and as a team, we have to execute better."
He'll get no dissent on that final point. The Giants posted numerous season-low numbers, including 159 total yards, 81 net passing yards, eight sacks allowed (McCoy took two) and 10 first downs and tied another with three turnovers (all fumbles). They owned the ball for only 22:08. Wayne Gallman led the rushing attack with 57 yards. Dion Lewis scored their only touchdown, on a one-yard run in the third quarter. No receiver caught more than three passes.
The offense likely helped Arizona outside linebacker Hassan Reddick win the NFC Defensive Player of the Week Award. Reddick set a record for a Giants opponent and a Cardinals record with 5.0 sacks and forced three fumbles.
"They definitely did some things that we didn't expect, but we did what we could," Gallman said. "Of course, there are things that we have to get better at ourselves. They played good today, but I think there are things that we could have done better in terms of our IDs and stuff as our own unit. That's just something that we have to go back and fix during our practice."
"They had a good game plan going in, a few different things, but every team does every week," Jones said. "We got to do a better job identifying, I have to do a better job with that and getting the ball out on time."
The Giants' defense had its own share of frustration. Arizona ran the ball 43 times for 149 yards, both the highest totals by a Giants opponent this season. The Cardinals never turned over the ball. Quarterback Kyler Murray constantly demonstrated his slippery elusiveness while getting sacked just once on 36 dropbacks. He completed 24 passes for 244 yards and ran for 47 more. Murray's favorite target was DeAndre Hopkins, who finished with nine catches for 136 yards.
"Murray is a special player, we knew he was going to make certain plays here and there," linebacker Blake Martinez said. "We needed to do better keeping him in there and making sure we had our game plan set, we just didn't play as well as we wanted to."
Arizona scored touchdowns on a seven-yard pass to tight end Dan Arnold in the second quarter, Kenyan Drake's one-yard dive in the third and four field goals by Mike Nugent, who was in the Giants' training camp in 2017 and played in his first game since Oct. 27, 2019, with New England. Nugent's field goals traveled 34, 37, 34 and 30 yards.
"I think it just came down to they performed better than us," cornerback James Bradberry said. "We didn't execute when we needed to and that's usually the name of the game. You've got to execute and make plays, and we didn't do enough today."
It doesn't mean the good times can't return next week.