Foxborough, Mass. – NFL teams get no medals for trying hard or coming close. So, the Giants neither wanted nor expected a pat on their collective back for traveling on a short week to face the defending Super Bowl champion and undefeated New England Patriots with a decimated offense and entering the fourth quarter trailing by a mere touchdown.
Particularly since the Patriots scored two touchdowns – one each on offense and defense – in less than five minutes to complete a 35-14 victory Thursday night in Gillette Stadium. The Giants fell to 2-4, while New England improved to 6-0.
Like last week's 28-10 loss to Minnesota, coach Pat Shurmur took no solace in staying close for most of the game with one of the NFL's best teams.
"No, no I don't," Shurmur said. "I don't. This is the second week you've asked me these questions. I don't. We didn't win. We didn't make enough plays. That's what this is about.
"We battled, we didn't win, though. So, we've got to make more plays so we can win. But I was proud of the way we battled. I've never been disappointed with how hard our guys fight, but we got to find a way to make more plays than the other team and win the game."
There's a good reason the Giants had difficulty doing that, but Shurmur wasn't accepting excuses. The team's inactive list was a who's who of the offense that included its top two running backs – Saquon Barkley and Wayne Gallman – and its two leading receivers in tight end Evan Engram and wideout Sterling Shepard. Their injuries, in order, are sprained ankle, concussion, knee and concussion. Those four players had combined for 1,137 of the Giants' 1,824 total yards entering the game. That's 62.3% of their offensive output.
Without them, the Giants totaled 213 yards, including 52 on the ground, 10 first downs and 20:24 in time of possession. They converted only two of 10 third-down opportunities and committed four turnovers, including three interceptions on passes thrown by Daniel Jones. Rookie free agent Jon Hilliman, who started for Barkley and Gallman, rushed for 38 yards, fumbled away one of the two passes he caught, and that ball was returned for a touchdown.
Golden Tate caught six passes for 102 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown. But that was the only one of the Giants' 48 plays (the Patriots ran 78) that covered more than 18 yards. Only six gained more than nine yards.
The ballhandlers other than Tate caught nine passes for 59 yards. But Shurmur said, "We had guys out there that were capable of making plays and we made some, we just didn't make enough."
Despite the three-touchdown difference in the final score and the offensive inefficiency, the players came away confident better times lie ahead, beginning Oct. 20 at home against Arizona. The Giants hope to have some of their vital contributors back in uniform by then.
"We're definitely excited to get those guys back," Tate said. "We need all of the firepower we can get, especially going down the stretch. But ultimately, we just have to play sound football, I think. I haven't seen the film yet, but I look back at that game, we just screwed up more times than they did. It's as simple as that. We were right in that game for most of it. We had a chance to upset them on their home turf, but there were times where we couldn't get out of our way."
"We're a good team," center Jon Halapio said. "We just can't afford to have that many turnovers versus a great team. We need to just go in there and correct the mistakes, and work on ball security."
Jones completed 15 of 31 passes – the first time most of his throws were not caught by teammates – for 161 yards. The three interceptions increased his total to six in four games.
"I think I didn't play well by any means," Jones said when asked if he was overwhelmed by facing the NFL's top defense. "I don't mean to confuse that, but I don't think it was overwhelming. I think it was just bad plays, bad decisions."
Despite the player absences and miscues, the Giants stayed close most of the game. New England scored the only points of the first quarter when Riley Dixon's punt hit the back of blocker Nate Stupar's helmet. Rookie Chase Winovich picked up the ball and returned it six yards for a touchdown.
"Blocked punt sucks," Dixon said. "It's terrible. I think anybody would say when they score on a blocked punt, that's not good. I just have to get back to the drawing board and get it fixed."
"But we didn't fold," Halapio said. "We didn't give up. We just kept fighting."
First, they fell further behind. In the second quarter, Jones' pass was intercepted by Duron Harmon and returned 27 yards to the Giants' 20. Five plays later, Brandon Bolden scored on a one-yard run to make it 14-0.
But the Giants needed just three plays to get on the board when Jones and Tate hooked up for the Giants' second-longest play of the season, which cut their deficit to seven points.
"Just a match-up opportunity there with Golden (who got the best of Jonathan Jones) and he made a great play on the ball," Jones said. "Did a good job getting open there and I just tried to give him a chance. I thought he played well for us."
Less than two minutes later, the Giants tied the score when Lorenzo Carter crushed Tom Brady on a nine-yard sack and forced a fumble. Markus Golden scooped up the ball and raced 42 yards for his first career touchdown and a 14-14 tie with 4:38 remaining in the half.
"I came into the game thinking we can win," Golden said. "I come to every game motivated to win, because we work hard at practice. But yeah, when you're tied up 14-14, you have momentum and everybody's hyped and all that, you do think that. It'll give you a good feeling. But I was upset. I wish we could have finished it."
Alas, they couldn't. Brady's one-yard touchdown run with 36 seconds left in the second quarter capped a 75-yard drive and sent the Patriots into the halftime locker room with a 21-14 lead. After a scoreless third quarter, Jamie Collins separated Hilliman from the ball, which was recovered by Kyle Van Noy, who returned it 22 yards for a touchdown. Brady closed out the scoring with another one-yard run.
The short-staffed Giants fought valiantly but came up short. And no one hands out awards for that.
"We look at this game and you take it and feel like we can compete with anybody in this league." Tate said. "It's hard to win here, no doubt. I also think we look at it and we just look in the mirror. We just have to be better at what we do. It's never about who we're playing. It's about what we do. Win your matchups, play sound football, and we're going to be in every game. No doubt."