EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – On their first offensive possession Sunday afternoon, the Giants smoothly traveled 75 yards in 10 plays, the last a two-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Sterling Shepard that gave them a 7-0 lead.
"I thought it was going to be a good game," Odell Beckham, Jr. said. "The way we were moving, everything was fast, fast, we were hitting it. After that, I don't know what happened."
He wasn't alone. The Giants' last nine offensive series produced a total of just 11 points, and they had seven consecutive possessions in which they did not reach the end zone. That wasn't nearly enough to beat the high-scoring New Orleans Saints, who marched out of MetLife Stadium with a 33-18 victory that left the Giants at 1-3 and the winners at 3-1.
New Orleans scored on four Wil Lutz field goals in the first half and three Alvin Kamara rushing touchdowns in the second half (from nine, four and 49 yards).
In addition to Shepard's touchdown, the Giants scored on Aldrick Rosas' 33-yard field goal, Saquon Barkley's one-yard run (or, more precisely, one-yard leap), and Manning's two-point conversion pass to Shepard. But…
"We didn't make enough plays," coach Pat Shurmur said. "The first drive was good, we went down and scored and then for a while there, we weren't hitting on some things (the Giants gained just 22 yards the rest of the first half). Then we had penalties that kept us behind the chains, and we didn't move the ball."
"Tonight was a frustrating one," said Manning, who completed 31 of 41 passes for 255 yards and did not throw an interception. "We got off to a good start and had a good drive. We were moving the ball and making plays on this team, but we just weren't able to do it. We got into some third and longs that we didn't convert on. They had some good calls and some good plays. They weren't going to give us anything deep. They took away all the deep stuff and made us go underneath. That was fine. We were going to just have to have some long drives and continue to play that way. There was a few times where they knocked us out of some good down and distance and we weren't able to sustain some drives."
Despite that, the Giants still looked as though they would have a chance to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. The points scored by Barkley and Shepard lifted them to within 26-18 with 3:44 remaining. The Giants had two timeouts. When Drew Brees' third-down pass for Cameron Meredith fell incomplete with 2:30 left, it appeared the Giants were about to get the ball back.
They weren't. Donte Deayon was penalized 14 yards for pass interference, a call that was debated in some quarters.
"I was out there competing," said Deayon, who has moved up the defensive backs hierarchy because of Eli Apple's groin injury. "I thought I got there the same time the ball did. I got up, I saw the flag, and they called P.I. It was what it was.
"Yeah, it was pretty deflating. You're trying to get the ball back for our offense, and they call a pass interference, and it negates all of that. So, it was pretty deflating."
The penalty gave the Saints a new set of downs at their 40-yard line. Three plays later, Kamara, the 2017 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, blasted through a hole on the right side of the line and didn't stop until he was through the end zone. The 49-yard touchdown all but ended the Giants' hopes. Manning's lost fumble with 57 seconds remaining made it official.
The Giants finished with 299 yards, including just 65 on the ground. Barkley rushed for 44 yards on a season-low 10 carries.
"I think there were times we tried to run the ball," Shurmur said. "I don't regret it (giving him more carries), he needs to touch the ball. Certainly by the looks of things here, him touching the ball more would be good."
"I do believe that we're very close," Barkley said. "I do believe that we're still talented. I still believe that the sky is the limit. We have to continue to believe in each other, continue coming to work. Start over right now. Come in to Monday, take the good, leave with the bad and continue growing."
While the offensive's performance was panned – the Giants have scored fewer than 20 points in each of their three losses – the defense was given relatively high marks despite allowing 33 points. That was actually 1.7 points under the Saints' average in the first three games. The unit kept the Saints out of the end zone in the first half. Brees, who has an NFL-record 16 games with more than 400 yards, was limited to 217 yards. Michael Thomas, who entered the game with league-leading totals of 38 catches and 398 yards, finished with four and 47, respectively.
"It's very hard (to hold them down), said safety Landon Collins, who led the Giants with 14 tackles (nine solo). "Just knowing their route concepts and how many different formations they give, the guys they have on their offense, it's a difficult test. But we did a good job, if I would say, so until the fourth quarter."
"Defensively, our job is to stop them as many times as we can and I thought we did that for the most part, except right here at the end of the game," linebacker Alex Ogletree said. "We didn't drop the field like we should have, and it's just something that we got to get fixed."
The challenge for the offense is to capture what it accomplished on that first series and keep it going longer.
"It seems like it shouldn't be this hard, but it is," Beckham said. "We have to come out with that energy that we had last week (in a victory in Houston). Like I said, everybody has to be hitting, it's not one person doing this, it has to be everybody. It's a team sport, so we just have to pull together."
"I think we did a great job that first drive," Shepard said. "We hit a little rough patch. They threw the two deep at us and something we struggle with in the past, but I feel like we'll get in the film room and coaches will come up with something for sure."