EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Good things are supposed to come to those who wait, but that wasn't true for Giants fans Sunday afternoon.
For the first time since the 2019 season finale, they were allowed into MetLife Stadium to see their favorite team. But the Giants gave their faithful little to cheer about and lost their season-opener to the Denver Broncos, 27-13. It was a two-touchdown margin only because Daniel Jones scored a touchdown on the game's final play.
"I'd like to go ahead and thank the fans for coming out and obviously this was an atmosphere that we've been waiting for for some time," coach Joe Judge said. "They were great today. We have to earn their cheers, they were very supportive, they were great, it was great energy in the stadium. We've got to do something more as a team to make them want to go ahead and stay into the game longer than they can and give us their support. Well, that's something we have to earn."
The players were energized by the fans but frustrated they couldn't reward them with a better performance.
"Certainly disappointing," quarterback Daniel Jones said. "The fans showed up and brought a lot of energy, brought a lot of excitement and we've got to do a better job performing and playing well. We appreciate that and we're determined to get it right."
"At the end of the day, we're a team," middle linebacker Blake Martinez said. "It's us going out there. Obviously, the fans are part of it. We have to play better and keep it a game going through, but for us, it's us inside the locker room. We're going to go out there and do what we need to do, no matter who's there. Obviously, we played last year with no fans. It's just one of the things and you just have to keep fighting through."
Check out the best photos from the Giants' season opener against the Denver Broncos.
Neither the offense nor defense will look back on this game fondly.
Denver owned the ball for more than 35 minutes and advanced inside the Giants' 20-yard line on five consecutive possessions spanning the second through fourth quarters, including series in which they took snaps at the five, four and two-yard lines. They scored two touchdowns and two field goals and lost a fumble at the four-yard line on the fifth possession.
Teddy Bridgewater completed 78% of his passes (28 of 36) for 264 yards, including touchdowns of two yards to Tim Patrick with eight seconds remaining in the second quarter and tight end Albert Okwuegbunam in the third. Melvin Gordon III iced the victory with a 70-yard touchdown run with 4:37 remaining and Brandon McManus kicked field goals of 23 and 36 yards.
Denver converted 10 of 18 third and fourth-down opportunities. That included all three on fourth down and the Broncos scored after the first two and on the third one.
"That's something we have to be situationally better right there as a team," Judge said.
"It wasn't our standard," safety Logan Ryan said. "We were terrible early last year in a similar way on third and fourth downs. We have to be better. Their first game was our first game. I believe their defense probably would have been bad too if they would have played longer, but they didn't. We just have to get off on those fourth downs. They went for it on fourth down a lot; they didn't punt, they didn't kick, they went for it and they made us pay for going for it. Extended plays, the pass-rush needs to be better and in the secondary, I mean, we have to be much better at what we do and I'm confident we can have that fixed and it's a different game if we get that, but credit to them."
Denver punted just once until it had the game safely in hand late in the fourth quarter.
"(It's) extremely backbreaking," Martinez said of the Denver offense's success in staying on the field. "I think we had a lot of chances. It came down to us just executing the play call, and we didn't do that. Obviously, they made us pay for it."
The Giants jumped ahead 7-3 in the second quarter on Jones' 37-yard touchdown pass to Sterling Shepard, who beat Broncos first-round draft choice Pat Surtain II, caught the ball at the 22 and made a nifty move just before crossing the goal line. But that was the Giants' only score in their first eight possessions and 58 plays. Jones scored on a four-yard run as time expired, but no extra point was attempted.
Though the Giants gained 314 yards, they picked up 95 of them after Denver took a 27-7 lead on Gordon's long run. After that play, the Giants ran 28 plays to just four (including a punt) for the Broncos and still trailed in the final totals, 66-59. The Giants rushed for only 60 yards on 20 carries and their longest run was eight yards.
In his long-awaited return to the field, Saquon Barkley rushed for 26 yards on 10 carries and caught one pass.
"Obviously we lost, so that's upsetting," said Barkley, who was limited to two games in 2020 because of a serious knee injury he suffered in Chicago in Week 2. "But in hindsight, it's a blessing to be able to go back out there and play the sport I love and to be able to get back out there on the football field.
"I felt pretty good. Got to knock some rust off, feel like I was able to do that some plays. I've got to go back, watch film and see what I could have done better."
On their first possession in the fourth quarter, the Giants ran four plays from the seven or six-yard line and didn't score. The next time they had the ball, they advanced to the 16-yard line and again gave away the ball on downs. They finally scored on their third foray deep into Broncos territory, but it was too late to make a difference.
"We certainly expect to score more points and expect to convert those opportunities in the red zone," Jones said. "I think as a group we're not going to get emotional about it or get too discouraged or down but look at actually what happened and what we can correct in certain situations to score those touchdowns."
Jones completed 22 of 37 passes for 267 yards, including the touchdown to Shepard. He did not throw an interception, but he did lose a fumble.
After Okwuegbunam's touchdown increased Denver's lead to 10 points, the Giants responded with one of their best drives of the game, moving from their own 25-yard line to the Broncos' 22, where they had a first down. Jones scrambled up the middle for seven yards but was hit by linebacker Josey Jewel and fumbled. The ball was recovered by Malik Reed at the 13-yard line. Denver's takeaway led to a McManus field goal that made it 20-7.
"Turnovers are always going to hurt you at any point in the game and they're big plays," Jones said. "We've got to do a good job of taking care of the ball and you've gotta do a good job. But we'll keep moving forward and keep improving. … You certainly try to protect the ball better. You try to get two hands on it but didn't secure it tight enough."
"We've got to do a better job as a team eliminating the penalties and turnovers," Judge said. "That's a team focus right there, so this isn't about any one player. It's about a team improving and, look, good teams improve week to week."
Now they'll be challenged to do it on a short week. The Giants play Thursday night in Washington, which also lost a home game to an AFC West team – the Chargers – on Sunday.
The Giants will next play at home a week from Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. Their fans will certainly pack the stadium to cheer Eli Manning, whose No. 10 jersey will be retired as he is inducted into the franchise's Ring of Honor. But will they still be excited in the fourth quarter, unlike today?
"We've got to earn the fans respect, point blank," Judge said. "These people come out here and spend their hard-earned money. They sit in the seats, they cheer for us, they give us energy within the seats. We have to give them something to cheer about. It's not their job to show up and cheer just the cheer. That's not their job. Their job is to be entertained. They buy a ticket, that means they buy the right to cheer, boo, stay, leave, whatever they want to do. We got to give them something to stay for."