EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Season-opening games often send seismic aftershocks through NFL fans and media. After months of buildup and speculation, teams perceived to have overachieved are thought to have become instant playoff contenders, while those that underperformed are consigned to start preparing for the draft.
But one game does not a season make, which is why the Giants remained calm and confident in the wake of their disappointing 2019 debut, a 35-17 loss to the Cowboys yesterday in Dallas.
Offensively, the Giants scored only two touchdowns – one on their initial possession – despite gaining a healthy 470 yards. Their costliest shortcoming was converting only two of 11 third-down opportunities, which mitigated the impact of Eli Manning's 30 completions and 306 yards, Evan Engram's career-high 11 catches, and Saquon Barkley's 120 rushing yards.
The Giants' defense surrendered touchdowns on five consecutive possessions spanning quarters 1-3, gave up 405 passing yards and a perfect 158.3 passer rating to Dak Prescott, and had neither a sack nor a takeaway.
But the Giants anticipate taking, yes, giant steps when they face the Buffalo Bills in their home opener on Sunday.
"(We are) certainly disappointed with that result," coach Pat Shurmur said on his postmortem conference call today. "There are areas on all three sides of the ball that we can be better. Having gone through the tape and looked at the mistakes that we made, everything there is correctable. We need to just get back to work. I think there were some good things in the game, but those are obviously overshadowed by the things that contributed to the loss."
This is Shurmur's 21st consecutive season as an NFL coach, so he's learned not to put too much stock in opening day results, good or bad.
"I think everybody has to work out kinks," Shurmur said. "No matter how much you play your guys in the preseason, this is the first time they are all playing a full game. In our case, we did play our ones a little more than some in the preseason, but we have a really young football team, especially on the defensive side of the ball, (and) especially in the back end. I think there is a lot to be learned from it. I have been on teams where you won the first game and had a so-so year, but I've also been on teams where we've lost the first game and (have) gone on and had playoff years. I think you just have to keep working. Just like between year one and year two you can make great improvement, I think the same thing can be said between game one and game two."
Shurmur and the Giants will now adhere to the protocol followed by all teams after Game 1 by trying to build on what they did well and improving those aspects of the game in which they did not approach their capabilities.
"We did a lot of good things, had some explosive plays, really good on first and second down, just not good enough on third down," Manning said this afternoon. "Unfortunately, a couple of them that we didn't get were third and twos, and third and ones, and those types of plays. Then, some of the other ones, we got in too many third and elevens, and twelves, and thirteens, especially in the second half. I thought we moved the ball, probably the first six possessions that we had it, we moved it really well, and then after that kind of stalled out, got some penalties, and did not play as well after that."
Manning was particularly heartened by the play of the offensive line. The Giants have a new right side in guard Kevin Zeitler and tackle Mike Remmers, who they believe will stabilize a unit that has had numerous personnel changes in recent seasons. The Giants averaged 8.9 yards on 17 rushing attempts – thanks largely to Barkley's 59-yard run – and Manning was sacked only once.
"I think the offensive line did a great job," Manning said. "They did a great job in the run game and the pass game. They protected well all game against a good defensive line, a lot of movement, some blitzes, so I thought the offensive line did a great job. They gave me time to get through my progressions and gave us a chance to be successful."
The defense limited Dallas to 89 yards on 30 rushing attempts, but gave up seven Prescott completions of 21 or more yards, including a 62-yarder to Michael Gallup and touchdowns of 28 yards to Blake Jarwin, 25 yards to Randall Cobb, and 21 yards to Amari Cooper.
"We just had a lot of little mistakes that turned into big plays," linebacker Alec Ogletree said. "When you play a good team like that, they are able to do that to you. It's disappointing the way we lost. We know we are a better team than that. It's a long season, and that's only one game. You can't win them all, but we definitely hate the fact that we didn't do better than what we did and what we were hoping for. We have another opportunity this week to go out there and get that bad taste out of our mouth."
"I felt like from a defensive perspective in terms of the run game, other than one run that split out for a score inside the red zone (Ezekiel Elliott's 10-yard touchdown), I thought we did a better job against Dallas this year of setting up the run game," Shurmur said. "Unfortunately, we had those long passes. A couple of them were breakdowns individually, a couple of them were, within the scheme, a guy not doing what he should be doing. Unfortunately, it was just a combination of things. But again, all things that can be corrected. I think some of the youth of our players on the outside, this is the first time going through it and we know there are some areas where they can be better."
The Giants are confident they will be, starting Sunday.
*Wide receiver Sterling Shepard, who caught six passes yesterday, is in the NFL concussion protocol.
"Hopefully, we get him back," Manning said. "If not, Russell Shepard is a guy that's been in the offense and played well and done some good things for us. He'll have to step in, and so hopefully we can get Sterling back for this week."
*Linebacker Kareem Martin has a knee sprain he suffered in the first half yesterday. Zeitler has "a little shoulder deal that we're getting more information on," said Shurmur, who added, "we don't think it will be long-term. It may be not much at all."
*The Giants filled the vacancy on their roster by claiming off waivers linebacker Tuzar Skipper, who was released Saturday by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Skipper, 6-3 and 246 pounds, had made Pittsburgh's 53-man roster as a rookie free agent from the University of Toledo. He led the Steelers in the preseason with 5.0 sacks and seven quarterback hits.
The Giants had an opening on their roster after releasing linebacker Nate Stupar on Friday.