EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The scheduling challenge each NFL team faces in playing a Thursday night game might be a blessing this week for the Giants, who can quickly move past their disheartening loss yesterday to the Atlanta Falcons and focus on their upcoming home game vs. Washington.
For the second time in as many weeks, the Giants squandered a 10-point fourth-quarter lead and lost, this time, 24-20, to the Falcons. The Giants, who could be 2-0 had they made a few more plays, have instead lost two games by a total of five points.
Eli Manning said on a conference call today the late, close losses have not sapped the players of confidence or drive.
"I thought the game (yesterday) obviously didn't start our way (the Giants fell behind 7-0 and 10-3)," said Manning. "We fought back through it. We started making plays and doing good things, so we've got to understand we've got to do our part, we've got to keep the energy up, we've got to move the ball, and help out our defense. Bring some excitement and some energy to the team. Like I said, learn how to finish games.
"We have a young team right now. We've just got to make sure guys stay strong. I think we have a good group, and guys are going to keep fighting and keep working to get better. And I think that's the goal. Hopefully, we can come out today, it's a different week, so we've got to prepare and stay focused and do everything we've got to do without much practice time. It's going to be a challenge, but it's something we've got to be able to accomplish. Make sure everybody is on the same page so we go out there Thursday night and make sure we're doing everything right to give us the best chance to win."
Second-year linebacker Devon Kennard concurred that narrow defeats have not dulled the Giants' collective spirit.
"I think we've got a resilient team and I don't think it kills anybody's confidence," Kennard said. "It's most definitely frustrating, but you've got to move on. It's a short week this week and we're already on to Washington and not worrying about the last two weeks and what could've, would've, should've been. We have a great opportunity to win a divisional game."
Late in the third quarter, the Giants were eight yards from taking a 27-10 lead. But Manning was sacked from behind and lost a fumble, leading to Matt Ryan's 10-yard touchdown pass to Leonard Hankerson – a 13- or 17-point turnaround. After the Giants twice punted, Devonta Freeman scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:14 remaining.
"It just comes down to finishing games toward the end of games and making plays in critical moments," Kennard said. "Every game is going to be a tight game. We feel like we can play with anybody, but when those moments come in the games, we've got to make more plays than the other team and that's what it comes down to."
Gameday photo timeline from Giants Week 2 matchup against the Atlanta Falcons
"You've just got to understand that games are going to come to the fourth quarter and I don't know if it's about learning it, you just have to believe you're going to get it done," Manning said. "When things might be going great, there's always going to be little lulls or a possession or two that don't go your way, and you've got to be able to bounce back. You can't let the demeanor or mood get down. So we've got to stay positive and keep pushing and fight through those times."
Aside from the loss, coach Tom Coughlin was perhaps most disappointed in the performance of the offense after the Giants' turnover – the only one in the game. The Giants gained 314 yards in the first three quarters and 74 in three fourth-quarter possessions. In two games, the Giants have scored four touchdowns and kicked six field goals.
"We've moved the ball well," Manning said. "I think we've got to be better in the green zone getting touchdowns. We're settling for field goals a little bit too often. But I feel like we are moving the ball well. The first game we didn't have many plays or many possessions. I thought we did okay when we had those opportunities. This game, the same. I thought we moved the ball well. We can score more touchdowns when we get down there tight and I think it would have been a pretty good day."
The Giants are averaging just 68.0 rushing yards per game, despite a decent per-carry average of 4.2 yards. Yesterday, Andre Williams ripped off a 35-yard run. But other than Manning's 18-yard scramble, none of their other 21 attempts gained more than 12 yards.
"I thought we had some nice runs," Manning said. "Andre broke a long one. I think we've just got to be more consistent. We have too many runs where we're losing two and three yards. That just can't happen. Our bad runs need to be one-yard gains instead of losing two or three yards. That just puts you in bad down and distance. It makes it hard to keep drives going."
Despite the disappointments of the first two weeks, the Giants will be in a decent position if they win on Thursday. They would be no worse than two games out of the NFC East lead, with 13 games still to play.
"The situation in our division is very obvious to all of you," Coughlin said on his conference call. "I'm going to point that out to the team here in a couple of minutes, about how important this upcoming game is. We have to quickly, quickly, and I'm not going to dwell on yesterday's game with our players, I'll make a few points, and move on. With how quickly we have to turn this thing around and get headed in the right direction."
Photos from the Giants Week 2 matchup with the Atlanta Falcons