EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Conceding this is not the start they wanted nor expected, the Giants today preached patience while insisting they can improve both their shortcomings and their long-term prognosis.
It was another dour postmortem following their 20-13 loss last night to the Dallas Cowboys in AT&T Stadium. Coupled with their season-opening loss to Jacksonville, the Giants are 0-2. The number of touchdowns they've scored (two) equals their defeats. The running game can't gain traction, Eli Manning was sacked six times by the Cowboys, and while the defense has been mostly sturdy, it has given up big plays that have helped tilt the games in their opposition's favor.
On Sunday, they will face another 0-2 team playing its home opener in the Houston Texans. But the Giants covered all the negative news with a blanket of hope and determination.
"We've just got to play better in some areas, and we've got to make more plays and give ourselves a chance to win," coach Pat Shurmur said on a conference call. "I'd like to see us get a faster start and basically, continue to play hard through the game like we did. But we've just got to find a way to make the plays necessary to win."
Asked about making "drastic" personnel changes, Shurmur said, "We look at everything all the time. I think what's important is we stay the course, get the players that we have playing better, and try to make more plays to do what's necessary to win the game."
The players believe they will begin to do exactly that.
"I think guys are fighting hard, guys are competing," quarterback Eli Manning said. "Everybody's learning, every week we're going to learn and get better and make improvements. That's what we have to do. When you have a new offense, new players, new guys coming in, there is a learning curve to it, so we've just got to keep grinding and keep preparing and don't get down. Have the desire to get better. If we all want that, we all have that, and we've got to make the improvements that the coaches are giving us, and that will give us a better opportunity to win the game."
"We still have confidence in this offense," wide receiver Sterling Shepard said after the game. "We are all play makers, that's the bottom line. We'll figure out way to get the ball to guys and we'll figure out a way to make plays."
In Dallas, the defense surrendered just one play longer than 19 yards, but it was a whopper. On the game's third snap, Dak Prescott connected with Tavon Austin for a 64-yard touchdown pass. That forced the Giants to play from behind all night.
The offensive players believe they should have scored enough points to win the game, considering the Cowboys finished with 20 points. Their defensive counterparts are just as insistent they could have done more.
"Giving up 20 points is not exactly great defense," defensive tackle Damon Harrison said. "I'm sure you can compare it to other defenses and say so. The offense gives up three points, it's our job to go out and pitch a shutout. It's never about what the offense is doing. I know that's easy to say from the outside looking in, but we feel like we shouldn't have to give up any touchdowns and give our team the best chance to win. When we basically give a team seven or 10 points in the first quarter, we're putting a burden on our offense as well as our defense. So, it's not anything the offense is doing."
The Giants do need to start games better. After getting shutout in the first half in Dallas, the Giants have just two field goals to show for nine first-half possessions. In the first two quarters last night, they didn't cross midfield and punted all five times they had the ball.
"Certainly we want to stay on the field, see if you can get some big plays in there, that's important," Shurmur said. "We had one third down that we missed by inches and I chose to punt it the first time. At times, to be able to drive the ball and get big chunks – that's what you want to try to do on every drive, we've just got to try to it better, sooner. We've got to get in the end zone, quite frankly."
Against Jacksonville, back-to-back passes covering 37 yards to Dede Westbrook set up Blake Bortles' one-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Yeldon in the second quarter. In Dallas, it was the long pass to Austin and a game-long 19-yard run by Ezekiel Elliott that set up a field goal that annoyed the defense.
So why the slow starts?
"Possibly just guys overthinking things," Harrison said. "As we know in the NFL, the first 10-20 plays are scripted. It's just all about getting a call and executing, which I think we're doing some overthinking. Guys are just sitting back trying to get a feel for the game as opposed to attacking like the defense is built for."
In Houston, the Giants will need both the offense and defense to come out on the attack to earn their first victory of the season. The Giants are 0-2 for the second year in a row and are determined to avoid the three-peat.
"We've just got to just come to work and have a great attitude that we're going to get better," Manning said. "This doesn't get fixed with hoping it gets fixed, it's got to happen and the mindset, the commitment and the attitude that we're going to play at a better level is what's going to fix it."
"It's a completely different team with different guys in positions." Harrison said. "You just go back and look at the previous years and compare it to this one, rightfully so, but it's just a different group of guys, a different mindset. Not saying that the mindset that we had in the past was wrong. I think just one game at a time and not looking ahead will help us."
It can't hurt.
*Center Jon Halapio suffered fractures to his lower leg and ankle in the third quarter last night in Dallas and is scheduled to undergo surgery to repair the injuries.
Halapio was replaced last night by 11-year veteran John Greco. The Giants also have Spencer Pulley, signed two weeks ago, who started all 16 games last season for the Los Angeles Chargers.
"We'll start with John and then obviously get Spencer ready to go," Shurmur said.
*Shurmur did not have an update on cornerback Eli Apple, who left the game with a groin injury. He was replaced by B.W. Webb.