The Giants' preseason record remains perfect. Their performance Thursday night wasn't.
Dropped passes, a lost fumble, and too many penalties – though just five were accepted – were all part of a 25-23 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals in Paul Brown Stadium. The Giants improved to 3-0 this month, with one more game – next week at New England – before the regular-season opener in Dallas on Sept. 8.
"I thought the guys competed hard like they did the first two weeks," coach Pat Shurmur said. "It was probably just a little bit sloppier than I think we would all have liked to see. But the one good thing about this game is we played everybody, and we got a chance to evaluate everybody doing what they do. That will help us as we move forward here picking our 53 (man roster)."
Several players stated their case to be on that roster, including wide receiver Brittan Golden, who caught two passes for 59 yards and returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown (though he fumbled the ball away when he next fielded a punt); tight end Garrett Dickerson (two catches for 30 yards), and rookie receiver Darius Slayton (an acrobatic 27-yard catch to set up a touchdown in his first action). The Giants had five sacks, including two by third-round draft choice Oshane Ximines. Corey Ballentine started at corner and tied for the team lead with seven tackles (five solo). Rod Smith and Jon Hilliman each scored on one-yard runs.
But the best news for Shurmur and Co. continues to be the outstanding play of the Giants' top two quarterbacks, 16-year veteran Eli Manning and first-round rookie Daniel Jones.
For the third week in a row, Manning played only the game's first series. He completed four of eight passes for 41 yards, numbers that would have been much better had Cody Latimer not dropped two passes, including one in the end zone that forced Aldrick Rosas to score the game's first points with a 41-yard field goal.
"He did a good job," Shurmur said of Manning. "He did a really good job."
In his three brief stints – which is likely to be his full body of work for the preseason – Manning has hit nine of 13 passes for 86 yards and one touchdown.
"I feel like we've had good practices, and in the last two preseason games, I've made some plays and done some good things," Manning said. "I just have to continue to work and get ready. (I'll need to) watch this film, look at it, make some adjustments and work on those things this week. I don't know how much we'll play in this last preseason game, but (I'll) keep working hard, make some improvements and get ready for Dallas."
Jones, meanwhile, continues to post impressive numbers. He completed nine of 11 passes for 141 yards. In three games, only five of his 30 passes have not found their intended target, and none were caught by the opposing team. That's an 83.3 completion percentage, which is attention-grabbing even in the preseason. He has thrown two touchdown passes and his passer rating is a striking 140.1.
He demonstrated a new element to his game vs. the Bengals, the ability to shake off a brutal hit and near turnover to throw one of his best passes of the summer. Jones was hammered by linebacker Carl Lawson on his third possession and fumbled (the ball was recovered by Golden). On the very next snap, Lawson again charged full speed at Jones, who stood strong in the pocket and threw a terrific pass to the left side to fellow rookie Slayton, who was stopped at the one-yard line. Smith scored the Giants' first touchdown two plays later.
"That's something that coach (Mike) Shula (the offensive coordinator) and coach Shurmur talked about a lot, just having the next play mentality," Jones said. "I was just trying to give Darius a chance there. He made a heck of a play."
Shurmur liked how his young quarterback responded to Lawson's legal assault.
"You take hits, you know?" Shurmur said. "He came to the sidelines and I said, 'That was a good one.' He said, 'Well, I'm sure I'll get hit harder than that at times.' He was fine. I think he did a good job. He got us into the end zone. He made some really good throws. He has a good feel for a couple of the deep balls he threw, when the defender was in close proximity, giving the receiver a chance at the ball. Those are two of the results on a couple of his deep balls. But he sees things well. He moved forward in his progress of being ready to play. Each week he does things. He's into it. I adjust on the run quite a bit and he can handle it, which is fun when you're calling plays and trying to make adjustments to attack what you see on defense. He can handle it."
That has become very evident. And Manning and Jones both playing at a high level is good for the Giants.
*Tight end Evan Engram saw his first action of the preseason when, like Manning, he played only the first series. Engram caught one pass for nine yards. Why did he play and not Saquon Barkley?
"I thought Evan needed it a little bit more," Shurmur said, "just because (we wanted him to get) the confidence of being out there and because I wanted to."
*Linebacker Jonathan Anderson hurt his knee and will be evaluated Friday.
The following Giants players did not play: Barkley (coach's decision); wide receivers Golden Tate (concussion) and Sterling Shepard (thumb); cornerbacks DeAndre Baker (knee), Antonio Hamilton (groin) and Sam Beal (hamstring); linebacker Alec Ogletree (calf); and offensive linemen Chad Wheeler (back) and George Asafo-Adjei T (concussion).
*Without Barkley, the Giants rushed for 56 yards on 26 carries, the same 2.2-yard average they posted in the opener vs. the Jets.