ATLANTA – The Giants posted numerous impressive numbers Monday night in their first visit to Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
They finished with a season-high 433 total yards, their third consecutive game with more than 400. Their 372 net passing were 112 more than their season average. Eli Manning threw for 399 yards. Odell Beckham, Jr. and Sterling Shepard had 143 and 167 receiving yards, respectively, and combined with Saquon Barkley to account for 22 of Manning's 27 completions.
But in football, the only numbers that count are those posted on the scoreboard. And the Giants could not turn those gaudy statistics into enough points to beat the Atlanta Falcons, who sent the Giants to a fourth consecutive defeat, 23-20. The Giants fell to 1-6, while the Falcons improved to 3-4.
The primary shortcoming for the visitors was an inability to cash in from the red zone. In the first three quarters, the Giants made three forays into that critical area of real estate inside the opposition 20-yard line. Twice, they kicked field goals. And on the opening possession of the second half, they gave the ball up on downs when Manning couldn't connect with Scott Simonson on a fourth down pass from the one-yard line.
The Giants scored just six of a potential 21 points (assuming no two-point conversions, perhaps an incorrect assumption, as we shall see). They did score two touchdowns in the final five minutes, but could never fully close the gap after falling behind, 20-6.
"From an offensive perspective, you got to score touchdowns when you get down there," coach Pat Shurmur said. "Again, we did a good job of moving the ball. We got to score touchdowns."
"I think that pretty much sums it up," Manning said. "We just got to find a way to score touchdowns when we get down there in the red zone. Settled for field goals or the one time not getting anything, but that's just what's hampering us. It's been the last couple of games where you get down there, it just changes everything when you get touchdowns. You just put a little pressure on the other team and get a little more momentum and it would've tied the game or gave us a lead in a couple of scenarios."
Atlanta scored the game's first points with 4:51 remaining in the second quarter when Matt Ryan threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Hall, who got behind cornerback Janoris Jenkins. On their ensuing possession, the Giants had a first down at the Falcons' 13-yard line, but Manning was sacked on third down and Aldrick Rosas kicked a 31-yard field goal. Giorgio Tavecchio's 40-yard field goal gave the Falcons a 10-3 halftime lead.
The Giants took the second-half kickoff and moved from their own 25 to the Atlanta 10-yard line, thanks mainly to Shepard's 53-yard catch-and-run. Saquon Barkley gained two yards before Manning's scramble to the right side left them with a third down at the one. Manning dove near the pylon, but was short of the goal line.
"I just didn't think I would be able to get in," Manning said. "Didn't want to try to reach the ball and risk a fumble or anything, so just try to dive and get as much as I could to give us a chance on third down to hopefully get in."
But Barkley was stopped for no gain running around left end on a jet sweep.
"That play had been successful for us," Shurmur said. "We could talk about every play, the ones that worked and didn't. There were a lot of plays that worked well and in that situation we tried to get him around with a little shift in motion. It didn't happen, so you move on to the next play."
On fourth down, Simonson couldn't secure Manning's pass.
"Looking back, maybe throw it to Odell and see if he can get in," Manning said. "I thought we had to make up some ground, but obviously did have some other guys coming across that could work for me."
Was Beckham open?
"I don't know what's really going on behind me once you're running in the flat," Beckham said. "You take a peak and then you turn your head, so what comes after that I don't know. I know toward the end of the play, I did feel somebody close. Might have been a tight-window throw. It's risky, that's why I don't know if I was open."
Rosas' 36-yard field goal lifted the Giants to within 10-6. Tavecchio's 50-yard field goal and Tevin Coleman's 30-yard touchdown run increased Atlanta's leads to 14 points.
But the Giants kept coming. Barkley's two-yard touchdown run capped a nine-play, 78-yard drive. And made the score 20-12. But instead of kicking the extra point to make it a seven-point game, Shurmur elected to go for two. But Beckham couldn't hold onto Manning's pass, which fell incomplete.
"We discussed internally the math on that," Shurmur said. "I just felt like we had a good play and I liked our two-point play selections, and we just didn't quite get it done.
"You increase your chances by 50 percent if you go for it and make it there, so that's what you do because then if we score a touchdown, we just kick the extra point and win. I felt good about the two-point play. You guys saw that – I think we got the ball in there, right, and we just didn't connect on it. I think it's an aggressive approach."
Tavecchio pushed the lead to 23-12 with a 56-yard field goal with 1:55 remaining. Manning's 58-yard strike to Shepard – the Giants' longest completion of the season – help set them up first-and-goal at the one with 45 seconds remaining. But two Manning quarterback sneaks left him short of the goal line and bled valuable seconds off the clock.
Shurmur disputed the premise that passing the ball would have been preferable, because if the Giants didn't score, incompletions would have stopped the clock.
"That's a defeatist deal," he said. "You should be able to convert on a sneak and we've all seen (Eli) do that and for whatever reason, we didn't get it done."
The Giants eventually scored when Beckham did some nifty footwork in the back of the end zone to stay inbounds on a one-yard touchdown pass from Manning. They even got the two-point conversion on Barkley's run.
But it was too little, too late, a recurring theme in this disappointing first half.
"Nobody likes losing, so you got to find ways, which we will down the stretch," Beckham said. "We have another opportunity Sunday (at home vs. first-place Washington). If it is a close game, we've been there now. We've been there plenty of times. Got to put the little pieces together and we lost by three points. Lost by a field goal. Lost by (five) points the first game. There's only been a few games where teams really put it on us, so we are right there. Now we got to put everything together. Everything's got to come together, we all have to come together. I got to play better, everybody's got to do better. That's all I can tell you."