EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Daniel Jones is just 22 years old and his NFL resume consists of only five games. But because he is the starting quarterback, his opinion is valued on all Giants issues, whether it's an exciting, improbable comeback or a desultory defeat.
On Sunday, the Giants endured the latter. They fell behind by 14 points in the first quarter and never led in a 27-21 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in rainy and dreary MetLife Stadium. The Giants lost their third consecutive game and fell to 2-5, while the Cards won their third in a row and improved to 3-3-1.
Jones had the most challenging outing of his brief career. He threw an interception and lost two fumbles and Arizona scored after each of the turnovers, for a total of 17 points. Jones was sacked eight times (four by Chandler Jones, who also forced and recovered one of the fumbles), three more than he had absorbed in any previous game. He did throw for 223 yards and a touchdown, but it wasn't nearly enough.
When it was over, Jones summarized the emotions of his teammates and himself.
"We're frustrated," Jones said. "Everyone is frustrated. But I don't think we're discouraged at all. We'll be back to work tomorrow. We'll be looking forward to the opportunity against Detroit (where the Giants play next Sunday). We're frustrated, but kind of rightfully so. We all know we can play better, and we're determined to play better. So, back to work tomorrow."
That will first entail digesting the tape of this game, which will be unpleasant. The Giants scored just two offensive touchdowns, on Jones' 28-yard pass to tight end Rhett Ellison and Saquon Barkley's seven-yard run, a meager total against a defense that ranked 30th in yards allowed and 29th in points allowed entering the game. "Very unacceptable," tight end Evan Engram said. "We work hard, and we put a lot of work in, but we just have to play better football."
The Giants scored their third touchdown when Michael Thomas blocked Andy Lee's punt in the end zone and Eli Penny fell on the ball to pull the Giants within 17-14 in the second quarter.
Three turnovers and eight sacks made it difficult to establish any offensive rhythm.
"Obviously, we've got to do a better job," guard Kevin Zeitler said. "We've got to get things done. No matter who you play, no matter how talented they are, you can't let that happen. We've got to figure out what happened [and] we've got to get moving because, you know, we're hitting that halfway point in the season, so we gotta start performing."
"I wouldn't say troubling," Barkley said of the offense's inability to score more points. "I think we just have to do a better job, because we didn't win the game. I don't care if we play the worst defense or the best defense if we won, 3-0, the object of the game is winning football games. You have to play complementary football, you have to have three phases of your team playing well. Our defense played well, special teams made some big plays for us, we didn't make enough plays. We made a lot of plays, but we didn't make enough because we didn't put up more points than them."
The defense had its own issues. The unit limited quarterback Kyler Murray, the first overall choice in the 2019 NFL Draft, to 104 passing yards. And the Giants seemingly caught a break when David Johnson, Arizona's star running back, was limited to one two-yard carry because of an ankle injury.
But Johnson's backup, second-year pro and Fordham alum Chase Edmonds, ran for 126 yards and scored all three Cardinals touchdowns on a pair of 20-yard runs and a 22-yarder.
"He was hitting holes hard and fast," safety Jabrill Peppers said. "He didn't go down easy. He did everything he was supposed to do. He had a good day."
The Giants, meanwhile, had just a few moments. Jones' pass to Ellison, which he lofted over cornerback Trumaine Brock and placed perfectly between three defenders. Barkley scored his touchdown and rushed for 72 yards in his return after missing three games with a sprained ankle. And Penny scored the Giants' first blocked-punt touchdown since 2013 thanks to a heads-up play by Thomas, who got his hands on the ball an instant after it left Lee's foot.
"T-Mac [Special teams coach Thomas McGaughey] challenged us on special teams," Thomas said. "We kind of lost our way these last couple of weeks, especially giving up that play (a touchdown on a blocked punt) in New England, and he was like, 'You guys aren't playing physical enough. You guys aren't making enough plays.' He challenged me personally and told me that, 'Word on the street is, number 31 is probably overrated on special teams.' I took that personally, but he put me in a position [to be successful]. He put me in a position to make plays and thank God I was in that position he called when he dialed up that play for me and I was able to execute. That was huge for our play, but it wasn't enough."
The Giants trailed by only three points at 24-21 when they took possession at their own 25-yard line with 4:23 remaining. They picked up one first down, but Chandler Jones' eight-yard sack and two incompletions left them facing a third-and-18 with 3:11 remaining. Daniel Jones audibled to a run, but a draw to Barkley gained only three yards.
"Two high, deep zone coverage," Jones said. "Yeah, check was running the ball. … The check was based on the look from the defense."
That left the Giants facing a fourth-and-15 with 2:35 left and two timeouts. Pat Shurmur eschewed a punt and went for the first down. But Patrick Peterson raced in untouched on a corner blitz and plastered Jones for a 13-yard sack and forced a fumble that was recovered by Haason Reddick at the 14. Four plays later, Zane Gonzalez kicked his second field goal, which accounted for the final margin.
Shurmur said he did not contemplate punting on fourth down.
"It was going to play out the way I thought," Shurmur said. "Stop, stop them, stop them, make them kick a field goal at the very least, then we go down and score a touchdown. Plus, I wanted to get a chance to make it on fourth-and-15. That's why. And that's the way it played out, right? We had the ball with the chance to go down and score a touchdown to win the game. That's how it played out, and we didn't do it."
They never really gave themselves a chance. Jones was sacked on consecutive plays for losses totaling 14 yards, leaving the Giants with a nearly-impossible fourth-and-29 from their own four with 41 seconds left. Jones, under heavy pressure yet again in the end zone, threw a pass that landed far short of its intended target, tight end Evan Engram.
"Very disappointing," wide receiver Golden Tate said of the game. "People spend their hard-earned money to sit in the rain and watch us do that; it's just unacceptable. I think, from top to bottom, we've got to be better. I thought we had a really good week at practice, but we've just got to do the simple things right, man. So, we just gotta do better. It's tough."