If it's true that young NFL teams must learn how to win, the Giants are enduring those growing pains.
For the second time in three weeks, they had a chance to stave off defeat and perhaps earn their first victory of the season and in Joe Judge's tenure as coach with a touchdown in the final minute. Once again, they had to force their way into the end zone to cap an impressive final possession.
Two weeks ago in Chicago, they trailed by four points when they drove 50 yards without a timeout in the final 2:02. But their chance to hold a locker room celebration ended when wide receiver Golden Tate was penalized for offensive pass interference in the end zone on the game's final play.
Late Sunday afternoon, they were eight points behind when they traveled 62 yards to the Los Angeles Rams' 18-yard line with 57 seconds remaining. But on the seventh play of the drive Daniel Jones' pass for Damion Ratley was intercepted by diving cornerback Darious Williams at the five-yard line.
The Giants' only turnover of the game left them no way to escape an 0-4 start.
"Certainly, frustrating for me," Jones said. "There at the end of the game with a chance to score and go for two and tie up the game, and to not do that, certainly frustrating. So, we've got to stay at it and learn and keep moving forward."
"Obviously, we came up a little short today," Judge said. "I'm proud of the way our guys fought, I'm proud of the way they played. We have to make sure we clean up and eliminate some mistakes and keep making more positive plays going down the stretch. I'm proud of the way they fought. They are an improved team from last week, and I'm proud of how they worked last week, I'm proud of the improvement they made. We have to keep pushing on and making strides going forward."
The defeat was particularly hard to swallow because the Giants' defense played superbly most of the game. The Rams scored a touchdown on their first possession on a two-yard run by tight end Gerald Everett. But in its next six possessions, Los Angeles totaled 86 yards and scored just three more points.
After giving up 36 points to the 49ers last week, the Giants held the Rams – who averaged 30 points and 449.7 yards in their first three games – to 17 points and 240 yards – 200 under their average. The Rams gained just 116 yards in the first half.
"I love the way our defense is playing right now," Judge said.
"I think it was awesome," linebacker and defensive captain Blake Martinez said of his unit's performance. "I think that's the type of team we want to be, and I think overall it's something we'll hold our hat high on, but at the end of the day, it's a production league, it's getting wins, and that's what we want, and I think we're not going to be satisfied until that happens."
It didn't happen on Sunday because the Giants were held out of the end zone not only on their final series but the entire game. For the second week in a row, their scoring was limited to three Graham Gano field goals – from 35, 37 and 27 yards.
"Offensively, I like some of the things you saw down the stretch," Judge said. "We have to get the ball to the end zone more, but we just have to keep pushing on forward, keep making corrections and adjustments, and getting better as you go down the stretch."
The Giants kept plugging away despite their offensive sluggishness. Gano's three-pointer as time expired in the first half cut the Giants' halftime deficit to 10-6. After a scoreless third quarter, he made it 10-9 early in the fourth quarter.
After an exchange of punts, the Rams took possession at their own nine-yard line with 9:46 remaining. Eight plays later, Los Angeles faced a third-and-three at their own 49. A Giants stop would have put them in a position to get the ball and take the lead with another Gano field goal.
What followed instead was the game's biggest play and the only one of the Ram's 57 offensive plays to gain more than 16 yards. Jared Goff threw to a wide-open Cooper Kupp, who caught the ball at the Giants' 40, sidestepped a tackle attempt by cornerback James Bradberry inside the 25 and sprinted to the end zone for the touchdown that increased the home team's lead to 17-9.
"They hurried up to the line," Bradberry said. "It was just miscommunication on the back end. We're all accountable for that. We didn't communicate enough. That's what led to the touchdown."
"Obviously, anytime that there's a touchdown, nothing went exactly right," Judge said, "so we've got to look and make sure we identify the breakdown and correct it going forward."
On their next possession, Jones' pass to Tate on fourth-and-11 fell incomplete. But the defense remained tough, forced a punt and gave the Giants a chance to tie the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion.
Starting at the 20, Jones immediately connected with Darius Slayton for 33 yards, the Giants' longest play of the game. Jones ran for gains of 13 and 11 yards and threw a five-yard pass to Evan Engram that set them up on the 18. But the seventh play of the drive was unlucky as Jones' pass landed in the wrong hands.
Asked what he learns from moments like those, Jones said, "You can't force the ball in those situations."
Moments later, he said, "I think I may have had the opportunity to run and have to learn from it and move on."
For the Giants, it's on to Dallas and their first NFC East game of the season – and another chance to earn that elusive first victory.
View photos from the Week 4 matchup between the Giants and Rams at SoFi Stadium.