Odell Beckham Jr. left Sunday's game with a fractured ankle and the Giants dropped to 0-5 on the season:
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants' offense took the field trailing by five with 2:53 remaining when Justin Pugh noticed something odd in the huddle.
"It didn't hit me and then I was like, 'Wait, why do we have three tight ends out here?'" Pugh said.
Because in one unfathomable game, the Giants had lost four wide receivers to injury, including Odell Beckham, Jr. with a fractured ankle. As if that wasn't bad enough, they gave away a fourth-quarter lead for the third consecutive week and lost to the Los Angeles Chargers, 27-22, in MetLife Stadium.
The game was decided in a disastrous 56-second sequence in which Beckham was carted off, Eli Manning lost a fumble on the very next play, and three plays after that – on third-and-nine -- Philip Rivers threw the deciding 10-yard touchdown pass to running back Melvin Gordon.
The loss dropped the Giants to 0-5 for just the fourth time in their 93-season history. The Chargers broke a nine-game losing streak and are 1-4.
"You learn a lot about yourself in times like these," coach Ben McAdoo said. "So you've got to work for yourself, work for your teammates. We're all pros – this is what we get paid to do. We get paid to win, not just compete. So we've got to find a way to win."
"Obviously, it's tough to have close games, and have leads, and not be able to make completions, and make mistakes that hurt the team," Manning said. "It's tough to swallow, but you keep fighting back."
But with whom? In addition to Beckham, Dwayne Harris suffered a broken foot and Sterling Shepard and Brandon Marshall left the game with ankle injuries just 1:17 apart in the second quarter.
That left Roger Lewis, Jr. as the only healthy wide receiver. So when the offense ran onto the field after Gordon's touchdown, Pugh looked up and saw tight ends Jerell Adams, Rhett Ellison and Evan Engram, the latter two lining up as wide receivers.
"I realized that Dwayne went down, Shep went down, Brandon went down, Odell went down," Pugh said. "It's crazy."
"It significantly altered the game," McAdoo said. "We had one receiver left at the end of the ball game. The guys fought hard, the tight ends stepped up and went out and worked to execute the two-man offense. They don't get a lot of reps with what they're being asked to do, but they went out, they played fast and played hard."
Manning completed an 11-yard pass to Adams, and an eight-yarder to Ellison was nullified by Bobby Hart's illegal use of hands penalty. Running back Shane Vereen caught three passes for 13 yards in the series.
"As a tight end, you have to know the (wide receiver) position," Ellison said. "I have to know those reps whether I practice them or not. It wasn't anything out of the ordinary."
"We have packages where I'm split out wide and we have certain plays, and I'm kind of familiar with the offense enough to know what's going on up there," Engram said. "It wasn't that much of a difficult adjustment. There were just some small things that I just kind of had to go and roll with it. I felt comfortable out there. The next guy had to step up. We were trying to drive down there with the guys we had."
They got as far as the Chargers' 48-yard line, but Manning's pass on fourth-and-10 was intercepted by safety Tre Boston.
That was the final insult on a day marked by injuries. Beckham was hurt on an incomplete pass with four minutes remaining. He jumped for Manning's pass and seemed to get his left ankle caught under cornerback Casey Hayward when he landed. The Chargers near Beckham immediately signaled for the Giants medical staff to come onto the field. Within minutes, the three-time Pro Bowler was carted off.
"It looked like he was in some pain," Manning said. "I just told him I'd be thinking about him and, obviously, we don't know the severity of it. But hopefully he'll be okay."
"It hurts," Lewis said. "Four of my brothers got hurt today. They're like big brothers to me. So, it really hurts."
On the next snap, Manning was sacked for a 12-yard loss by Melvin Ingram. But instead of going to the ground, he landed on Ingram and lost the ball, which was recovered at the Giants' 11-yard line by ... Ingram.
"Can't afford to do that," Manning said. "We were backed up, they were going in cover two, and didn't have a chance to throw one on the sideline. (I was) moving around in the pocket trying to buy a little time and got tackled and landed on the defender, so didn't hit the ground and the ball popped up. I've got to get two hands on the ball right there and take the sack and move on. Can't give them that field position right there."
Moments later, Rivers threw the game-winning touchdown pass, his third of the game. He also threw a six-yarder to Gordon in the second quarter and a 25-yarder to tight end Hunter Henry in the third. Los Angeles also scored on Nick Novak field goals of 20 and 31 yards.
The Giants' first points resulted from a safety, when Rivers deliberately flipped the ball out of the end zone in the first quarter. Orleans Darkwa scored on a 23-yard run, and Manning threw touchdown passes of 29 yards to Lewis and 48 yards to Beckham.
But after the game, the Giants were counting injuries, not points. In addition to the receivers, Darkwa left the game with a calf injury, linebacker Jonathan Casillas with a stinger, safety Landon Collins missed a few plays after getting kicked in the leg, and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was limping with an undermined injury.
"It's a tough situation when you lose four receivers in a game," Manning said. "I thought we did the best we could do. We had to simplify the game plan a little bit. But then there at the end having three tight ends, one receiver on a two-minute drive, we were able to get a first down and do a couple things. But, you know, it's not the ideal situation."
That's the understatement of a Giants season that has regressed from promising to heartbreaking. They return to action next Sunday night in Denver. Between now and then, they're going to have to find some wide receivers.
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