EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants were dominated statistically in a three-score loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, but coach Pat Shurmur was already optimistically looking ahead when he spoke to the media just minutes after walking off the MetLife Stadium field.
And that is probably a good idea, considering the Giants have a Thursday night date with the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, who improved to 5-0 today.
"Number one, you can't get discouraged," Shurmur said. "I'm looking for guys who get discouraged, those are the guys we're going to get out of here - the ones that get discouraged. You can't get discouraged. We didn't make enough plays. So everybody goes back, and we'll do it quickly because we've got a game on a short horizon here and make our corrections and move on."
It's probably best the Giants shed this game as fast as they can. The final score was 28-10. Minnesota took an early 3-0 lead and kept building on it until Dan Bailey's fourth field goal in the fourth quarter created the final margin.
The Vikings' 211 rushing yards matched the Giants' total yardage. Minnesota gained 490 yards. Kirk Cousins completed 81.5% of his passes (22 of 27) for 302 yards, including touchdowns of 15 and nine yards to Adam Thielen – who had seven receptions for 130 yards. Dalvin Cook rushed for 132 yards on 21 carries and the Vikings averaged 6.2 yards a run.
The Giants' average was 3.2 and they totaled only 64 yards on the ground. They played again without Saquon Barkley (ankle) and his replacement, Wayne Gallman, lasted just two attempts (for 14 yards) before leaving with a concussion. That left rookie free agent Jon Hilliman (20 yards on nine carries) and converted fullback Eli Penny (15 yards on three attempts) as the team's only healthy runners.
View the best photos from Sunday's game against the Vikings
Defensively, the Giants were missing four linebackers who have started games this season – Alec Ogletree, Tae Davis, Lorenzo Carter (all inactive) and Ryan Connelly (on injured reserve). But Shurmur refused to pin the loss on player absences.
"That's making excuses. No, we have to do a better job, everybody on defense," he said. "When we have opportunities to score on offense, we have to take advantage of that."
But they didn't. Daniel Jones twice did not connect with a wide-open Sterling Shepard, including once when the receiver was in the end zone, and the Giants scored on neither of those drives.
"Two big missed opportunities," Jones said. "I think when you play a good defense like Minnesota, you need to convert those. I will certainly look at those, but I have to be better in those situations and we have to take advantage of those. You can't afford to miss those against a team like that."
"We had some chances," Shepard said. "We have to take advantage of them. (We need to) get in the film room and figure out exactly what it is that we did wrong and try to correct them before the quick turnaround."
The Giants failed to capitalize in a different way late in the second quarter, when Jabrill Peppers forced a Cook fumble that was recovered at the Giants' one-yard line by Tuzar Skipper. But on the next play, Hilliman was smothered by linebacker Anthony Barr in the end zone for a safety that extended the Vikings lead to 15-7 then became 18-7 at halftime.
"It was a run play that, in hindsight, we didn't execute it well enough and we gave up a safety," Shurmur said. "That's two points, you move on. That's that. We got beat by what, what did we get beat by – 18? That was a bad play on our part, we have to clean it up and move on."
"It's tough, but me, myself, you just have to not make a bad play worse," Hilliman said. "That's what I was thinking. So, hold on to the ball, take your lumps. I'd rather give up two than six. That's just the most important thing."
Another example of Giants frustration: In the third quarter, Shurmur took Aldrick Rosas' 28-yard field goal off the board after Linval Joseph's unnecessary roughness penalty gave them a first down at the Vikings' five. But on first down, Danielle Hunter sacked Jones for a 10-yard loss. Center Jon Halapio was then penalized for being an illegal man downfield. Evan Engram picked up six yards on a reception, but Rosas had to kick another field goal – from 32 yards.
"There were plays that could have been made," Engram said. "There were a lot of 50-50 balls that we have to make. We make those plays, then it's a different ballgame. So, there's nothing to really get discouraged about. We're fine."
Defensively, the Giants had trouble corralling Cook and Thielen and though they sacked Cousins three times, only five of his passes hit the ground. What was most frustrating is that the defense often made a bad situation worse.
"We were just missing tackles and had bad eyes," Peppers said. "I feel as though we didn't play as clean of a game as we should have. But we are going to get it corrected. It's a short turnaround, watch this tape and get ready for the Patriots. … We have to tackle better, get in our run-fits and stop shooting ourselves in the foot. That's really what it all comes down to."
Except for a span of 2:43, the Giants trained by double digits the entire second half. Shurmur tried to generate momentum by going for it on fourth down three times. The first time, from Minnesota's three-yard line, Jones was sacked for a nine-yard loss by Hunter. On No. 2, Jones threw a pass to Shepard that fell incomplete. Shurmur challenged, hoping to get a pass interference call on Mike Hughes, but the play was upheld. Finally, with 3:20 to go, Jones' pass for Golden Tate was intercepted by Barr.
Jones completed 21 of 38 passes for 182 yards, including a 35-yard touchdown to fellow rookie Darius Slayton.
"Not good enough," Jones said of both his performance and the offense's. "I thought the plan was good going in, I thought we created a lot of opportunities for ourselves to make plays and we didn't make them. You're not going to win if you can't convert those opportunities, you can't make plays. I have to be better."
And quickly. The Patriots await in four days.
"That's always the mindset after a game, to use it to improve," Jones said. "There is certainly no exception here. I think there is a lot of things I have to do better, we'll correct them as a team and move forward."