EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Not even Saquon Barkley could bail out the Giants’ offense on Sunday.
Neither the splendid rookie running back nor the attack he has powered all season could find traction on a rainy, dreary afternoon in MetLife Stadium. The result was a 17-0 loss to the Tennessee Titans that guaranteed the 5-9 Giants will finish under .500 and eliminated them from playoff consideration.
“Didn’t do anything well enough to expect to win, didn’t make plays, we didn’t run the ball, we didn’t stay on the field on offense, we had penalties, so we didn’t play well enough there,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “I thought on defense, they ran the ball, we didn’t tackle as well as we did in the last few weeks, which extended drives for them, and they beat us. There was a turnover there that turned into points. It was a close game and we just didn’t find (the end zone), and when you don’t get in the end zone, you can’t win.”
The Giants failed to score a point for the first time since their 23-0 loss at Arizona last Dec. 24, and for the first time at home since Dec. 15, 2013, against Seattle – also by a 23-0 score.
One week after running for 227 yards and scoring 40 points in a victory in Washington, the Giants rushed for just 47 yards and tied a season-low with 15 first downs. Their 260 total yards was just five more than their season low, set at Dallas in Week 2.
They traveled inside the Tennessee 20-yard line just twice, both in the second half. The first time, Eli Manning threw an interception. They later advanced as far as the Titans’ four-yard line, but Manning’s pass to Evan Engram fell incomplete with 1:41 remaining, ending the Giants’ last chance to score.
Between those two possessions, Manning fumbled away the ball on the Giants’ 14-yard line, a turnover that led to Tennessee’s second touchdown.
“It was just tough to get things going,” said Manning, who completed 21 of 44 passes for 229 yards. “Give credit to the Tennessee defense. They played well. They did a good job stopping the run on some early downs. The few times we actually got some things going, we had negative plays, we had penalties where we just could not sustain the drives and keep things going. They played well and we didn’t. We didn’t execute well enough or make the plays we need to make. They just outplayed us.”
This time, Barkley wasn’t the one-man band who could overcome that. He rushed for 31 yards, his second-lowest total of the season. His previous low was 28 yards at Dallas on Sept. 16. Barkley also caught four passes for 25 yards. His 56 yards from scrimmage was his lowest total of the season. It was just the second time in 14 games that Barkley finished with fewer than 100 scrimmage yards; he had 94 in Atlanta on Oct. 22.
In the previous five games, Barkley had rushed for 121 yards a game and averaged 147.4 yards from scrimmage.
“Obviously, a lot of teams are going to put focus on stopping not me as an individual but our run game, because we have been so successful in the last five games,” Barkley said. “We still have to make plays, which we had been doing the last couple of weeks. We just didn’t do that.
“They did a lot of different things. They gave us some different looks, different movements to try to create movement up there to try to confuse us. We have to execute, that’s the moral of the story. We didn’t execute as a team, especially on the offensive side of the ball.”
The Giants played their second game in a row without their leading wideout, Odell Beckham, Jr., who was inactive with a quad injury. Last week, they still routed Washington. On Sunday, their entire offense stalled.
“You always miss Odell,” Manning said. “He is one of our key players and one of our best players. When he is in the game, he makes plays and makes defenses play differently. You always miss your playmakers.”
The Giants held Marcus Mariota to 88 passing yards, but it mattered not at all. Derrick Henry followed up his record-setting 238-yard performance against Jacksonville 10 days ago by rushing for 170 yards, the highest total against the Giants in nine years. Henry scored both Titans touchdowns on one-yard runs. Ryan Succop added a 22-yard field goal.
“I think he’s one of those guys that once he gets going and can get kind of in some space, he’s a lot faster than people think,” defensive tackle Josh Mauro said of Henry. “He’s hard to take down, especially for guys in the secondary, because he’s so long and can stiff arm. If you attack him early and can get him in the backfield before he gets momentum, that’s what teams have done. Credit to him, though. He’s really coming into his own. He’s a good back, he’s got a bunch of talent, and he’s a very, very unique player.”
The Titans had 29 more rushing attempts and 168 more yards than the Giants.
“They were having success running the ball, keeping drives alive, we were struggling to stay on the field,” Shurmur said. “Early in the game and throughout the game, we weren’t able to make enough yardage on the runs. They did a good job, but then when we chose to pass it, we had drops and we did some things that couldn’t keep drives alive.”
Even when the Giants made a play, they couldn’t capitalize. Riley Dixon, realizing no one was watching him, gained 14 yards on a fake punt with 12 seconds remaining in in the second quarter.
“With the conditions, I caught it, bobbled it, looked up and guys were running in the other direction,” Dixon said. “I had an opportunity to get a first down, so that’s what I did. I saw them all running in the other direction because they were trying to set up a return.”
Dixon’s run gave the Giants a first down at the Titans’ 45-yard line. One pass and they might have been in positon to kick a field goal. But after two incompletions and a sack, the Giants trudged to their halftime locker room, still scoreless, a condition that remain unchanged in the second half.
“It’s not a low point,” Barkley said of the game. “It’s a reality check that we have to get back to the drawing board and we have to get better.”
They have two more games – at Indianapolis and home against Dallas – to achieve that goal.