EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants today began their 2018 season with soaring optimism and ended the day with the searing pain of defeat.
But this was different from so many losses in the recent past. Yes, the offense sputtered much of the day, they surrendered a crippling defensive touchdown, and their chance at a miracle finish evaporated with a fumbled punt. But in Pat Shurmur's debut as head coach, they gave a Jacksonville Jaguars team that was nine minutes from the Super Bowl last season all it could handle, and they could point to any number of missed opportunities they fully expect to capitalize on in future games.
"There is always little things that are always almost there," quarterback Eli Manning said. "Almost is not good enough. You have to make the plays and be perfect."
The Giants weren't quite there in their 20-15 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Manning twice overthrew Odell Beckham, Jr. in the end zone, and couldn't connect with Sterling Shepard on fourth down on the Giants' final possession. Another pass was tipped by Abry Jones and returned 32 yards for a touchdown by Myles Jack. Saquon Barkley scored the Giants' only touchdown on an electrifying 68-yard run, but they averaged 2.1 yards on their other 22 rushing attempts. Five of their six penalties were costly. Newcomer Kaelin Clay fumbled a Jaguars' punt with 45 seconds remaining. The Giants even had a communication malfunction, as the sound in Manning's helmet receiver disappeared at the start of the third quarter, forcing them to burn a timeout they could have used late in the game.
Despite it all, Shurmur was upbeat after the game.
"I told the players that the important part of this game that we can work with is they hung together, they played hard from the first snap to the last," Shurmur said. "We just didn't make enough plays in the end to win this game, especially a one-score game throughout. We'll get that fixed and again, this is a new team, we've got new systems. I'm certainly hugely disappointed that we lost for our fans, and our ownership, and for those players in the locker room. I'm disappointed we lost, but there's a lot of good in that locker room and they're going to hang together, I really believe they will and will come out … against Dallas (next week).
"It's fun to go out there and compete and it's fun to watch guys fight their tail off, and it's not fun to feel the disappointment of losing."
His players were in full agreement that plenty of good could be taken from this game.
"We competed all the way up until the end, we had a lot of energy on the sideline," Beckham said. "There are a lot of positives we can take from it, you just want to come out with the W."
"We're making strides, as a defense, as a team, as special teams," cornerback Janoris Jenkins said. "We're making strides, but we've got to come back tomorrow and just work and critique ourselves and make sure everybody stays up and just keep pushing."
They have a good starting point, built on several impressive performances. Barkley's 106 rushing yards and 68-yard run were both records by a Giants' back in his debut. He also caught two passes for 22 yards. Beckham, playing for the first time since Oct. 8, 2017, had 11 catches for 111 yards. Jacksonville didn't score an offensive touchdown in the second half. Jenkins had an interception. The Jaguars lost star running back Leonard Fournette to a hamstring injury in the first half and like the Giants, padded their rushing total with one big run (a 41-yarder by quarterback Blake Bortles). Without that, Jacksonville averaged 3.6 yards an attempt. Aldrick Rosas kicked three field goals.
But it was the missed plays everyone dwelled on after the game.
"There were some good things and some big plays," Manning said. "Obviously, they got some interferences on some plays. We just didn't make a few plays that could've been there. We have to come back and do what we have been doing. It is not a lack of preparation. Me putting it in a better spot, guys making a tough catch, having everything work out. It is a combination, not one person or one thing. It is just everyone doing their job a little bit better. That is part of football. It is a game of inches. Couple times we had a third or fourth down and we were just inches away and didn't get the first. Unfortunately, we were not on that side of the inches today."
"It was fun to get out there and play in my first NFL game, it was a dream of mine," Barkley said. "But I feel like that we left it out there. We could've done a little bit more as a team to finish the game and win the game, but you have to give credit to Jacksonville and that team over there. They're a heck of a defense and a heck of a team and we have to continue to grow from this game and get better."
The Jaguars scored on Bortles' one-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Yeldon, Mack's return touchdown, and a pair of 39-yard field goals by Josh Lambo.
The game's most bizarre moment occurred after a touchback on the second-half kickoff. Before the Giants – who had deferred taking the ball to the second half during the coin toss – could take a snap, Shurmur called timeout because Manning couldn't hear his play call.
"Eli's helmet went bad, so that's where the communication was and it was a play to start the series that was a little wordier than plays within the series," Shurmur said. "We checked his helmet beforehand. For whatever reason, when he got out there he could not hear anything, and that was the reason for it."
"My helmet just died," Manning said. It just cut out. It died on me. I have to get a play called. Unfortunately, we had to use a timeout there. Really, I had some problems in the first half. I got a new helmet the next play and it was much clearer with the communication."
Manning regrouped, and the Giants gained 229 more yards (Manning had 126 more passing yards) than they had in the first half. But they didn't make enough plays or cash in when they had a chance to turn the game in their favor.
"There are obviously a few plays you wish you had back," Manning said. "Almost had Odell on the post route that just hit the tip of his hands. I could've put that in a better spot and gave him more of a shot. The last play, the route to Shep. I have to get that out there and have him run under that. There is always little things that are always almost there. Almost is not good enough. You have to make the plays and be perfect."
They have something to strive for next week.