The Giants racked up 145 punt return yards on Friday night. They had 148 all of last season.
Needless to say, last year’s figure put them at the bottom of the NFL, something incoming general manager Dave Gettleman did not overlook on his lengthy offseason checklist. In fact, he underlined it. For at least one preseason game, the emphasis on special teams yielded real results in the 22-16 victory over the Jets – and not just in the return game.
In addition to Hunter Sharp’s 55-yard punt return touchdown, Ray-Ray Armstrong forced a fumble on kick coverage that the Giants recovered; Aldrick Rosas remained perfect this preseason with four more field goals; and Riley Dixon, whom the Giants traded a draft pick to acquire days before the draft, had three punts downed inside the 20-yard line, including two inside the 10.
All of those plays jumpstarted what coach Pat Shurmur said was a sluggish beginning to the game.
“I talk to our guys frequently about energy and enthusiasm,” Shurmur said. “We didn’t really have that to begin with, and then you saw how one phase of the ball can pick you up. That punt return was just the spark that we needed and it was a terrific run, it was well blocked. There were a couple situations, a couple of blocks on that play where guys pulled off and it could’ve been penalties, so really smart play, an explosive play that got us going.”
Sharp finished it off with what he called his signature stiff-arm.
“You don’t really practice it,” he said of the power move. “You don’t get the chance to because we never get to go full in practice. But when you get a chance, you just got to be angry with it. … It was great blocking. Everything was right on that play, everything went right. That’s what happens when everything goes right, you get a touchdown. I’m excited about this year and the punt return team that we have. The special teams coach [Thomas McGaughey], he pushes us.”
After that, the Giants kicked it into gear on both sides of the ball. The defense forced six three-and-outs on the night after giving up an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to start the game, and the deep passing game opened up on offense, including completions of 54, 47 and 30 yards.
“[We] got better on defense, we found a way to score enough points, and ultimately win the game,” Shurmur said. “There’s plenty to clean up. I was pleased with the way we threw the ball, especially with the ones. Not pleased with the way we ran the ball, certainly. But at the end, we found a way to carve out enough yardage running the ball to make it acceptable. We need to run the ball for our offense, but also for our team, and then we need to be efficient throwing the ball.”
*Shurmur was asked after the game about the decision not to play wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and rookie running back Saquon Barkley, who were both in uniform on the sideline. “Just not quite ready yet,” he said. “We want to be safe with Odell. He’s doing a lot of great things, and just wasn’t quite ready.” Beckham is coming off a season-ending ankle injury, and Barkley, the second overall draft choice, has missed the last two games after tweaking his hamstring in practice.
*The Giants came out of Friday’s game with injuries to their top two tight ends. Evan Engram left with a concussion after taking a hit on a completed catch. Rhett Ellison left with an eye issue. “Just a little bit blurry with his eye,” Shurmur said. “[Head athletic trainer] Ronnie [Barnes] said it was his eye.” Beyond that, Shurmur had no other injuries to report.