EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants' second game of the season was a Groundhog Day rerun of their season opener, all the way to the unpleasant final score.
Their first possession ended in a touchdown and a 7-0 lead, followed by an offensive malaise for most of the remainder of the game. Their 25% success rate on third downs (three-for-12) was a minimal improvement over the previous game's 18% (2-for-11). The defense gave up four touchdown drives of 70 or more yards one week after surrendering five, and once again did not record a takeaway. Saquon Barkley rushed for more than 100 yards. Eli Manning threw 45 passes, seven days after tossing 44, and once again one only one ended with a touchdown.
Even the final score in the 28-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills in MetLife Stadium was similar in margin and manner to the 35-17 defeat last week in Dallas.
"Obviously, it's not how you want to start," said Manning, as the Giants attempt to get their first victory of the season next week at Tampa Bay. "We just have to keep fighting and find ways to play better football. That's as simple as it comes down to. I know we can play better. I know we can do better than what we are. We have to find a way to come together as a team and win as a team."
The Giants have lost their first two games for the third year in a row and the fifth time in six years. They scored on Barkley's 27-yard run and Manning's four-yard pass to wide receiver TJ Jones, who rejoined the team last week. Aldrick Rosas missed a 48-yard field goal attempt, ending his NFL-long streak of 20 consecutive successes. Manning threw two interceptions, including one on a first down from the Buffalo 21-yard line with 47 seconds remaining in the first half.
"The missed field goal and then, obviously, the interception before the half – those are scoring opportunities that you can't miss on," coach Pat Shurmur said.
The game started well for the Giants. They needed just five plays to take a 7-0 lead on Barkley's touchdown.
"The opening drive was a great start," Barkley said. "I don't think you could ask for any better start for the first two games that we had, but it's the NFL. They're going to make plays, and the Bills made great adjustments."
After Barkley's early score, the defense forced Buffalo into a three-and-out. But after the Giants punted on their next possession, the Bills began to take charge of the game.
They drove 75 yards in 10 plays and tied the score on quarterback Josh Allen's six-yard run around right end. The Giants kept the ball for just 1:04 before Allen's 18-yard pass to tight end Dawson Knox began an 11-play, 70-yard drive that ended with rookie running back Devin Singletary scooting 14 yards around left end for a 14-7 lead.
The Giants quickly punted again, but Antonio Hamilton's hustle enabled Cody Core to down Riley Dixon's 58-yard boot at the two-yard line. But the Bills needed only seven plays to travel the 98 yards. A game-long 51-yard reception by Cole Beasley – a Giants killer when he played for the Cowboys – put the ball at the 14-yard line. On the next play, Allen flipped the ball about a yard forward to Isaiah McKenzie, who scored another 14-yard touchdown, this one a pass. That made it 21-7.
During the three-possession scoring binge, Allen joined Dallas' Dak Prescott as quarterbacks who seemed to be targeting rookie cornerback DeAndre Baker, who made his first NFL start.
"You just have to have a short-term memory," Baker said. "It's always the next play. You forget about the last play. You can't re-do it, so you just make sure it doesn't happen again. You learn from it. It's all about learning. … I look at it as an opportunity to make a play. If the ball's coming my way, that's big for me."
"You just have to keep talking to him," Shurmur said. "This is his fourth half of football in the NFL. You just have to keep talking to him. The guys did a good job of coaching him. He's a tough guy, and he learns from every play that he's involved in, and he'll continue to learn as he goes forward."
The defense did perform better in the second half, allowing fewer points, yards and first downs than it had in the first two quarters.
"As a defense, we didn't play up to our standards that first half," linebacker Alec Ogletree said. "The second half I thought we played really well."
But it was not flawless. Jones' touchdown with 11:56 remaining put the Giants within striking distance at 21-14. One defensive stop would have given them a chance to tie the game. But the defense allowed another long drive, a 13-play, 75-yarder that ended with a one-yard touchdown run by 15-year veteran Frank Gore. The Giants had held Buffalo to a 21-yard Stephen Hauschka field goal on the drive, but Dexter Lawrence's dubious unnecessary roughness penalty gave the Bills a first down at the two. Gore covered that in two carries for the game's final score.
That put the Giants in desperation mode, a particularly difficult place to be without three of their top receivers. Sterling Shepard was inactive and Cody Latimer left in the second half, both with concussions, and Golden Tate is still serving his four-game NFL suspension.
The Giants gave the ball up on downs with 5:01 to play. When they next had the ball, Manning threw deep down the field to Bennie Fowler, but the pass was intercepted by safety Jordan Poyer.
"We just figure it out the best we can," Shurmur said of the receivers' absences. "When you get to where…the big challenge can be going along when you're down by three scores is making sure you keep the runner (Barkley) involved because we all know how dynamic of a player he is."
The Giants still have 88% of their season to play. But they must change the script from the first two weeks and find a winning formula.
"When you're 0-2, there's pressure on everybody," Manning said. "That's just the way it goes. But you can't have that affect you. You can't let that change the way you prepare, the way you play. I have to make better throws and better decisions and find ways to convert on third downs. That's the quarterback's job."
"We've just got to find a way to finish on third down and finish in the red zone," Barkley said. "We continue to start great, and as the season goes on, we've got to continue to have that in our back pocket. But we've just got to find a way to execute better and win games."