EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - Tom Coughlin will never be happy after a loss, especially one in which the Giants committed the kind of egregious errors that doomed them to a 28-18 preseason loss to the Jets Saturday night in the MetLife Bowl.
The miscues included an interception and a punt return that were returned for touchdowns by the Jets, who also scored on a screen pass because the Giants had no defender anywhere close to the receiver, running back Zac Stacy. That's 21 too-easy points for the Jets.
"Not real complicated," was Coughlin's initial analysis of the defeat, which left the Giants 1-2 this preseason.
The starting offense, which has had difficulty getting untracked this month, did little on four of its five first-half possessions (totaling 32 net yards, not including a last–play kneel-down). But it was that other series that highlighted the coach's evening and gave him hope for a brighter future.
Taking possession on their own 15 following a punt, the Giants moved 85 yards in 14 plays, capped by Rashad Jennings' one-yard touchdown run. It was the Giants' first touchdown in three games with Eli Manning on the field.
"Oh, I liked the drive," Coughlin said. "I thought the drive was outstanding. I thought there were big plays made. There was consistency in terms of picking up first downs when we had to and we had a couple of penalties. But that was a good drive, a good football drive, and it really was encouraging for me."
The Giants worked without a huddle, as they did for most of the game. Jennings had eight carries for 26 yards. Manning completed all five of his passes for 42 yards, the longest a 19-yarder to Shane Vereen. His three incompletions were nullified by Jets penalties. The Giants picked up six first downs on the march.
So what made that possession different than all the others?
"We just made some plays," Manning said. "Thought we got it in third and manageable situations. Had a couple of nice third-down conversions, some short passes that went a long way. When it came on a little live route, worked some tackles, had a good run with Rashad. Had completions and so that's just the way it's supposed to be done."
Manning threw to Preston Parker for five yards on third-and-four and to Odell Beckham Jr. for eight yards on third-and-three. Jennings picked up a first down on a 12-yard run to the left side. On the touchdown, he ran right and took advantage of blocks by Geoff Schwartz and Marshall Newhouse.
"We converted some first downs," Coughlin said. "There weren't a lot of long chunks. We converted some first downs and kept the play alive. We executed well."
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For the players who have worked hard to do that, the drive provided evidence of what the offense can produce.
"That's the drive we went from playing checkers to playing chess," Jennings said. "After we settled in and got a first down, we were able to get into a rhythm, get into a situation where we could change consistency, run the ball, make sure we're fast and run. That 14-play drive is what this offense needed. We can look on tape, build off of this, see what we were doing right and mindfully clean up the chemistry of the offensive line, running backs, quarterbacks, receivers, everything. We took a step forward, but the self-inflicted wounds, that can't happen."
"We ran the ball," Schwartz said. "It's very important in an offense. When you run the ball successfully, the passing game opens up. It's not a surprise. So I think we just hunkered down there and ran the ball well. We need to continue doing that. It needs to be part of our offense. Going forward, when we get out there next week, and Week 1, we need to start running the ball. However that happens, we've got to make it happen."
The offense had two chances late in the half to build on its success, but came up short.
After Stacy's touchdown, they took possession with 2:43 remaining at their own 24. But Manning's third-down pass to Beckham fell incomplete and the Giants punted.
After forcing the Jets to do the same, the Giants got the ball at their own 42 with 57 seconds left. But on second down from the Jets 47 – with 19 seconds left and no time remaining – Manning's pass for James Jones was
picked off by Antonio Cromartie, who returned it 59 yards for a touchdown.
"We had the ball twice in the two-minute," Coughlin said. "I thought for sure that this was a great opportunity for us, not only to work on the two-minute, but to be in a game situation while we're doing it. So I was disappointed."
That feeling was hard to escape after Walter Powell returned a punt 54 yards for a touchdown, and Cromartie and Stacy scored on plays in which the Giants could certainly have performed better.
"You give two scores away like that," Coughlin said, "and it's going to be most difficult to win in this league any time."
And not even an 85-yard scoring drive can change that.
Photos from the Giants Preseason Week 3 matchup with the Jets