EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – After a wonderful first two games as the starting quarterback of the Giants, Daniel Jones got a taste of what Eli Manning had to endure over most of the previous six years:
Life as a quarterback on a bad team.
There was pretty much nothing Jones could do with a depleted rushing attack behind him, a struggling offensive line in front of him, and a porous defense on the other side – all things that should feel very, very familiar to his current backup. He was 21 of 38 for 182 yards, which isn’t exactly good, but also was about what was expected considering he was making his third NFL start and was facing the NFL’s sixth-ranked defense (and maybe the league’s best secondary).
The end result was a bad, 28-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. But give Jones credit for this: He was facing the best defense he’s seen yet and he hardly seemed rattled by it. He didn’t make any major mistakes. He threw only one interception, and didn’t throw that one until there were about three minutes left in the game. He took a few shots downfield and didn’t start throwing the ball away or dumping it off constantly despite a pretty fierce pass rush.
And he had to do it with absolutely no semblance of a rushing attack. He entered the game without Saquon Barkley, and then lost Wayne Gallman to a concussion on the first drive. That took any threat of the running game out of his offense, and his offensive line clearly couldn’t handle the onslaught from the Vikings defense after that.
And his defense … oh, the defense. It reverted back to its original, early-season form and made the Vikings look like the 1980s 49ers. Somehow Minnesota’s struggling quarterback, Kirk Cousins, was nearly perfect, completing 22 of 27 passes for 306 yards and two touchdowns.
Still, despite all that, Jones was an OK 7 of 12 for 72 yards in the first half. And trailing 18-7, he got the Giants back in the game on the opening drive of the second half, marching them right down the field, going 7 of 9 for 49 yards along the way. He actually led them to a field goal that came off the board thanks to an unnecessary roughness penalty on the Vikings that gave the Giants another shot at the end zone.
But that’s where he was overcome by the flaws of this team. The Giants couldn’t even try to run inside the red zone, so thanks to the leaky line they ended up moving backwards. They did get a field goal out of it, but they ran eight in the red zone just to get those three points. That’s what happens when a team has no running game and the pass rush can just unload – especially against a rookie quarterback.
Right now, to win with this team, Jones needs to either find the magic he found in the second half of his debut against Tampa, or face an opponent as hapless as the Redskins. Against the better teams in the league, he can’t play like a regular rookie still finding his way.
The team around him just isn’t good enough for that.
A few more takeaways from the Giants’ third loss of the season …
• With both Alec Ogletree (hamstring) and Lorenzo Carter (neck) out, and Ryan Connelly (knee) on IR, the Giants were woefully thin at linebacker. They had to start Nate Stuper and David Mayo on the inside and Oshane Ximines on the outside. So it was no wonder that the Vikings shoved them around with up-the-middle runs, mid-range passes and screens. And those were made worse (for the Giants) as receivers and running backs kept cutting back across the field for big gains. The total damage was a ridiculous 490 yards. That’s a gaping hole in the middle of the field that’s going to be harder for the Giants to plug against better offensive teams.
• Even that’s not a good enough excuse for what the Vikings did to the Giants. They scrapped their run-heavy approach and shook off their passing game struggles so much that Kirk Cousins threw for 278 yards in the first half alone. He had gone nine straight games without throwing for more than 253 yards dating back to last Nov. 25.
• With Saquon Barkley (high ankle sprain) unable to make it back for this game, the last thing the Giants needed was an injury to another running back. So it was a big blow when Wayne Gallman suffered a concussion on their first drive. That left the Giants with rookie Jon HIlliman (nine carries, 20 yards) and fullback Eli Penny (3-15) and that obviously didn’t work out so well. The Giants are going to need to sign a running back this week, and that’s a problem considering their next game is four days away (in New England).
• The best and most valuable part of Jones’ game remains his mobility. Another example of that: The Giants’ second drive of the game was about to die on 3rd and 5 from the 45 when the pocket collapsed around him. He not only took off, but he put a move on a linebacker and accelerated for an eight-yard gain and a first down. Two plays later he gets some protection and throws a beautiful, 35-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Darius Slayton.
• The Giants always thought they had a steal in Slayton, their fifth-round pick, and it was a huge loss when he had to deal with a hamstring injury for most of the summer and the early part of the season. But he’s back now and starting to show why the Giants liked him so much. His acceleration at the end of his 35-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter to get just enough separation was very impressive. Slayton (4-62-1) could be the deep threat Jones needs.
• Rookie CB Corey Ballentine, the Giants’ sixth-round pick, has impressed ever since he arrived, making plays any time he’s gotten in on defense. But he’s also beginning to show his value as a kick returner. His 52-yarder in the second quarter, in which he took the ball out of the end zone – something the Giants rarely seem to do – got the Giants to mid-field and set up their first touchdown.
• S Jabrill Peppers continued his outstanding play after his breakout game a week ago against Washington. He was by far the most active defender, and he proved it late in the first half when he had what could have been a game-changing play. Vikings RB Dalvin Cook darted through the defense and appeared to be on his way for a 24-yard touchdown run when Peppers caught up and chopped at his arm from behind. That saved a touchdown and forced a fumble that the Giants recovered at the 1. If only they didn’t give up a safety on the very next play.
• This was not the best game for the Giants’ offensive line. Jones took a beating early on, including taking perhaps the two most brutal hits he had taken in his young career. One of them came just as he threw in the second quarter, causing him to just miss a wide-open Sterling Shepard deep on what would have been a 57-yard touchdown pass. He was only sacked four times, but it sure felt like a lot more. Their worst moment, though, came when they were backed up on their own 1 late in the first half and they let enough pressure through for the Vikings to tackle Hilliman for a safety.