It is time to play Let’s Get Ahead Of Ourselves.
The Giants are 1-0 and out in front of them are three consecutive home games. They face the Panthers (0-1 with Baker Mayfield), the Cowboys (0-1 and without injured Dak Prescott for the next six weeks) and then the Bears, 1-0 as upset winners over the 49ers in Week 1. This sets up a scenario that has not gone down for years: The Giants could come out of the first month of the season with a winning record.
This is the thought process when a team actually goes out and wins its opener. This is the thought process when a team like the Giants goes into Nashville and knocks off a solid club like the Titans, the No. 1 seed in the AFC in 2021. The Giants certainly were not dominant on defense and they were shut out on offense in the first half and yet they came back from a 13-0 deficit to win 21-20. The Giants do not have an imposing schedule but the head coaching debut of Brian Daboll, coming on the road against the Titans, appeared to be one of the most challenging games of the season.
The first week is always a breeding ground for over-analysis. Coming out of Nissan Stadium with a victory was somewhat astonishing for the Giants, considering how much room there is for improvement. They were not especially sharp on offense for most of the day, riding Saquon Barkley’s 164-yard rushing performance — the third-highest rushing total of his career — to overcome a pedestrian passing attack. Daniel Jones compiled a fine passer rating of 115.9 based mostly on his accuracy (17 of 21) but he rarely threw the ball down the field and he rarely converted on third down (the Giants were 2 of 10).
On defense, the Giants did just enough to get by and benefited from some uninspired play from Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who missed open receivers with several throws despite having plenty of time in the pocket. The Giants certainly will be challenged more forcefully later this season by more dangerous passing attacks.
The Giants know they can be better than this and they move on learning and growing off a victory, which is always a more desirable way to start off a program. That Daboll in his head coaching debut held things together after a rough offensive showing in the first half and then went for two points with his team down 20-19 with 1:06 remaining provided a storybook ending for a franchise that has lived a nightmare for so very long. Daboll gained his first victory and immeasurable credibility with his players. Giants fans no doubt approve, as well. Not a bad combination to take out of Week 1.
A few more thoughts coming out of the Giants’ first opening-day victory since 2016:
— Daboll giving it to Jones after Jones threw a sloppy interception in the end zone is just what the quarterback needs. Daboll likes Jones but did not draft Jones and thus does not feel overly protective of him the way previous Giants head coaches treated him. It really was not a big deal. Daboll walked over to Jones, who was sitting on the bench, and animatedly asked Jones what he saw on the play. Jones said he thought he could get the ball to Barkley for a back-shoulder catch and Daboll did not agree with that assessment.
“Obviously one I’d like to have back and a costly mistake down there,” Jones said. “So, I think he was just communicating that, and you’ve got to take advantage of those opportunities when we have points, and we’ll definitely look to clean that up.”
— One more on Jones: He has to get down and slide more smoothly. He slid awkwardly on the first series of the game and took too big of a hit. Having him run is part of the offense and he can do it well, but if he cannot protect himself he is going to get hurt. He has improved in deciding when to slide but he needs to be better at actually doing it.
— It actually is fairly amazing the Giants won this game, considering the production — or lack thereof — from what was supposed to be their top three wide receivers. Kenny Golladay (46 out of 60 snaps on offense) had only two catches for 22 yards. David Sills (27 snaps) had no catches or targets. Rookie Wan’Dale Robinson (nine snaps) had one catch for 5 yards before exiting in the second quarter with a knee injury. Kadarius Toney (seven snaps) was barely on the field. He finished with zero catches or targets and had two runs for 23 yards. If you had Richie James (42 snaps) on a prop bet for the most usage and most receptions and yards for a Giants receiver, you won. James, a former 49ers special teams player and spot receiver, caught five of the six passes sent his way for 59 yards. The only dynamic play by a receiver all game for the Giants was Sterling Shepard’s 65-yard touchdown catch and run in the third quarter. Shepard played 43 snaps in his first game back from surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon.
— More on Toney: Something is up. Either he has not convinced the coaching staff that he has a full grasp of the playbook or he is not right physically or it is something else. Maybe he did not practice well last week. Clearly, Daboll and the offensive staff is not viewing Toney’s draft status — first round, 2021 — as any sort of barometer for how much playing time he gets.
— Interesting handling of the left guard spot. Ben Bredeson made his second NFL start and played the first few series before he was replaced by rookie Josh Ezeudu. That’s the way it went all game. In and out. Bredeson had 32 snaps and Ezeudu had 28. On the final series in the fourth quarter touchdown drive, it was Ezeudu on the field.
— Sometimes good fortune has to smile down on you and that is what happened when Randy Bullock went wide left on a 47-yard field-goal try at the final buzzer that would have given the Titans the victory. That would have added to the last-second litany of woe the Giants have endured for far too long. Graham Gano, currently their own kicker, once nailed a 63-yard field goal for the Panthers in a wild victory over the Giants. Jake Elliott once hit a 61-yarder for the Eagles to beat the Giants. A Dustin Hopkins walk-off field goal for Washington beat the Giants and a Younghoe Koo field goal for the Falcons made the Giants last-second losers. The agony of the foot did not follow the Giants to Music City.
— Any “here we go again” feelings that may have started to percolate after the Giants took a one-point lead and the Titans drove for the potential game-winning field goal were dashed when Bullock missed. Rookie outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux, who did not play because of a knee injury, said he was so nervous watching the final seconds tick off on the sideline that he barely could breathe. After Bullock’s miss and the Giants started to celebrate, Thibodeaux said he let out an audible exhale and told Daboll, “I need a cigarette after that.”
— The Giants were down 14-13 entering the fourth quarter and won, ending a 10-game losing streak when they trailed after three quarters.
— “Quarterback friendly” is a description often used for Daboll’s offensive system. Seeing is believing. Jones completed 17 of 21 passes, hitting on a career-high 81 percent.
— There was only one sack for the Giants and rookie Tomon Fox got it in his NFL debut. Fox played 27 of the 65 snaps on defense. Four players — Julian Love, Xavier McKinney, Tae Crowder and Adoree’ Jackson — played every snap on defense and Aaron Robinson (62) came close.
— As the Titans were moving from their 30-yard line to the Giants’ 29, it was natural to think that “fourth quarter pass rush” was going to doom the Giants. They did not have it. Tannehill was given the time he needed to get down the field. The Giants had to survive defensive holding penalties on linebacker Austin Calitro and cornerback Darnay Holmes on the drive that gave the Titans first downs. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale wants to be aggressive in these situations — he blitzes more than anyone in the league — but he did not have Thibodeaux or Azeez Oljulari, his top two pass rushers, and without them the pressure created was negligible. This was almost a Wink Lite Giants debut. He will bring the heat more frequently when he has his two edge rushers on the field.
— There is always so much focus on the state of the offensive line. The good news for the Giants is that their young tackles, Andrew Thomas and Evan Neal, held up fine. It was on the interior where Jones felt most of his pressure. After a disjointed first half, with Jones sacked four times and Barkley running for 42 yards, the offensive line regrouped and played much stronger in the second half. Jones was sacked only once and Barkley gained 122 yards after halftime. This bodes well for a line that is expected to be more advanced in its ability to think through difficult situations and find solutions with greater frequency than lines of the recent past.
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