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So many things around Daniel Jones are different this season. And yet, the most important thing seems to have stayed the same.
There are times when Jones plays well. Too often, though, he doesn’t. And he still has a knack for making a big mistake at the worst possible time.
That mistake felt all too familiar on Sunday, late in the third quarter. The Broncos had just scored to take a 10-point lead. The Giants offense kicked into gear and seemed to be responding. Then on first down from the Denver 22, Jones stepped out of a collapsing pocket and took off all the way to the Broncos 13-yard line.
And that’s where he fumbled the ball.
It was the Giants’ offense in a nutshell in their awful, 27-13 Opening Day loss. Just when things seemed to be going OK, something went wrong. And for the most part, they weren’t able to sustain many drives. That was a huge problem, because they didn’t have many drives, thanks in large part to their ever-bending defense. They needed to take advantage of their opportunities.
And they couldn’t. Not with Jones.
In the end, Jones’ numbers are what they always seem to be – game-manager-like. He completed 22 of 37 passes for 267 yards and touchdown. He avoided throwing an interception, though he nearly threw about three.
The numbers were fine. They were workmanlike. But he was supposed to be so much more than that with Saquon Barkley back and Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney and Kyle Rudolph added to his collection of weapons. He even got decent blocking from his much-maligned offensive line, and they still couldn’t really move the ball. And when they did, something went wrong – like the fumble, or his three incomplete passes from the Broncos' 7 one drive later.
There will be a lot of reasons for that and a lot of excuses. The defense will take a big hit for being unable to get off the field, and it will be deserved. And there’ll be a lot of talk about how much time Golladay, Toney, Rudolph, etc. all missed this summer, leading to a slow start that they warned everyone about.
But in the end, it’s hard to ignore this fact: The quarterback couldn’t make the big play when a big play was needed. And 13 points in this explosive offensive era – with six of them coming on a totally meaningless Jones run on the final play of the game -- is really inexcusable.
Jones simply didn’t do enough.
Here are some more takeaways from the Giants’ disappointing opener …
Don’t completely let the defense off the hook for this mess either. They were the strength of the team last year, but against the Broncos they just couldn’t get off the field. After forcing a punt on the first drive, the Giants gave up scoring drives on five of the next six. All of those drives went longer than 54 yards. Only one lasted fewer than seven plays, and that was only because Melvin Gordon had a 70-yard touchdown drive on play No. 4. The time of possession discrepancy was insane. The Broncos had the ball for 35:08. Give credit to Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, the former Giants coach who found all the seams and holes in the Giants’ defense, where there weren’t very many a year ago. He found a way to wear this Giants defense down.
Saquon Barkley, in his first game in nearly a year since he tore his ACL, got much more than a cameo appearance. He had 26 yards on 10 carries and caught a 1-yard pass. It appeared he was on the field for about 50 percent of the Giants’ offensive plays. He did not look nearly like himself. There wasn’t a lot of explosion. Obviously no big plays. But just getting out there and playing so much was a huge accomplishment for him.
The Broncos have a dangerous receiving corps, but given how strong the Giants’ secondary is supposed to be, it was surprising – and alarming – how they were carved up. Jerry Jeudy caught six passes for 72 yards before leaving with an ankle injury. Tim Patrick had four catches for 39 yards and a touchdown. KJ Hamler caught 3 for 41 – and dropped a 50-yard touchdown in the third quarter when he burned Giants CB Adoree’ Jackson on a pass that hit him right in the hands and chest. Broncos QB Teddy Bridgewater was 28 of 36 for 264 yards and the Broncos really pulled in the reins in the second half.
The Giants’ offensive line wasn’t bad, though it did have a few issues late in the game. Considering how bad the starters looked in the preseason, though, this was good. They gave Jones a lot of time in the pocket. He was only sacked twice – both times by Von Miller. So his inability to make the necessary plays and move the offense certainly wasn’t on them.
Kenny Golladay may be the Giants’ No. 1 receiver in theory, but Sterling Shepard had the best summer, and since Golladay missed all that time with an injury, Shepard is likely to emerge as Jones’ favorite receiver – at least at the start. This summer he looked faster than usual, and he showed that when he took a short pass from Jones in the second quarter, tight-roped the sideline, and took off for a 37-yard touchdown. It was one of Shepard’s most impressive plays in quite some time. And he finished with seven catches for 113 yards.
Golladay, by the way, wasn't really a player until the fourth quarter. But in that quarter he showed a bit of why the Giants like him so much. CB Ronald Darby nearly picked off Jones in the red zone, but Golladay muscled the ball away from him and hung on for the catch. A few plays later, he kept a drive alive by drawing a pass interference call, too. And he made a couple of great, reaching catches to show why Jones is going to want to target him more in the future. Golladay finished with four catches for 64 yards.
It was only 10-7 at halftime, but it could’ve been worse if it weren’t for a great play by safety Logan Ryan. On a pass to TE Albert Okwuegbunam that looked like it would at the very least set the Broncos up with a first and goal and the Giants’ three-yard line, Ryan caught him from behind and somehow not only forced a fumble, but recovered it just before his knee went out of bounds. It would’ve been an even bigger play if the Giants’ offense didn’t respond by going three and out.
A real odd “rookie” mistake by Giants coach Joe Judge on a touchdown pass from Bridgewater to Okwuegbunam, who he apparently thought stepped out of bounds before he dove and hit the pylon with the football. Judge threw the challenge flag. But coaches can not challenge scoring plays, since they are automatically reviewed. The cost of that mistake: A timeout. I wonder if Judge was goaded into throwing the flag by the crowd’s reaction to the replay – something he wouldn’t have had to deal with last year.