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Giants made the right call on final play despite crushing outcome



ORCHARD PARK — The Giants came ever-so-close to pulling off a massive upset — heck, they were more than a two-touchdown underdog — but ultimately could not get it done in Sunday night’s 14-9 loss to the Bills. It is almost impossible to win a game without scoring a touchdown and for all the good stuff the Giants finally put together in primetime, their all-too-familiar inability to put points on the board did them in.

Here are a few observations that came out of the Giants’ fifth loss in their six games this season:

— Go ahead and complain or second-guess the play-call at the end of the game. The Giants had the ball on the Buffalo 1-yard line with no time remaining, awarded one untimed play because of a pass interference penalty that occurred in the end zone as time expired. Give it to Saquon Barkley and let him get the yard and leave Orchard Park with a win! Yeah, the Giants could have gone with that but, really, when you look at what transpired in the game to that point, why should anyone have been confident the Giants could push the ball across the goal line from a yard out?

Saquon Barkley runs during the Giants’ loss to the Bills on Oct. 15, 2023.
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In the first quarter, Barkley lost two yards on a third-and-1 running play. On the final play of the first half, Barkley was stopped for no gain from the Bills’ 1-yard line. It was not as if the Giants offensive line was knocking anyone off the line of scrimmage on a regular basis. If the final play was a handoff to Barkley and he got stopped short there would have been complaints that the call was too predictable, too conservative or too ill-fated, based on the short-yardage results earlier in the game.

“As a competitor I would love the ball in that situation,” Barkley said.

Of course he did. That does not mean it would have been the right call.

There was nothing wrong with the play that offensive coordinator Mike Kafka sent in. A play-fake to Barkley and then have Tyrod Taylor throw a jump ball to Darren Waller, the 6-foot-6 tight end. Darius Slayton might also have been an option but he admitted that he slipped and thus was not a real target for Taylor. The Giants traded for Waller for moments like this. He could have been more forceful going up for the ball. He said as much, wondering if he was too involved in trying to get the smaller defender, cornerback Taron Johnson, off him, rather than give all his attention to going up and getting the ball. Taylor wanted to throw it as high as he could but the pass sailed a bit and glanced off Waller’s hand.

It is a great play if it hits and a “why didn’t they run it’’ discussion when it did not.

Giants tight end Darren Waller can’t haul in the pass on the final play of the game against the Bills.
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— Bobby Okereke did not get off to a blazing start to his Giants career but he is now on fire. He forced a fumble and deflected a pass into the hands of Micah McFadden for an interception off Josh Allen and is showing that the Giants envisioned when they signed him to a four-year contract worth $40 million. Okereke had the only two tackles for loss of the game for the Giants on defense, which is good for him and less-good for the unit as a whole. His outing bodes well for what comes next. The Giants need what Okereke brings to the field.

— Would the game have looked much different with Daniel Jones in at quarterback instead of Taylor? Well, the offense failed to score a touchdown on offense in three of the five games with Jones and did not score an offensive touchdown in the one game Taylor started. Taylor is more slippery in the pocket and he was able to avoid pressure long enough to get sacked only three times. Jones is the superior runner and he probably would have gained more than the 24 yards Taylor had on his five rushing attempts. Taylor was careful with the ball and threw it out of bounds rather than risk an interception. Jones might have taken a few more chances. No matter who was in at quarterback, failing to score a touchdown four times in six games is losing football.

“It’s something you definitely don’t want to have on your resume,” Waller said “That’s our current situation and we have to continue to find a solution and find a solution quick.”

Giants quarterback Tyrod Taylor tries to avoid the Bills’ Dorian Williams while throwing a pass.
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— If this game seems a bit funky to you, go with that feeling. It was all that, and more. The Giants had more rushing yards, passing yards, threw fewer interceptions, had fewer fumbles lost and fewer missed field goals than the Bills and still lost. This is the first time that has happened in a game in the Super Bowl era, according to OptaSTATS. Teams had been 134-0 in the regular season and postseason when accomplishing all this.

There’s more: The Giants outgained the Bills 317-297 and won the turnover battle 2-0. Since 2020, teams are 112-4 when doing what the Giants did but the Giants managed to lose this game anyway.

And more: The Giants have gone three consecutive games without an offensive touchdown for the first time since 1976, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

And one more: The Giants are the first team since the 2009 Raiders to have only two passing touchdowns through the first six games of a season. The Giants have gone four straight games without a passing touchdown for only the second time in the past 40 years — they also did this in 2020.

— Will the hits ever stop coming on the offensive line? Losing Josh Ezeudu, the fill-in left tackle, in the first quarter to a toe injury meant Justin Pugh, playing in his first game in one year coming off ACL surgery, had to move from left guard to left tackle, a spot he has not played on a regular basis in eight years. Pugh was much better after halftime and the plan in place definitely calls for him to be somewhere in the starting lineup, preferably at left guard, as the coaching staff views him as one of their best five starting options. It is likely Andrew Thomas (hamstring) needs another week before getting back to start at left tackle. Evan Neal at right tackle has stabilized his performance after a rocky opening to the season. Maybe the line is finally getting out of the funk that compromised too many games the first month of the season.

Giants tackle Josh Ezeudu is helped off the field by trainers after suffering an injury.
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The last time Pugh started a game at left tackle? Sept. 24, 2015, for the Giants against Washington. Pugh said he did not recall if he has ever taken a snap at left tackle since then. He played the past five seasons for the Cardinals.

— The Giants actually led in this game 3-0. You read that correctly. When they snapped the ball with 1:29 remaining in the first quarter, it was the first offensive play they ran all season when holding a lead.

— Barkley admitted he was rusty and said his cuts were too wide in his first game back from a high ankle sprain. As the game wore on, the better he got. Barkley ran six times for 61 yards in the fourth quarter, which is a good sign for him moving forward.

— Yards after the catch continue to elude the Giants. They cannot manufacture big plays in the passing game. Tyrod Taylor showed great touch on pass completions of 30 and 32 yards to Darius Slayton but the ball traveled in the air for most of those yards. Wan’Dale Robinsoin caught eight passes for only 62 yards — most of his receptions come with him sliding to the ground. Waller’s five catches went for only 43 yards. Barkley out of the backfield was non-productive, with four catches for only 5 yards. Rookie Jalin Hyatt was more involved but his three receptions accounted for only 21 yards. It is quite rare that the Giants make more out of a play than the play is designed to get.

— The Giants signed veterans A’Shawn Robinson and Rakeem Nunez-Roches to provide help in the run defense, as both in their previous NFL stops were considered to be strong run-stoppers. Neither player through six games has given the Giants what they expected.



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