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Viewpoint Giants latest loss cruel, deflating

December 17, 2018

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — They were putrid. And while this could describe any number of games in recent seasons, there was something a little cruel and a lot deflating about the 17-0 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

The Giants offense was worse than the weather Sunday. With skies so foreboding and a cold rain relentlessly pelting MetLife Stadium, that seemed damn near impossible.

Still, the Giants did it. In the face of mounting optimism — some for the sliver of playoff hope, much for the momentum going forward — they were putrid. That’s what makes it a little cruel. And that’s what makes it a lot deflating.

“We didn’t do anything well enough to expect to win,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “We didn’t make plays. We didn’t run the ball. We didn’t stay on the field on offense. Getting penalties. On defense, they ran the ball. We didn’t tackle as well as we did in the last few weeks and there was extended drives for them.”

You can make an argument now that their four wins in five weeks was more of a mirage than some grand blueprint of success.

The 49ers are terrible. The Bucs are bad. The Bears are the NFC North champs, but the Giants beat their backup quarterback. The Redskins, using emergency quarterback Mark Sanchez, quit early and often last week.

That’s what is cruel about this first shutout loss since 2013. Yes, the playoffs are now officially dead for the sixth time in seven years. Running the table to go 8-8 and defying all odds to slip into the postseason was never more than an historic longshot. Yet more than that, hope had been dragged out unexpectedly, a little giddily, the past month. That hope, that optimism got stamped on hard.

And, you know what? This day was even more dismal than the previous paragraph.

“They stopped the run on early downs and the two times, three times we got drives going we either had negative plays or penalties or had something go wrong,” quarterback Eli Manning said. “They played well. And we didn’t.”

The issue had long been decided when Manning lined his offense up on a fourth down on the Titans’ 4 with 1:51 left. There was only a smattering of fans left when he tried to find tight end Evan Engram with a pass in the corner of the end zone. It wasn’t even close. This smelled of everything wrong during their 1-7 start. The boos were barely audible. Almost everyone had gone home.

The storylines leading into the game had taken an unmistakably optimistic tone. After his career-high 170-yard show against the Redskins, rookie Saquan Barkley had 1,124 yards and had vaulted into contention for the NFL rushing crown. He was averaging 135 yards a game the past month and getting some deserved roses thrown at his cleats.

The Giants need a quarterback of the future, but you don’t pass on a generational talent at No. 2 in the draft, right? This kid is special. This kid is dominant.

Well, Barkley ran 14 times for 31 yards in this game. The Titans did stuff defensively to deny Barkley space. His offensive line did Barkley few favors. The rain would scream to pound the ball. The Titans, who passed the ball only 21 times, ran 45 times. It would be Derrick Henry — not Barkley — who dominated.

After rushing for 474 yards in 12 games, the 247-pound bulldozer out of Alabama now has 408 yards in the past two. Henry followed up an epic performance of 238 yards and four touchdowns on only 17 carries against Jacksonville with 170 more yards on 33 carries.

The Giants ran the ball 16 times and that included a fake punt.

“They had a great game plan over there,” Barkley said. “Give credit where credit is due. They did a lot of different things, different movement to try to confuse us. We have to execute. That’s the moral of the story.”

“They had plenty of guys up in there,” said tackle Nate Solder. “Stemming the front, moving the front after the snap and then linebackers playing all over the place. I think (stopping) Barkley is everybody’s plan, honestly.”

The difference in the run/pass ratio between the teams was stark.

“We were struggling to stay on the field,” Shumur said. “Early in the game they defeated us up front a couple of times. We couldn’t get traction running the ball.

“We obviously attempted to run. We weren’t making enough yardage. And when we chose to pass it, we had drops and did things that couldn’t keep drives alive.”

Odell Beckham Jr. was out for a second game. That didn’t help. Yet it went far beyond that. The Giants were penalized 10 times. There were at least six dropped passes. Two turnovers in the third quarter by Eli (21 for 44 for 229 yards) killed any chance. Kevin Byard picked off his pass intended for Russell Shepard at the Tennessee 15. And when Manning was sacked and fumbled at the Giants’ 15 the Titans would make it 14-0 five players later.

Before the game, a report by NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport emerged that the Giants plan to bring Manning back for the 2019 season. This, according to Rapoport, would give the Giants time to have Eli, who’d be making $16.5 million next season, to groom a successor. At 1 p.m., it sounded pretty good. When it was over, critics were screaming, “Not so fast!”

The day was dismal. The game, equally dismal, took forever to play.

And when it was over, Shurmur was being asked about dressing Alex Tanney as his backup quarterback in place of rookie Kyle Lauletta, 0-for-5 with an interception last week. He was asked about using different combinations of players in the two meaningless games to come.

Shurmur didn’t have much of an answer.

His team had even less on a rainy Jersey field.

“It hurts,” Manning said.

jeff.jacobs@hearstmediact.com; @jeffjacobs123

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