Handed another lopsided loss, Giants’ reality is they’re far from team they hoped to be

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — There was a point in Thursday night’s game that it was possible to draw some encouragement from an undermanned Giants team fighting a loaded 49ers roster. The Giants had scrapped and clawed their way to within one score, 17-12, early in the third quarter.

It felt like the same script the overachieving Giants followed last season, when they’d hang around with teams just long enough to steal a victory. But there has been little magic in this year’s version of the Giants.

The 49ers scored the next 13 points to pull away for a comfortable 30-12 win. The box score illustrated San Francisco’s dominance: A 441-150 edge in total yards; a 26-10 advantage in first downs; a 39:10-20:50 difference in time of possession.

Yes, the Giants were without running back Saquon Barkley (ankle) and left tackle Andrew Thomas (hamstring), as well as left guard Ben Bredeson (concussion) and outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari (hamstring). But for the second time in three weeks, the Giants were dealt a sobering reminder that they haven’t closed the gap on the NFC’s elite teams.

Aside from an inspired second-half comeback win over the Cardinals in Week 2, the Giants have been thoroughly outclassed this season. They’ve been out-scored 70-12 in their two losses to the Cowboys and 49ers. These types of lopsided games weren’t supposed to happen to a Giants team that made major investments to upgrade the roster that got pummeled 38-7 by the Eagles in the NFC Divisional Round last season.

“It’s been a lot of football that we don’t feel like is reflective of our best and what we’re capable of and we feel like the fans deserve, the organization deserves,” tight end Darren Waller said.

The Giants have time to lick their wounds after playing two road games in a five-day stretch. Their next game is a Monday Night Football matchup with the Seahawks on Oct. 2. That’s a pivotal game with trips to Miami and Buffalo after that.

“Two games in five days is tough for anyone,” Waller said. “We can start game-planning for the Seahawks and take care of winning at home. That’s something we didn’t do in Week 1. I feel like that’s a good way to build some momentum.”

Here are three takeaways from the loss:

Completely hopeless

A makeshift offensive line against one of the most formidable pass rushes in the NFL wasn’t a recipe for success. The Giants were completely hopeless with an offensive attack reliant on max protection just to complete short passes.

Quarterback Daniel Jones completed 22-of-32 passes for just 137 yards — a minuscule 4.3 yards per attempt. Jones completed just 2-of-7 passes that traveled more than 10 yards in the air. His completions traveled an average of 3.7 yards in the air.

On the rare instances the Giants had opportunities downfield, Jones and his receivers couldn’t connect. Waller, who made just three catches for 20 yards, dropped a slant late in the first half that would have been a big gain. The Giants eventually settled for a field goal to cut their deficit to 17-6 at halftime.

The Giants’ last gasp came early in the fourth quarter when Jones air-mailed a crossing route to an open Waller from a clean pocket on third-and-11. Trailing 23-12 at the time, the Giants were forced to punt, and San Francisco promptly drove for a touchdown to seal the game.

“I think it was a little bit high,” coach Brian Daboll said “It was over-thrown.”

Jones was only sacked twice, but that was because the Giants’ entire game plan centered around neutralizing San Francisco’s ferocious pass rush. The Giants kept tight end Daniel Bellinger in to block on nearly every pass play. Sometimes, they kept Waller in as well. On some plays, the Giants triple-teamed 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa, and the reigning NFL defensive player of the year still broke through to pressure Jones.

“He’s a once-in-a-generation player,” running back Matt Breida said. “He caused problems, so we did the best we can to neutralize him. I think the next time we play him we’ll have a better game plan.”

This matchup didn’t lend itself to deep shots for wide receiver Jalin Hyatt, who dazzled with two catches for 89 yards in Week 2. Hyatt, who remains fourth in the wide receiver pecking order, didn’t have a target on Thursday. He got wide-open once on a deep route in the second quarter, but Jones didn’t see him as he fled the pocket and threw the ball away.

“We called a fair amount of (deep shots),” Daboll said. “A couple of times we had them, and the protection leaked. They covered them. It was a delicate balance with that defensive line that they’ve got. You’ve got to decide how many guys you keep in to help out the protection to make sure you can get off more vertical routes versus getting it out a little quicker.”

Jones’ night ended with an interception on a slant intended for Waller. The pass arrived at the same time as 49ers cornerback Charvarius Ward, and the ball popped up in the air before it was snatched by safety Talanoa Hufanga. It was the fourth interception of the season for Jones, who threw five last season. Three of Jones’ interceptions have come on tipped balls.

The passing struggles weren’t a surprise considering Jones was playing behind an offensive line that featured three different players from the season opener. But it was surprising Jones’ legs weren’t more of a weapon. He had just two carries for five yards against a 49ers defense that keeps its eyes on the quarterback in zone coverage and closes to the ball in a flash.

“I was surprised that they didn’t use more schemed-up quarterback runs on us,” 49ers linebacker Fred Warner said. “Maybe they were just trying to protect him. Obviously, you’re giving your quarterback up to get hit if he’s carrying the ball.”

The Giants didn’t even attempt a conventional run game with Barkley sidelined. Breida had four carries for 17 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Gary Brightwell had four carries for 5 yards. Rookie Eric Gray didn’t have a carry.

Brightwell had the Giants’ biggest play from scrimmage on their opening drive with an 18-yard catch after Jones bought time in the pocket (the Giants only had 10 players on the field for the play again). But he also had a killer drop later in the drive that forced the Giants to settle for a field goal.

Daboll continued to sound hopeful on Barkley’s potential availability for a quick return, but the running back’s revelation to Amazon that he suffered a high-ankle sprain could extend his timeline.

Going down swinging

Wink Martindale clearly decided if he was going down, he was going down swinging. The blitz-happy defensive coordinator sent extra rushers after Purdy on 33-of-39 dropbacks. That 84.6 percent blitz rate is the highest ever recorded by Next Gen Stats.

The aggressive approach was successful in making Purdy uncomfortable, but 49ers play caller Kyle Shanahan dialed up effective counters. The 49ers converted a pair of back-breaking third-and-longs on screens on a second-quarter touchdown drive. The 49ers converted 7-of-10 third downs in the first half. Purdy completed 25-of-37 passes for 310 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

“We didn’t execute,” cornerback Adoree’ Jackson said. “We didn’t tackle well. That was just it. We had them in third-and-long situations. We just didn’t tackle. We didn’t execute our assignments.”

Pairing the Giants’ poor tackling with the 49ers’ dynamic skill players was a recipe for disaster. Tackling wide receiver Deebo Samuel (six catches, 129 yards, one touchdown) and tight end George Kittle (seven catches for 90 yards) is like wrestling alligators, and the Giants weren’t up for the challenge. The 49ers gained 215 of their 310 passing yards after the catch.

The Giants managed their first two sacks of the season. Kayvon Thibodeaux finished a pressure by defensive lineman DJ Davidson on the game’s opening drive, and Davidson and defensive lineman Leonard Williams teamed up for a sack in the third quarter.

The Giants still don’t have a takeaway this season despite Purdy seemingly trying to throw interceptions early. Kittle should get credited with a pass breakup for knocking down a pass that was sailing directly toward Jackson on the opening drive. Rookie cornerback Deonte Banks had an interception go through his hands in the end zone later in the drive, which ended in a field goal.

The play that best summed up the different fortunes of the teams came late in the second quarter when Jackson broke on a pass and the ball got deflected into the air. That type of play almost always ends in an interception, but instead, 49ers wide receiver Ronnie Bell corralled it for a 15-yard gain.

A few drives were extended by costly penalties, including a dubious illegal contact flag on Thibodeaux in the red zone in the third quarter. The Giants still limited the 49ers to a field goal on that drive. A bright spot was their red-zone defense, as the 49ers only scored touchdowns on two of their five drives inside the 20-yard line.

Inside linebacker Micah McFadden played the game of his life, recording a team-high 10 tackles. McFadden had four tackles for a loss and an impressive pass breakup on a wheel route to 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey at the goal line.

Injury update

Giants wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson returned to the lineup 10 months after tearing his ACL. Robinson had four catches for 21 yards, including a first-down grab on third-and-4 on the Giants’ first drive. Robinson was on a pitch count in his debut, but his workload should continue to increase.

Banks left before halftime after getting kneed in the upper arm. The rookie said he was scheduled to get an MRI on Friday. Banks has now failed to finish two of his first three games, as he left the opener just before halftime with cramps.


(Top photo: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

“The Football 100,” the definitive ranking of the NFL’s best 100 players of all time, goes on sale this fall. Preorder it here.

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