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Anyone wondering what this new-and-improved version of the Giants would look like coming off a rousing upset victory can stop wondering and start worrying about the new-and-improved part.
“I don’t think we had any kind of a hangover from going out to Seattle last week,’’ head coach Joe Judge said. “I don’t think that’s the cause of it right here. We simply didn’t come out and coach well enough and we didn’t play well enough. That’s the hard truth of it.’’
The truth hurts.
Nothing lasts forever, but the Giants did not even come close to extending their four-game winning streak on a balmy December Sunday at MetLife Stadium. And now they add a new problem to their stretch run: Will Daniel Jones be healthy enough to be counted on?
A wholly ineffective offense, with the return of Jones a complete dud, left the defense in terrible trouble during the first half. It was too much to overcome as the Giants went down meekly, 26-7, dominated by the visiting Cardinals.
After all the excitement the Giants generated the past month, this was a severe downer. After all those close games this season, this was a one-sided affair. After slaying the Seahawks last week with Colt McCoy subbing for Jones, the Giants crashed back to reality. Jones labored with his strained right hamstring, looking like a statue, and the Giants often looking like stiffs.
“I don’t think it was overconfidence,’’ linebacker Blake Martinez said. “We did not play collectively as a team and when you don’t do that, it’s hard to win.’’
This was a debilitating loss for the Giants (5-8) as far as holding onto their slim first-place lead in the NFC East. This likely makes it imperative they come up with a way to upset the Browns or Ravens in the coming weeks in order to make their regular-season finale against the Cowboys a meaningful experience, as far as postseason aspirations.
If Jones’ clearly not-yet-healed strained right hamstring does not dramatically improve, soon, the Giants will be hard-pressed to beat anyone.
“No, I have no regrets playing him — we made a calculated decision based on what we thought he could do as a player,’’ Judge said.
“No, I don’t regret it,’’ Jones said. “I felt good enough to play and felt I could do everything I needed to do and I did throughout the game.’’
Two weeks after hurting his hamstring in Cincinnati, Jones was back at it, and it was an ugly return. He did not run with the ball even once, a first in his career, robbing the Giants of a key part of their offensive arsenal. Jones (11 of 21, 127 yards) came in with 10 consecutive quarters without a turnover, but lost a fumble in the first quarter on a sack by former teammate Markus Golden. Jones finished with three fumbles (he lost one of them).
Jones was sacked six times and was pulled with 2:34 remaining, replaced by McCoy, who was sacked on his first play. The Giants allowed eight sacks and rushed for only 78 yards. They set offensive football back with only 10 first downs and 159 total yards. They were decimated in time of possession (37:52 to 22:08).
“I think I wasn’t able to run like I normally am, but I felt good during the game,’’ Jones said. “I’m not sure it hampered too much.’’
Jones looked to be limping badly late in the fourth quarter, perhaps favoring his left leg. He said he did not re-injure himself.
“I got to do a good job of healing it up, dealing with the hammy and general bumps and bruises from playing the game,’’ Jones said.
Judge admitted he thought earlier in the game about benching Jones, not based on injury concern but to add a spark to the offense.
The Cardinals (7-6) came in on a three-game losing streak and put the hammer down on their opening series of the second half, moving 77 yards on 11 plays, fueled by a 36-yard run by Kenyan Drake. When Drake leaped in for a touchdown from one yard out, it was 20-0 and the Giants were in serious trouble.
Cardinals linebacker Haason Reddick was a one-man wrecking crew with five sacks and three forced fumbles, dominating rookie left tackle Andrew Thomas.
Down by 20, the Giants finally broke through in the third quarter. Jones hit leaping Golden Tate for 39 yards, setting up Dion Lewis’ 1-yard touchdown run to make it 20-7. That was it, though.
The defense suing the offense for lack of support was warranted. Throw in another lawsuit against the special teams. The Cardinals in the first half started their offensive possessions on the Giants’ 9-yard line, the Giants’ 36, the Cardinals’ 8, the Cardinals’ 47, the Giants’ 21 and the Cardinals’ 20. It was as if the field was tilted.
The Cardinals got 10 points on two Giants turnovers — including their first touchdown after Lewis fumbled on a kickoff return.
“It’s extremely disappointing for all of us,’’ Jones said, “to play like that.’’