FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Give the Giants this: There was so much they were unable to put on the field Thursday night, but never once did any of them ever mention Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard or Evan Engram.
The three most potent offensive players on the roster were all left home, injured and not on this trip to Gillette Stadium to face the top defense in the NFL. The absences were felt and far too much for Daniel Jones to overcome, as the rookie quarterback struggled mightily and failed his first prime-time test.
This was not a walkover and not an easy night’s work for the Patriots, but the Giants, despite some of the most disruptive defensive work they’ve shown this season, did not have nearly enough to avoid a 35-14 loss that felt closer as the Patriots scored the final 21 points and remained undefeated, even though Tom Brady had to sweat once in a while.
It sure looked like it could be something to build on but there was no solace taken by any of them, not coach Pat Shurmur nor his players.
“No, no, I don’t,’’ Shurmur said. “I don’t. We didn’t win. We didn’t make enough plays. That’s what this is about.’’
This is also about Jones’ development and the lessons learned after tangling for the first time in his career against a Bill Belichick defense.
Jones threw three interceptions and led only one scoring drive, tossing a 64-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate. Jones without Barkley and his backup, Wayne Gallman (out with a concussion), had no running game to lean on. Still, the Giants were within 21-14 and Brady had not yet put them away. Jon Hilliman, an undrafted rookie thrust into a starting role, was hit by Jamie Collins after a short reception and fumbled. Kyle Van Noy picked up the loose ball and ran 22 yards, diving past a chasing Jones, to the pylon for the game-sealing touchdown with 8:33 remaining.
“Just turned around, his head was on the ball, it just can’t happen,’’ Hilliman said. “It was a winnable game. Got to hold onto the ball, period.’’
It ultimately was an un-winnable game because the Giants gave up their first Patriots touchdown on a blocked punt and Jones all-but handed the Patriots a touchdown in the second quarter. He tried to throw the ball away but his right arm was hit by Danny Shelton and the pass floated in the breeze and was intercepted by Duron Harmon. That gave the Patriots the ball on the Giants 20-yard-line and soon enough, Brandon Bolden scored from a yard out and it was 14-0.
“I think I didn’t play well by any means, but I don’t think it was overwhelming,’’ Jones said. “I think it was just bad plays, bad decisions.’’
The numbers for Jones were ugly: 15 of 30 for 161 yards, three interceptions and one touchdown for a passer rating of 37.6. The Giants gained just 52 yards on the ground.
“Gritty,’’ Shurmur said of Jones’ performance. “I mean, there’s a couple of plays there that — I mean, there were a handful of bad plays in there. But that happens and I’m sure we will clean those up as we go along.’’
Down 21-14, the Giants (2-4) opened up the third quarter with their best drive of the night. Jones completed three passes and had his team on the Patriots 30-yard-line before he threw to tight end Rhett Ellison but instead hit cornerback Stephon Gilmore for Jones’ third interception.
Down 14-0 despite a determined defensive effort, the Giants were on the verge of falling by the wayside. Jones connected with Tate to get the Giants on the board. Incredibly, it was the first touchdown pass against the Patriots all season.
Less than two minutes later, Lorenzo Carter was screaming around the edge, overpowering tight end Ryan Izzo and making like Osi Umenyiora with a strip-sack of Brady. The loose ball was scooped up by Markus Golden and returned 42 yards for a touchdown to, shockingly, pull the Giants even late in the second quarter.
“The energy was high, everybody was excited,’’ Golden said. “I was determined to score just so we could have a little bit of momentum. I wish we could have been able to pull it off.’’
The Giants did not have enough to pull it off. Brady finished off an 11-play, 75-yard drive with a sneak for a touchdown and the Patriots took a 21-14 lead into halftime. The Giants did not score in the second half.
“We’re definitely excited to get those guys back,’’ Tate said, referring to Barkley, Engram and Shepard. “We need all the firepower we can get. I look back at that game, we just screw it up more times than they did, simple as that. We were right in that game for most of it. We had a chance to upset them on their own turf but there were times we could not get out of our own way. Against good teams it’s going to be hard to win.’’