There was nothing historic or hysterical about how and why the Giants lost. Nothing overly dramatic and certainly nothing shocking or even mildly surprising.
Two teams with matching but far from identical 2-2 records met Sunday at MetLife Stadium and the outcome was in keeping with what we know about them.
The Giants have a rookie quarterback, do not have their superstar running back and still have a suspect defense. The Vikings are a bona fide NFC contender with a diverse offensive attack and a dreamy defense that caused all sorts of nightmares for Jones and Co.
It was all fairly routine and orderly and in the end, the Giants were outclassed and beaten 28-10 and are in real and obvious danger of sliding, with a trip to Foxborough, Mass., up next for a Thursday night game with the unbeaten Patriots.
Just like that, a two-game winning streak with Jones as the starter is gone and the specter of a two-game losing streak is only four days away.
“There’s no worry, there’s no doubt,’’ tight end Evan Engram said. “We put the work in, we believe in each other. There’s no doubt in our minds we can go up there and compete with that team and get a win.’’
Staying within hailing distance of the Patriots will be impossible unless the Giants sharply upgrade their performance. Jones struggled against the most formidable defense he’s faced, hanging in despite pressure (four sacks) and with no rushing attack to lean on, playing without Saquon Barkley and, after the first quarter, without fill-in starter Wayne Gallman, forced out with a concussion. Six Giants offensive series ended in Minnesota territory and the sum-total of all the work to get there was 10 points.
“Not good enough,’’ Jones said. “I have to be better.’’
Remember all that talk leading into the game about how ineffective and dysfunctional the Vikings’ passing attack was? The Giants cured all the ills. Kirk Cousins connected on 22 of his 27 throws. Adam Thielen caught two touchdown passes. With the passing game knocking the Giants off stride, Dalvin Cook ran for 85 of his 132 yards in the second half.
Think of the Giants defense as the paper and the Vikings’ offense as the shredding machine.
“Shoot, they ran the ball and passed the ball,’’ cornerback Grant Haley said. “It’s hard to stop when they have both things in their pocket.’’
Cousins absolutely obliterated the soft interior of the Giants pass defense, feasting on the openings created by injuries and absences to the three top inside linebackers. Cousins rolled out to give himself time and space, the Vikings ran shallow crossing routes all day and the Giants had no answers in coverage using three backup linebackers (David Mayo, Nate Stupar and rookie Josiah Tauaefa).
The only points for the Giants in the first half came on a pinpoint Jones throw to another rookie, Darius Slayton, on a 35-yard scoring hookup in the second quarter.
Gallman’s departure left the Giants with one running back: undrafted rookie John Hilliman.
The worst moment came late in the second quarter, after Jabrill Peppers saved a touchdown by clubbing the ball out of the grasp of Cook for a fumble on the Giants 5-yard line that was recovered by Tuzar Skipper on the 1-yard line. Coach Pat Shurmur needed to get some breathing room for his offense and he opted for a handoff to Hilliman a few yards deep in the end zone. The play had no chance, as Hilliman was dropped in the end zone by Anthony Barr for a safety and a 15-7 Vikings lead.
“You have to not make a bad play worse,’’ Hilliman said. “That’s what I was thinking. Hold onto the ball, take your lumps. I’d rather give up two than six.’’
Shurmur sounded incredulous that his play-call was a talking point.
“Other than run the ball? We could have thrown it,’’ Shurmur said. “It was a run play that, in hindsight, we didn’t execute it well enough and we gave up a safety.
That’s two points, you move on. We got beat by what, 18? That was a bad play on our part, we have to clean it up and move on.’’
Engram described giving up a safety as “a momentum-killer.’’
The Vikings got the ball back after the free kick and it took a goal-line stand to limit the damage to a field goal as the Giants went in at halftime trailing 18-7. The closest the Giants pulled was within 18-10 midway through the third quarter, but Cook ran for 41 yards and Thielen beat rookie DeAndre Baker with a leaping grab in the back of the end zone. The deficit was 25-10 and that was that.
This was a step up for the Giants, but Shurmur was not having any of that.
“It’s not going to change my sleep pattern knowing we played against a good defense,’’ he said. “That’s a bulls–t mentality. We’re out there to win games, regardless of how good the team is.’’