NY Giants: 5 takeaways from Sunday's devastating 37-34 loss to the Dallas Cowboys
In that one moment, Joe Judge was the ultimate symbol of a franchise.
The Giants' first-year head coach slammed his headset to the turf in disgust at the sight of the penalty flag that took a touchdown for his team off the board. The play design was phenomenally simple, and the Cowboys failed to cover Evan Engram, who lined up on the right side perimeter for a field goal attempt that turned out to be a fake.
There was an illegal shift - called on Nick Gates, more likely on Cam Fleming or maybe something else, it was not definitive - so holder Riley Dixon's touchdown pass to Engram went for naught, and Judge exploded.
Frustration. Anger. Incredible disappointment.
It's as if Judge knew the Cowboys were going to hit the Giants with their version of the Philly Special only 35 seconds remaining for a gut punch of a touchdown.
At 0-5, there's no escaping any of it.
"To be honest with you, I was mad at our execution that took points off the board. That was it, point blank," said Judge, who pulled his face covering down just long enough to let out a few expletive-laced primal screams from the sideline. "You prepare for something like that, you call it at a certain time, it came up, you want to see it work. We’ve got to clean that up."
Here are five takeaways from the heartbreaking defeat to the Cowboys that left the Giants winless:
Struggles despite progress
Progress without tangible results on the scoreboard should not be enough to satisfy the Giants, but that's where they are right now. The record is not what anyone in the organization wants it to be, and as a coach, Judge is well aware that this is a business about results.
The Giants hired the 38-year-old coach for the vision and the rebuild he sold them on.
"Well, that’s all that really matters, to be honest with you: the progress that we’re making right now," Judge said. "The record will come in time. Obviously, we’re not happy about losses, that’s not what we do here, but I’ve seen a lot of progress on all fronts and all units. We have to keep making consistent progress to keep being a better team as the year goes."
Sooner or later, those following the Giants have to find a way and make our own determination where to divvy up those losses from 2017 until now.
Sooner or later, a new coach is going to get his own starting point.
The Giants are an NFL-worst 12-41 since losing to Green Bay in the 2016 playoffs, and while the organization doesn't get a reset from the outside after firing two head coaches and promising yet another new chapter, the coaches and players involved deserve one.
That leaves the heat on for ownership and for the front office led by general manager Dave Gettleman, whose promise to win while rebuilding failed the first time. Now they're rebuilding without winning again, and that's something for which the Giants must answer.
Judge isn't coaching in a silo, but the steps being taken now are going in a positive direction - even if that positivity is not where it needs to be to erase the pain of the past three years just yet, and admittedly might not be there for a while.
Living on the edge
Giants outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter will undergo surgery this week to repair a ruptured Achilles he sustained Sunday. Oshane Ximines is on injured reserve for a minimum of two additional games with a shoulder injury.
That leaves Kyler Fackrell and Markus Golden as the only experienced EDGE players on the roster, Perhaps it's good timing, but the Giants had ex-Dolphins OLB Trent Harris in for a look Friday, and he's going through testing protocols now.
Both Harris and ex-Syracuse UDFA Kendall Coleman are expected to complete the expanded entry process for free agents on Tuesday, and then they'll work out for the Giants.
Harris, 24, played 11 games with three starts last season for Patrick Graham in Miami. He had 1.5 sacks, 22 tackles and a forced fumble, so it makes sense to add his skill set to this mix.
Harris was an undrafted free agent out of the University of Miami two years ago and spent his entire rookie season on the Patriots’ practice squad, where he crossed paths with Judge as well. So he checks a lot of boxes on the familiarity front, and this staff did well plugging in a player with a similar experience profile in corner Ryan Lewis.
Might be a similar fit for Harris to start out on the practice squad or jump right to the active roster. We'll see if deal is finalized.
As for Carter, it's a big blow to a player who was finally making strides and showing the consistency in his game for which the Giants have been desperate to see.
Jason Garrett opens playbook... finally
A running game. Pre-snap motion and shifting. A flea-flicker. Downfield shots.
Jason Garrett finally opened the Giants' playbook and did some things this offense has desperately needed for a spark over the first four weeks. That has to continue and increase even more if this offense is going to find a way to be the difference in winning and losing.
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Still, Daniel Jones and the offense had the ball with 1:50 left and a potential narrative-changing victory on a tee, and the Giants gained just 15 yards and one first down, resulting in the punt that the Cowboys turned into the game-winning field goal.
"I thought overall Jason put together a good, aggressive game plan," Judge said. "We were taking shots down the field, our guys made plays, we put them in a position to go out there and win a football game."
The cruelty of the game
I've seen my share of devastating injuries in covering the NFL for more than a decade. We all have. The one endured by Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott against the Giants on Sunday is right up near the top of the list in terms of most heartbreaking.
The only one that rivals Prescott's gruesome ankle injury for me was Victor Cruz when the Giants' wide receiver ruptured the patellar tendon in his knee against the Eagles in Philadelphia on Oct. 12, 2014.
The next morning, when Cruz was still in recovery in a Philadelphia hospital, then-Eagles coach Chip Kelly visited him.
The Giants were dealing with on-field heartache in the aftermath of Sunday's 37-34 defeat to the Cowboys, yet Judge and all four players made available to the media on Zoom calls send words of respect and hope to Prescott without prompting.
That says something about Prescott, and it says something for the Giants' players, who clearly spoke from the heart about a competitor falling victim to the cruelty of the game.
The Giants experienced similar devastation when Saquon Barkley tore his ACL and was lost for the season in Week 2.
"I’d just like to extend our thoughts and sympathies to Dak on his injury," Giants quarterback Daniel Jones said. "It’s tough to see anyone go down like that in a season ending situation, and to a guy like that: a competitor who makes tough plays who I have a lot of respect for. So tough to see him go down, and prayers to him."
Prescott, Barkley and 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (torn ACL) duking it out for NFL Comeback Player of the Year award in 2021 should be entertaining.
Sterling Shepard has been missed
You know whose absence hurts the Giants’ offense and it has not been talked about enough over the last few weeks: Sterling Shepard.
The veteran wide receiver suffered a turf toe injury in Week 2 against the Bears, one that landed him on injured reserve. He's missed the last three games, so Shepard is eligible to return from IR, provided he is healthy and ready to go.
Daniel Jones has won three games as the starting quarterback of the Giants, and here are the stat lines for Shepard in those three games: 7 catches, 100 yards, TD; 7 catches, 76 yards; and 6 catches, 76 yards and a touchdown.
Without putting a label on whether Shepard is a No. 1 wide receiver, No. 2 or whatever, he's someone the Giants miss. It's not about what he isn't - it's about what he is: a reliable route runner, a hard-nosed blocker in the run game and a trusted target.
The Giants miss Shepard.
Jones misses Shepard.
If and when he's back on the field, the Giants will be better for it.
Art Stapleton is the Giants beat writer for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to all Giants analysis, news, trades and more, please subscribe today and sign up for our NFC East newsletter.