FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Giants arrived to Gillette Stadium to play the undefeated Patriots Thursday night in a very similar way the winless Jets did two-and-a-half weeks ago.
They limped in with a depleted roster and seemingly little hope of upsetting the Super Bowl champions.
Like the Jets did, the Giants departed Gillette as losers, 35-14 on this night.
But this was far different than the 30-14 drubbing the Jets endured on Sept. 22. The Giants (2-4) displayed a lot more fight than the Jets did. Unlike the Jets, the Giants put a scare into the 6-0 Patriots, 16 ½-point favorites, despite playing without any of their skill-position starters.
Moral victory? Possibly, but we won’t know that for sure until we see the Giants play again.
The game was tied at 14 until late in the first half when the Patriots took the lead for good, on a 1-yard Tom Brady quarterback sneak with 36 seconds remaining before the intermission.
The Giants were without running back Saquon Barkley, their best player, who remained sidelined with the high ankle sprain he suffered three games ago.
Barkley’s backup, Wayne Gallman, who had a terrific game against the Redskins two games ago, was out with the concussion he suffered last week.
Tight end Evan Engram, the team’s leading pass catcher, was out because of the knee injury he suffered last week.
Sterling Shepard, the team’s top receiver, was out because of the concussion he suffered last week.
Pat Shurmur, welcome to Adam Gase’s world.
At least the Giants coach had his quarterback healthy (two in fact, with Daniel Jones and Eli Manning available). That’s something Gase didn’t have. Gase faced the Patriots with third-string quarterback Luke Falk and the Jets offense was noncompetitive.
The Giants, with Jones and no skill-position starters, were competitive in spite of three Jones interceptions.
“We look at this game and realize that we can beat anyone in this league,’’ receiver Golden Tate said. “We had a chance to do something great in this stadium, on the road after a short week. I expected to come out here and upset those guys. We believed the whole time that we could win this game. We just screwed up more than they did.’’
Even in losing and even playing short-handed, a number of Giants players raised their levels and made big plays, which has to be encouraging going forward. Because this was not a game the Giants were going to win. Not without Barkley, Engram and Shepard.
Tate, who’d asked a week ago to be more involved, caught a 64-yard TD pass from Jones to cut the New England lead to 14-7 in the second quarter.
Defensively, linebackers Lorenzo Carter and Markus Golden combined on a marvelous strip-sack and fumble-recovery TD in the second quarter. Carter separated Brady from the ball and Golden recovered it and rambled 42 yards to tie the game at 14 with 4:38 remaining in the first half.
The Giants defense never allowed Brady and the Patriots offense to dominate, allowing only one sustained New England scoring drive in the game.
“This is going to have to be the standard from here on out,’’ safety Michael Thomas said. “We’re not accepting nothing less than how we played tonight. If that’s not the energy and mindset, then you’re in the wrong place.’’
But in the end, Jones and the Giants offense could not overcome the shortcomings at the skill positions. Ten first downs, 2 of 10 on third-down conversions, 213 yards of offense and 20:24 in time of possession are difficult for any defense to overcome.
Jones has been a revelation since he was anointed as the starter, but the reality he faced on Thursday was this: For all of his impressive tools and intangibles, he could not throw the ball to himself or run it 30 times.
It didn’t help that Jones and the Giants were facing the NFL’s No. 1 defense, and that Patriots coach Bill Belichick owns a 19-5 overall record against rookie quarterbacks (12-0 at Gillette Stadium).
The numbers entering the game illustrated how debilitating the absence of the Giants skill-position starters would be. Barkley, Engram, Shepard and Gallman had accounted for 65 percent of the Giants’ total net yards on offense and seven of their 12 TDs.
It looked so grim for the Giants entering the game that Lawrence Tynes, their former kicker, tweeted this on Tuesday:
“Let me get this straight for our game vs the Patriots on Thursday.
Can we reschedule? This is not ideal.’’
No, it wasn’t ideal at all. It was a lesson in survival.
The Jets failed the survival test two-and-a-half weeks ago. Thursday night was the Giants’ turn to take the test. And, even in losing, they passed it by simply doing what the Jets couldn’t do: Keep the game competitive.
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