Running back Saquon Barkley dodged and worked his way to a 5-yard gain on the first play of the scrum in Sunday’s game between the Giants and the Denver Broncos. Barkley, the culmination of the Giants’ offense until a torn knee ligament prevented him from playing 14 games last season, looked whole again, and home fans at a crowded MetLife stadium flocked to raised in response.
Moments later, Giants third-year quarterback Daniel Jones threw a 42-yard pass to his favorite receiver, Darius Slayton, who pushed the Giants forward into Denver territory. There was more unbridled euphoria in the gallery.
But then the Giants lost eight yards in the next two games, wasting any chance of even scoring a field goal. One drive later, the Giants made three disjointed plays without gaining a yard and kicked. Soon they were following Denver by three points. Then 10 points, then 17.
A new Giants season suddenly looked no different than the disappointment of 10 losses last year. The fans collapsed in their seats.
The opening day of a football season always has an air of rebirth – until it feels like a rehearsal.
As the final seconds of Denver’s 27-13 blow to the Giants came to an end – the home team scored an insignificant touchdown in the last game of the game – the MetLife stands were mostly empty. This had been the case last season, due to restrictions linked to the pandemic. The Void this time, however, was different, especially since the event’s remaining soundtrack was the raucous cheers of a few thousand Broncos fans.
In the end, Barkley ran just 26 yards on 10 carries. Jones, tasked with curbing the costly turnovers that plagued his first two seasons as a starter, lost a fumble deep inside Denver’s territory at a pivotal point in the game. The Giants’ defense has repeatedly failed to force the Broncos off the field as Denver converted seven of 15 third downs – and all three downs on fourth downs.
This left second-year Giants coach Joe Judge aware of why Giants fans rushed out of MetLife Stadium in the middle of the fourth quarter, if not earlier.
“We have to earn their respect,” Judge said of the fans. “We have to give them something to celebrate. There was a lot of energy and a great atmosphere in the stadium, but we have to do more as a team to make them want to stay and cheer.
The star of the game was Denver quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who completed 28 of 36 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns. The least observed constituent who had a significant impact on the result was Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, the former Giants coach who on Sunday baffled his former team’s defense.
Jones completed 22 of 37 passes for a touchdown. No quarterbacks have had an interception and each has been sacked twice, although Bridgewater has only experienced sporadic pressure from the Giants’ pass rush.
After a 15-game practice that took nearly nine minutes, Denver opened the game in the second quarter with a 23-yard field goal from Brandon McManus. On their next possession, the Giants came out aggressively on the first down with Jones throwing a 17-yard pass down the middle to wide receiver Kenny Golladay, one of the team’s most important off-season free agent acquisitions.
Four games and a defensive pass interference penalty later, the Giants pushed into the Broncos’ end of the field. On a first try, Sterling Shepard, the oldest Giant, drove a long crossing route and caught a precise pass from Jones before plunging into the end zone for a 37-yard touchdown that gave the l home team a 7-3 lead.
In about two minutes at the end of the first half, led by the composure, elusiveness and precision of Bridgewater, Denver had regained the advantage. Bridgewater completed six straight passes, the last a 2-yard touchdown to Tim Patrick who sent the Broncos into the game’s intermission with a 10-7 lead.
Denver picked up where it left off after receiving the second half kick-off. While the Broncos’ running game was nonexistent, the Giants’ pass defense was still overwhelmed, in part because the Giants’ weak offense kept her on the pitch for much of the game.
It took the Broncos 16 plays to cover 75 yards as Bridgewater continually used his legs to extend plays. In the final play of practice, a fourth and a 1 on the Giants’ 4-yard line, Bridgewater rushed to his right as he was closely pursued by Giants goaltender Xavier McKinney, who grabbed the Bridgewater helmet and epaulettes. On the run, Bridgewater knocked the ball back into the end zone where Albert Okwuegbunam made an acrobatic catch in traffic for the Broncos’ second touchdown, increasing their lead to 17-7.
On the next possession, the Giants made a comeback – sort of.
After the Giants advanced to Denver’s 22-yard line, Jones burst into the middle of the Broncos’ defensive front for a 7-yard run, then wrapped two hands around the ball in an attempt to prevent a escaped. But Denver linebacker Josey Jewell released the ball from Jones’ sway and Jewell’s teammate Malik Reed fell on the soccer ball at the Denver 15-yard line. Once again, a promising possession from the Giants ended with a Jones turnover that resulted in a 36-yard field goal from McManus that increased the Giants’ deficit to 20-7.
The game was, by then, almost over.