Act I of the Giants’ 2020 NFL season was eerily similar to most of their performances over the past three seasons. It was marked by untimely turnovers, spotty offensive execution and a defense that surrendered too much ground.
As a result, Joe Judge’s first game as a head coach didn’t end with the Giants’ 38-year-old novice being presented with a game ball for earning a win. The Steelers made sure Judge will have to wait until at least this Sunday, Sept. 20, for such a celebration after they came into MetLife Stadium on Monday, Sept. 14, and seized a 26-16 victory. It was the fourth straight season opening loss for the Giants and a disappointing beginning to quarterback Daniel Jones’ second season as the team’s starter.
As a rookie a year ago, Jones took over the job from Eli Manning in Week 3. Until then, Manning had started all but one game for the franchise since November 2004. The one being a brief and ill-fated benching by former Giants head coach Ben McAdoo in late November 2017. Jones, the Giants’ first round pick (No. 6 overall) in the 2019 NFL Draft, displayed a promising skill set and changed the opinions of many critics who weren’t sold on him being a capable successor to Manning.
However, like most young QBs, and many veterans as well, Jones was prone to turnovers. The 23-year-old from Duke led the league with 18 fumbles (the fifth highest total in NFL history for a single season) and threw 14 interceptions. His detrimental turnover habit carried over into Monday’s meet-up with the Steelers.
Jones threw two damaging interceptions, one in the second quarter that led to a Steelers touchdown, cutting the Giants’ lead to 10-9, and the most injurious coming with 3:25 remaining in the third quarter with the Giants down 16-10. Having driven downfield 87 yards on 19 plays, Jones had a pass thrown from the 4-yard line intended for wide receiver Darius Slayton, with whom he had connected on a 41-yard TD early in the second quarter, deflected by pressuring Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree. The pass dropped softly into the hands of defensive end Cam Heyward in the end zone, killing what should have been a fruitful drive.
“You know, obviously a play I’d like to have back,” said Jones after the game of his second interception. “I’d like to have a chance to look at it with the coaches tomorrow and we’ll look into it. That’s a costly mistake there after a long drive…something I got to work on and improve on.”
Jones had virtually no help from the Giants’ running game. The Steelers’ obvious defensive game plan was to stop Saquon Barkley. Mission accomplished. Steelers defenders often simultaneously met the Giants’ explosive running back as soon as Jones handed him the ball. The 2018 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year was stifled for just six yards on 15 carries for an average of 0.4 yards per attempt.
“You know, every week is going to be a little bit of a different challenge based on the scheme we’re going to see,” said Judge. “Saquon is a key part of our team; he’s going to be a difference-maker in how successful this team is going to be, so we’re going to stay with him.”
The Giants will be in Chicago to face the 1-0 Bears this Sunday in Week 2.