Credit: Bill Moore photo

The scenario for the Giants was seemingly ideal entering last Sunday’s game versus the Arizona Cardinals. Playing at home, the Giants were riding the momentum of a four-game winning streak, while the Cardinals were reeling, losers of four of their previous five games.

The Giants were also getting back their starting quarterback, Daniel Jones, from a strained right hamstring after he had missed their game a week prior, a shocking 17-12 win over the Seattle Seahawks on the road. Yet neither the comfort of MetLife Stadium nor the Giants’ upward trajectory were advantages once the ball was kicked off. The Cardinals dominated, defeating the Giants 26-7 and knocking them from the top spot in the National Football Conference’s East division standings.

Both teams are contending for one of the NFC’s seven playoff spots. The Giants entered the game in first place in the East and fourth overall in the conference. After the loss, at 5-8, they dropped to second place in the division behind the 6-7 Washington Football Team and plummeted to 12th in the playoff hunt with three games remaining.

Conversely, the 7-6 Cardinals, in third place in the NFC West, trailing the Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks, who are both 9-4, elevated themselves to the 7th seed. They did it by playing with necessary urgency and desperation, while the Giants’ offense, which has by and large struggled all season to score points in a league structured for high offensive output, completely stalled.

It was the third consecutive game that the unit was held to under 20 and the eighth in 14 games. The Giants rank 30th out of 32 teams in points per game at 18.8. Jones, who is the Giants’ second leading rusher with 403 yards and has the highest yards per run average at 7.3, was clearly still hampered by his hamstring.

He was unable to move fluidly in the pocket or execute read options, limiting offensive coordinator Jason Garrett’s play calling. Jones also compounded his physical constraints by reverting back to his detrimental propensity to fumble the ball.

He led the league with 18 last season, losing 11. It carried over into this season as Jones continued to battle ball security, which was a source of the Giants’ 1-7 start. Corrective measures finally manifested in Weeks 10 and 11, when the second-year quarterback had his first two-game span of his fledgling career without a fumble or interception. It ended with the Cardinals pounding Jones for eight sacks, including a Cardinals’ franchise record five by linebacker Haason Reddick.

The Camden, New Jersey native singlehandedly forced Jones into all three of his fumbles. The Cardinals recovered one of them, giving Jones 10 fumbles and five lost this season, both tied for second most in the NFL. Jones ended the day connecting on just 11 passes on 21 attempts for only 127 yards and no rushing yardage. His performance raised the question if he should have been given an extra week’s rest by Giants head coach Joe Judge.

“We knew there were going to be some situations today where he wasn’t going to pull it down and just run like he’s done in the past,” said Judge after the game. “We knew that he was going to either end up throwing the ball away or take sacks at certain points. We knew that going into the game and we saw that early on.

“No, I have no regrets on playing him,” Judge insisted. “We made a calculated decision based on what he could do as a player. We went out there, and as a team, we have to execute better.”

Jones’ fitness to play at an optimal level will be crucial this Sunday night when the Giants host the 9-4 Cleveland Browns, who will be highly motivated coming off a 47-42 loss to the Baltimore Ravens at home in one of the most remarkable games in the 50-year history of Monday Night Football.