Giants need big run to overcome another bad start to season

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — It might be easy to look at the New York Giants’ 3-6 record and take the high road.

New York has played its best football over the last three weeks and won twice. That includes an impressive win over Carolina, a late loss to the Chiefs and a surprising 23-16 win Sunday over the Las Vegas Raiders, the co-leaders in the AFC West.

There is reason for optimism. The defense is coming around. The cavalry is expected to bring help for the offense with star running back Saquon Barkley (ankle), receiver Sterling Shepard (quad) and tackle Andrew Thomas (ankle) close to returning from injuries. Receivers Kenny Golladay (knee) and Kadarius Toney (ankle) will have more time to rest during the bye week after returning from injury.

The other uplifting news is the NFC, a conference of the haves and have-nots. Arizona, Green Bay, Tampa Bay, Dallas, the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans all have winning records. Atlanta is at .500 and the rest of the conference is sub-.500.

The Giants are only 1 1/2 games behind Atlanta in the race for the seventh wild-card spot.

There’s hope they can return to the postseason for the first time since 2016 if they can put together a run like they did last year. As a rookie head coach, Joe Judge guided them to a 5-3 finish; they were edged by Washington for the NFC East title.

Now, stop smiling. It’s time for the reality check.

The Giants lead you on and then leave you flat. Look at the last four seasons, all of 16 games, unlike the current 17 of 2021. After nine games in each of those seasons, going backward from 2020, the records have been 2-7, 2-7, 2-7 and 1-8. When they made the playoffs in 2016 under Ben McAdoo, they were 6-3 en route to an 11-5 record. Just to get to 11-6, the Giants would have to win out.

For the record, the last four seasons they have finished 6-10, 4-12, 5-11, 3-13.

The rest of the schedule includes games with Tampa Bay (6-2), the Chargers (5-3) — tied with Las Vegas atop the AFC West — and Dallas (6-2). Also on the schedule are tail-enders Philadelphia (twice), Miami, Chicago, and Washington. Five of the eight are on the road.

WHAT’S WORKING

The defense. It took six-plus games, but coordinator Pat Graham finally has his unit playing like a year ago when it kept New York in most games. Over the last three games, the defense has allowed a total of 39 points after giving up 177 in the first six, an average of almost 30 points.

The Giants are still giving up a large amount of yards, but they have been good in the red zone.

“I think we’re just making plays when it’s time for us to make plays,” cornerback James Bradberry said.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Red-zone offense. The Giants went out of their way in the offseason to help it. They signed the playmaking Golladay to a $72 million contract. They added veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph and drafted elusive wide receiver Toney in the first round. That was a year after taking Thomas to anchor the left side with the fourth pick overall.

The offense currently is ranked last in the red zone, converting at 44%. That’s a year after it finished next to last to the Jets at 44.34%.

Injuries to Barkley, Golladay, Shepard, Toney, tight end Evan Engram and three starters on the O-line have not helped.

Judge was hopeful Monday afternoon that Barkley and Thomas will be ready to return against the Bucs on Nov. 22.

STOCK UP

Daniel Jones. There are no more questions about whether the Giants wasted the sixth-pick overall in the 2019 draft on the former Duke quarterback. Jones has stepped up this year with both his running and throwing. He is the catalyst of the offense.

Playing behind a makeshift line and still lacking key weapons, he has hit 190 of 293 for 2,059 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions. He is also second in rushing with 258 yards — a 5.2 yard average — and two touchdowns.

STOCK DOWN

Judge. With all the injuries, maybe pointing a finger at the second-year coach is not right. Still, this was supposed to a be season of progress after the fine finish to his rookie year as a head coach. Talent was added to the offense. The defense was returning with almost everyone back expect tackle Dalvin Tomlinson. There were no changes to special teams.

The truth is the Giants were left in the gate yet again. They lost their first three and five of six and they have been playing catch-up since.

INJURIES

Way too many. Center Nick Gates (broken leg), left guard Shane Lemieux (knee) and LT Thomas (ankle) are on IR heading into the bye, along with ILB and leading tackler Blake Martinez (ACL) and safety Jabrill Peppers (ACL). Barkley, who was returning from an ACL injury in 2020, has missed the last four games with a sprained ankle. Shepard has missed three games and fellow WR Darius Slayton two. Top returner C.J. Board broke his arm.

KEY NUMBER

5 — Graham Gano’s number. The placekicker is the team’s most consistent player, and has been for two seasons. He is 19 of 21 on field goals and hit all 12 of his extra points. He is 9 for 10 from more than 40 yards. Last season he hit 31 of 32 field goals.

NEXT STEPS

The Giants must come back from the bye week playing as they did going in. The test will be the first game. They go to Tampa to face Tom Brady and the Super Bowl champion Bucs. A win might dispel the feeling this is just another tease at the halfway point.

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