Barkley and Daboll have ignited high hopes for the Giants

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — After five consecutive losing seasons, it’s hard to put into perspective the New York Giants’ 21-20 win over the Tennessee Titans in Brian Daboll’s debut as head coach.

It was mind-boggling.

Coming off a 4-13 season, the Giants knocked off the two-time defending AFC South champions on the road by rallying from a 13-0 halftime deficit behind a magnificent performance by a rejuvenated Saquon Barkley.

It was a game few expected them to win, let alone be competitive. And they won by going for a 2-point conversion with 66 seconds to go when the conventional wisdom was to play for a tie and go to overtime.

The result also has caused a 180-degree change in expectations.

Suddenly, many see the Giants as a contender. Well, some do.

It’s also probably why Daboll stood in the middle of the locker room after the game and reminded his team this was only one game, the first of 17 in the NFL regular season.

Things can change quickly, starting this Sunday when the Giants open at home against the Carolina Panthers, who are coming off a heartbreaking late loss to Cleveland.

“Don’t take this the wrong way. I’m happy we won, but it’s one game, so if it was the other way around, it’s one game,” Daboll said Monday. “We’ve got to get ready to go on to the next week. We’ve got a long way to go. You can watch the tape. There’s a lot of corrections that need to be addressed.”

In other words, there’s a chance Carolina can spoil the good feelings that exist about this team. Don’t forget Rudy Bullock of Tennessee missed a 47-yard field-goal attempt at the end to preserve the win.

Giants fans have had their hopes raised and crushed quickly. It’s been a vicious cycle since Tom Coughlin led New York to its fourth Super Bowl title in February 2012.

The only year the Giants made the playoffs since was in 2016, and the fans were crushed again. The excitement of the postseason was smashed by an ill-timed and much-criticized day off boating trip to Florida by Odell Beckham and company. What followed was an embarrassing loss to the Packers in Green Bay.

So if you’re a Giants fan, enjoy the season-opening win, but don’t make too much of it, at least for now.

WHAT’S WORKING

No. 26. The old Saquon Barkley showed up for the 2022 season and he looked very much like the running back who won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 2018. Barkley rushed for 164 yards on 18 carries (a 9.1 yard average) and caught six passes for 30 yards. He ran for a touchdown and caught a game-winning 2-point conversion. That’s 194 all-purpose yards, an excellent start for a player who many felt was in decline after a major knee injury to start the 2020 season and subpar season in ’21.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Both of the Titans touchdowns came on passes from Ryan Tannehill to Dontrell Hilliard coming out of the backfield against a linebacker. He was wide open on both, as well as a 31-yard catch-and-run on the first play of the second quarter to set up a field goal. That’s 17 points. The Giants need to have linebackers who can cover a running back or change the scheme and assign a defensive back to the job.

STOCK UP

Wink Martindale’s defense kept the Giants in the game. Despite playing without starting outside linebackers Azeez Ojulari, their leader in sacks last season, and Kayvon Thibodeaux, the No. 5 overall pick in the draft, New York limited Tennessee to two touchdowns and two field goals. The first touchdown was set up by a long punt return and second field goal followed a strip-sack the Titans recovered at the New York 42. Derrick Henry gained 82 yards on 21 carries and the Titans were held to 93 yards rushing.

STOCK DOWN

It’s difficult to criticize the offensive line after New York ran for 238 yards. However, the revamped unit struggled with pass protection. Daniel Jones was sacked five times and hit eight times. One of the sacks resulted in a fumble that gave Tennessee the ball at the Giants 42, setting up a field goal.

INJURED

Rookie wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson (knee) and cornerback Nick McCloud (hamstring) left the game. Daboll said Robinson is day to day.

KEY NUMBER

2016 — The previous time the Giants opened the season with a win. That was under then-new coach Ben McAdoo and it was the most recent time New York made the playoffs.

NEXT STEPS

The Giants have to avoid a letdown in the home opener against the Carolina Panthers. The schedule suddenly favors the Giants with games against the young Bears and the banged-up Cowboys, who will be without injured QB Dak Prescott, in the upcoming weeks.

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