Giants’ sorry season continues in near upset of Rams

At some point, these close calls and near misses and resilient performances will be tired and viewed with disgust. Perhaps they already are. Alas, this is what the Giants must grasp and use as encouragement as their sorry season rolls on.

They played a game in the Los Angeles area for the first time in 26 years and returned home losers, again. A spirited defense regrouped after a rough start to give the Giants a legitimate shot to pull off the upset. But an offense directed by Daniel Jones, protected by a hit-and-miss line and featuring no game-breakers once more failed to produce a touchdown and that is not way to thrive in the NFL.

The 17-9 loss to the Rams at Sofi Stadium on Sunday dropped the Giants to 0-4 and continued what has been a maddening trend.

The Giants were right there, trailing just 10-9 in the fourth quarter, shaking off another nightmare start on the road, seizing the momentum and outplaying the Rams for long stretches. Nearly a two-touchdown underdog, the Giants were threatening to finally get what had eluded them for three weeks.

Nope.

Rookie head coach Joe Judge, with the ball near midfield, chose to punt the ball back to the Rams with 9:46 left in the game, a conservative move that backfired. Pinned back on their own 9-yard line, the Rams (3-1) put the hammer down with a 91-yard scoring drive, getting 55 yards in one chunk when Jared Goff hit Cooper Kupp over the middle for a touchdown. The busted coverage was a breakdown, as rookie Darnay Holmes blitzed and second-year safety Julian Love did not adjust his coverage, giving Kupp an opening and allowing him to beat trailing James Bradberry into the end zone.

Trailing by eight points, the Giants got the ball back twice and came up empty. The first series was ruined when Jones held onto the ball too long for a sack. The Giants got the ball back with 2:05 remaining and Jones flirted with a comeback. He hit Darius Slayton for 33 yards and used his legs on scrambles of 13 and 11 yards. From the Rams 18-yard line, disaster struck. Jones rolled to his right and, with room to run, tried to force a throw into Damion Ratley on the right side. The pass was behind Ratley and intercepted by diving cornerback Darious Williams with 52 seconds left.

It was the first turnover of the game for the Giants and ensured they would not score a touchdown in eight consecutive quarters, two full games after getting one in the fourth quarter two weeks ago in Chicago.

No one has to venture back too far to recall the last time the Giants started a season with four consecutive losses. It was 2017, when Ben McAdoo opened his second year as the head coach losing the first five games. He lasted only 12 games that season before he was fired and replaced on an interim basis by his defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo.

No such sea change will wash over the coaching staff in Judge’s first season. He has embarked on his Giants career amid a global pandemic, an abbreviated and remote offseason, a slow ramp-up in training camp. He inherited a second-year quarterback and saw the marquee running back, Saquon Barkley, go down in Game 2 with a season-ending knee injury. There was a close-call loss in Chicago, a terrible blowout loss to the depleted 49ers and now this.

Energized by their increasingly good work in the first half, the Giants defense pitched a shutout in the third quarter, helped along by an offense that could not dent the end zone but at least was able to stay on the field.

Judge went for it on fourth down at the Rams’ 48-yard line and was rewarded when Jones found Kaden Smith for 10 yards. The Giants hurt themselves, though, with an illegal formation penalty and a false start on Smith. Another Graham Gano field goal made it 10-9.

Whatever Judge is doing on these road trips, he should change things up. The Giants came out sleepwalking in Chicago two weeks ago and they were dreadful early Sunday on both sides of the ball. A three-and-out on offense lost 8 yards on the first offensive series, as Jones’ first completed pass actually lost 6 yards. The defense offered no resistance as the Rams coasted 65 yards on 12 routine plays, facing only one third down before tight end Gerald Everett notched the first rushing touchdown of his five-year career, a 2-yard scoring run to make it 7-0.

The Giants on their first four series faced third-and-12, third-and-27, third-and-13 and third-and-13. That is not conducive to keeping the ball and scoring points. At one point in the first half, Jones had four completions and was sacked four times. Again, not conducive to anything other than failure.

The defense kept them in it. Austin Johnson punched the ball away from Everett and Bradberry recovered the fumble on the Rams’ 34-yard line. Alas, the Giants had to settle for a Gano field goal to pull within 7-3.

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