A week ago they had made so much progress. Then on Sunday, the Giants stepped back into their abyss.
Now, after their disheartening 33-18 loss to the New Orleans Saints, they are 1-3 and looking at the likelihood of yet another lost season.
Here's a look at how their specific position groups played in their Week 4 loss:
The wild emotional swings of the fans and media are tilting this pendulum back towards blaming Eli Manning. And surely he does deserve some criticism. Though he only threw 10 incompletions, he did miss a couple of open receivers. And there's no doubt he continues to check down a little too quickly. Also, when the offense is as bad as it was for most of the game, it is on him.
His stats were deceptively mediocre -- 31 for 41 for 255 yards with only one touchdown and no interceptions -- because too much came in the final seven minutes when the Saints were really sitting back on defense. He definitely missed a few opportunities. I still believe much of the blame goes on the offensive line (which wasn't good, but not horrible), the lack of a running game, receivers who weren't getting open, and some questionable play-calling too.
But no, Manning wasn't good.
Saquon Barkley is no doubt a terrific, two-way weapon who can create things when the holes aren't there -- something really important playing behind this offensive line. His best run was a great example of that, when he bounced way out to the left, far from his line, and ripped off a 28-yard run.
Sure, take away that and he only had 16 yards on nine carries, but why in a game that was never far out of reach did he only rush 10 times? And why, on the one series Wayne Gallman played, did he touch the ball five consecutive times, leading to his big fumble? I know, that's more of a coaching question.
Barkley had 100 total yards. He can do better, but he did fine for what he had to work with. Overall, though, the Giants' rushing attack remains weak.
Sterling Shepard caught all 10 of the passes thrown his direction, but only for 77 yards. Odell Beckham Jr. had another low-impact game. Nobody stepped up at the third receiver spot with Cody Latimer out. Rhett Ellison caught three passes filling in for the injured Evan Engram.
Are the receivers doing the best with what they're offered? Maybe. But they're not exactly getting open all over the field -- especially down the field. And part of their job is to make plays when the ball is in their hands. They're allowed to turn a short pass into a big gain, but that's not happening.
And please don't blame it all on a "soft zone" defense. Everybody faces those and other teams make big plays.
They weren't terrible in pass blocking in this game, but it does appear that Pat Shurmur has done some scheming to help them out -- very quick passes and mostly short passes. If it seems like he's afraid to call a downfield pass … well, can you blame him?
Also, Shurmur clearly doesn't trust the Giants' run blocking, and for good reason. Did you see some of the holes the Saints' line opened for Alvin Kamara? When's the last time a Giants line did that? The only hole Barkley had to run through was one where he ran away from his line for 28 yards. Take away that run and a 10-yard end-around by Beckham and the Giants' line powered a rushing attack that gained a whopping 27 yards.
They can be dangerous up front at times, particularly in the middle where DEs Dalvin Tomlinson and B.J. Hill continue to get a good push. Unfortunately they are all limited with LB Olivier Vernon out, and this wasn't the best matchup for a pass rush since Drew Brees has one of the quickest releases in the league.
Like the rest of the defense, they were better in the red zone. They did a decent job of keeping Kamara from breaking loose, but they wore down as the game went on. What's weird about that, though, is the time of possession and total plays were pretty evenly split, so they shouldn't have worn down at all.
Really, until late in the game, they were outstanding. Until his game-clinching, 49-yard run in the fourth quarter, they did a wonderful job of limiting the damage from Kamara. And they were phenomenal in the red zone, holding the Saints to field goals. Brees had almost nowhere to throw, and when he did, someone was there to deflect it.
Yes, the secondary gets credit for a lot of that (and they will) but linebackers are key in coverage on short-range passes. And that's not easy when they have to keep their eyes on Kamara, too.
If anyone told you that Brees would only be 18 of 32 for 217 yards and wouldn't throw a touchdown, and that receiver Michael Thomas would have only four catches for 47 yards, you'd assume the Giants would win in a blowout. So don't blame the secondary for this loss. They were terrific. Janoris Jenkins locked down Thomas and B.W. Hill did a much better job this week in place of the injured Eli Apple.
The red zone is where they were spectacular, though. Brees was 3 for 10 passing inside the 20. His receivers were really locked down.
What an awful decision by Jawill Davis, fresh off the practice squad, to field a second-half kickoff five yards deep in the end zone and bring it out. He got all the way to the 11, which was pretty predictable. Punter Riley Dixon also had a couple of questionable punts, including a 36-yarder late in the first half and another that bounced into the end zone in the third quarter.
Even Shurmur knew he should've called a timeout or two late in the first half and given the Giants a chance to score before halftime. It was terrible clock management and it seemed to even surprise the Saints.
His play-calling wasn't very good, either. He abandoned his run game (only 10 carries for Barkley in a game that was never out of reach?) And he called seven pass plays in the red zone, but only one for Beckham. The failure to get Beckham involved is just maddening. He's the Giants' best player. They need to use him. Sometimes a good play is just "Throw it to Beckham and see what he does."