Giants outclassed by Steelers as Joe Judge drops debut

Not good enough.

Those might be the only three words needed to describe what the Giants were all about as they opened their season Monday night in Joe Judge’s head coaching debut.

They led early and at times did enough smart things on both sides of the ball to irritate the Steelers. There were no fans, only grey seats, at MetLife Stadium to enjoy the good moments and no one in the building when it became evident there would be no upset and no opening-season victory for the Giants.

Daniel Jones at times was good but in the end not good enough, with two interceptions. Saquon Barkley was hauled down behind the line of scrimmage more often than an elite back ever should be in a dismal showing. The offensive line needs work. The rebuilt defense gave all sorts of different looks but only succeeded in delaying the inevitable, once Ben Roethlisberger shook off the rust.

None of it was good enough, which is why the Giants were outclassed in a 26-16 loss that put them in familiar territory.

This was the fourth consecutive opening-day loss for the Giants and the ninth time in the past 10 years they are 0-1 after Week 1. Judge joins Tom Coughlin and Pat Shurmur as recent Giants coaches who lost their opener. Ben McAdoo won his in 2016.

There are certain requirements for the Giants and one of them is Barkley doing damage on the ground. He carried the ball 15 times and — this is hard to believe — gained only six yards. Somehow, the Giants were ahead 10-3 in the second quarter but once the Steelers hit the gas they passed on by.

Roethlisberger, returning from elbow surgery that limited him to only two games in 2019, tossed three touchdown passes. He was only as sharp as he needed to be.

A bad end to the first half gave way to a fast start after halftime for the Giants, down 16-10. Until disaster struck. They got the Steelers off the field quickly and then Jones, working out of a no-huddle, got the offense moving from his own 9-yard line. He converted four third downs and one fourth down with his arm and his legs. The Giants were in business on the Steelers 4-yard line. On second down, Jones was harassed by outside linebacker Bud Dupree and should have eaten the ball or thrown it out of the end zone. Jones did neither. He tried to hit Darius Slayton but Dupree hit Jones’s right arm and the ball floated into the air, allowing 295-pound defensive tackle Cameron Heyward to intercept it in the end zone.

Thus ended a mammoth 19-play, 87-yard drive that burned 8:50 off the clock and produced nothing but frustration for the Giants.

The Giants were able to battle on even terms in the first half, despite a glaring inability to get Barkley going on the ground. This was supposed to be an improved run-blocking offensive line but there was nothing doing. Barkley in the first 30 minutes had five runs for negative yardage and at times was tackled almost before he took the handoff. If not for a 38-yard catch and run on a screen, Barkley would have been a nonfactor.

Failure to capitalize on a huge early break was a portent of things to come. A muffled punt by Diontae Johnson gave the Giants the ball on the Pittsburgh 3-yard line. A Barkley run for a yard, pressure and a fumble by Jones was recovered by center Nick Gates on the 2-yard line and a bad route by tight end Evan Engram resulted in an incomplete pass, forcing the Giants to settle for a Graham Gano field goal for a 3-0 lead.

A hit on Roethlisberger by Leonard Williams forced an overthrow on third down and the Steelers tied the game at 3 late in the first quarter. Working as much as possible out of a no-huddle, Jones showed off his right arm as he benefitted from exquisite protection, giving him the time he needed for Darius Slayton to streak past cornerback Steven Nelson for a 41-yard touchdown connection to put the Giants ahead 10-3.

On defense, the Giants forced a three-and-out and were trying to take the momentum, but Jones’ next pass, intended for Engram on the right side, was intercepted by a leaping T.J. Watt on the Giants’ 36-yard line.

Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham will be aggressive and an all-out blitz in the second quarter did not get home, allowing Juju Smith-Schuster to easily roam free of Isaac Yiadom for a 10-yard touchdown hookup. Chris Boswell clanged the extra point off the right upright and the Giants still led, but by only 10-9.

The last two minutes of the first half were bad in every way for the Giants. They got the ball at midfield with 3:24 remaining but gave it back without achieving a first down. Roethlisberger, shaking off the rust after a sluggish start, started picking apart the Giants’ secondary and his 13-yard touchdown pass to James Washington put the Giants behind 16-10.

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