What? Did you think they were going 17-0?
After the strong 2-0 start, many of you thought the Giants were heading to at least 4-0. You know who you are. And that’s OK. No shame in that.
Why not? The Giants started the season with the upset victory on the road against the Titans, the No. 1 seed of the 2021 AFC playoffs, then served at home against the Panthers at MetLife Stadium.
The Cowboys were next and thought they were easy marks without Dak Prescott on Monday night at MetLife. Next will come the perennially mediocre Bears on Sunday.
The prospect of an unimaginable 4-0 start started dancing in the minds of some Giants fans until Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence took on rookie right tackle Evan Neal, the seventh overall pick in the of the April draft, prisoner in the first half with a pass-rushing performance straight out of Lawrence Taylor’s playbook.
Thoughts of beating the Cowboys offense without Prescott also danced in the minds of Giants fans, until Dallas quarterback Cooper Rush played like Earl Morrall, thanks in large part to a pass rush. unseen from the Giants.
The same goes for Giants rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux, the fifth draft pick, who wreaked havoc in the Dallas backfield. No one even knew he was on the pitch.
Playing in his first NFL game, Thibodeaux looked like a player, well, playing in his first NFL game. His stat line – one tackle, one angled pass and no quarterback pressure – was proof of that.
Listen, Neal and Thibodeaux are probably fine. They can’t be worse than they were on the big stage Monday night, can they?
But we’re living in recent times where exposing former general manager Dave Gettleman for his poor drafting and messing up the salary cap with irresponsible high-priced free agent signings (see: Kenny Golladay) is in vogue.
And with good reason.
So it’s fair to point out that the top two picks in the premier draft class orchestrated by newly hired general manager Joe Schoen – Thibodeaux and Neal – got off to questionable starts.
It’s far too early to assume that these two players won’t become productive and potential stars for the Giants, players who justify their respective draft spots. But Monday night was not a good look.
What was beautiful was Neal, showered and dressed in street clothes after the game, dutifully waiting at his locker to speak to reporters when they were allowed into the locker room.
Neal, who was clearly disgusted by his performance, was responsible and measured as he patiently answered repeated questions about what was wrong against the Dallas front that confused and beat him.
That kind of responsibility, something that’s at the heart of head coach Brian Daboll’s program, is a good sign. Neal will be better for what happened on Monday night, and being better starts with how he performed after the game.
“There are growing pains,” Daboll said Tuesday. “I would say it’s not just Ev, he’s been beaten a number of times by a very good player. There were a lot of things we could have done better in terms of protection after going through him. – whether it’s the chips, the [running] backs, one on one against blitzers, inside movement, inside plays.
“There were a lot of things. But Evan is a diligent guy. We will work to improve it and try to be better next week.
Asked about the ineffectiveness of Thibodeaux, in his NFL debut, and second-year linebacker Azeez Ojulari, who was playing his first game this season, Daboll credited Dallas’ offensive line.
“They did a good job of blocking us,” he said. “[Thibodeaux and Ojulari] were on their field account. I thought they had made a good effort. Thibs’ first game as a pro, [he] did some good things, but some things we absolutely need to improve and work on. ”
Even at 2-0, there were a lot of things the Giants needed to improve and work on – and they took a step back against the Cowboys.
Now Daboll will face his next new challenge as a head coach for the first time: dealing with defeat.
His message to the team on Tuesday?
“The same thing since I started: Be consistent,” Daboll said. “It’s never as good as you think, never as bad as you think.”
The Giants weren’t as good as some wanted to think when they were 2-0 going into Dallas. And the good news is that it’s likely Neal and Thibodeaux won’t end as badly as they thought on Monday night as they move on to the next game.