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Five New York Giants takeaways from Week 16’s loss to the Colts

Ralph Vacchiano | Facebook | Twitter | Archive

Eli Manning had a chance for some late-game magic, when he had 55 seconds to play, and all he had to do was get the Giants into field-goal range. Instead, he threw a game-sealing interception on an ill-advised pass over the middle.

But don’t blame this 28-27 loss in Indianapolis on him.

That was a bad decision and spoiled an otherwise good day for the much-maligned Giants quarterback, but it shouldn’t detract from the way the Giants’ defense has completely fallen apart. They offered almost no resistance to the Colts in the fourth quarter when they marched half a field to score a go-ahead touchdown with 55 seconds remaining.

In fact, they offered no resistance at all in the second half. Not counting when they took a knee at the end of the game, the Colts scored touchdowns on three of their four second-half drives and four of their last six drives overall going back to midway through the second quarter. And remember, on the drive before that, Colts QB Andrew Luck tried to throw the ball away and was picked off by safety Curtis Riley in the end zone.

So really, it’s like the Giants stopped being more than a low speed bump for the Colts after the first quarter ended.

That’s not unusual or a surprise, especially since linebacker Alec Ogletree missed this game with a concussion. This Giants defense has been disappointing all season long, and with a non-existent pass rush there was no way they were going to stop Luck. The sad part for the Giants is that all they needed was one stop somewhere to win this game. Manning was playing well, so they certainly had a chance.

Yes, Manning made the play that blew the game in the end. But the defense deserves the blame for putting him in that position and leading the Giants to their 10th loss.

Here are five other takeaways from the Giants’ loss to the Colts:

1. It’s time to get back on the Manning bandwagon … Maybe?

First he’s done. Then he’s not. Then he’s done again. Now? This was a good game for anyone who has argued that Manning still has ability at age almost-38. He finished 25-of-33 for 309 yards with one touchdown and an interception. He had some fantastic throws, including a 55-yarder to Sterling Shepard, and he made real good use of tight end Evan Engram, who had one of his finest days of the season.

Remember, he’s doing that without Odell Beckham Jr., which means his secondary receivers are Bennie Fowler and Cody Latimer. And he did it on a day when the Colts did a pretty good job of holding super-rookie Saquon Barkley in check. Sure, the last pass was ill-advised since the Giants just needed to get into field goal range. Presumably, Manning didn’t call the play, though, so that was a bit of an aggressive play call.

Are there many other quarterbacks who could have done better in that situation, with those weapons? Maybe. But a lot of quarterbacks who will be available to the Giants next season? No way.

2. It’s still hard to believe Olivier Vernon was a first alternate for the Pro Bowl.

Vernon did have two quarterback hits in this game and a strip-sack that was nullified by a penalty. But he’s not exactly a consistent force anymore. And really, it’s not fair to single him out. The Giants’ pass rush just simply isn’t there. They sacked Luck once. They did hit him seven times, but a lot of that is because he had far too much time to extend plays and run around.

Because of that, receivers have little trouble getting open against the Giants’ depleted secondary. Luck completed 31 of 47 passes for 357 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. There were times it looked like he was running a 7-on-7 drill.

3. Shepard finally showed what he’s capable of doing.

In two games without Beckham, Shepard was just terrible. He caught four passes for 54 yards in those games. Last week against Tennessee, he caught two passes despite being targeted nine times. What he was proving was he wasn’t capable of being the No. 1 receiver or thriving when all the defensive attention was on him.

On Sunday, he showed the opposite, catching six passes for 113 yards. Shepard is still the Giants’ second option when Beckham is healthy, but he only has one year left on his contract and will have to prove he’s more than just an average possession receiver if he wants a new deal from the Giants.

4. Engram showed a little something, too … again.

Engram had another huge game, catching six passes for 87 yards. That gives him 14 catches for 162 yards in the last two games. That’s amazing, considering that from Weeks 2 through 14, Engram had caught only 17 passes for 249 yards and missed five games with injuries.

The last two weeks, he’s been an actual weapon, taking advantage of mismatches and using his 4.5 speed to get open. Giants coach Pat Shurmur has been very clear he thinks Engram has value in his offense, but until the last two weeks that hasn’t been apparent. With Beckham out, maybe the Giants are beginning to develop the other weapons they thought they always had.

5. This team plays hard for Shurmur, and that pleases the Giants’ brass.

It’s not much of a consolation prize, but it’s the kind of thing the bosses look for in a lost season. This team could’ve given up at 1-7. They’re 3-3 since, which isn’t great, but they’ve been in most of those games and they just took a playoff-caliber, legitimately good Colts team to the wire.

Shurmur scoffed when I asked him on Friday if he’s ever seen players give less of an effort after their team has been officially eliminated from playoff contention. He said he’s never seen that at all. Maybe that’s true, but if so he’s not looking. The Giants had plenty of players who quit during their 3-13 disaster last season. Look around the league, there were plenty of players making “business decisions” on Sunday for out-of-it teams, rather than make a tough tackle or fight for an extra yard.

So credit the Giants whether Shurmur wants it or not. They were eliminated last week. Then they went on the road this week and there was no sign of a letdown at all. Draft position might be far more important to the future of the franchise at this point, but fighting hard and trying to win really does still matter, too.

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