ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Leading up to Sunday night’s game against the Bills, Giants coach Brian Daboll refused to entertain any suggestion that the matchup carried extra meaning. But for someone who grew up in western New York and was propelled to his first head-coaching job by his work as the Bills’ offensive coordinator, it was obvious that it would have been special to pull off an upset in his homecoming.
But just as so little has gone his team’s way this season, it wasn’t meant to be for Daboll. An incomplete pass by quarterback Tyrod Taylor from Buffalo’s 1-yard line on the final play of the game sealed the Bills’ theft of a 14-9 win.
“We just came up a yard short,” Daboll lamented.
What an ending! 😱pic.twitter.com/nyS1PH1a8J
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) October 16, 2023
It was impressive that Daboll’s undermanned team was a yard away from the stunning victory. With Taylor starting in place of Daniel Jones (neck), the Giants were 15.5-point underdogs. That’s the biggest spread on an NFL game this season. But Daboll was in no mood for moral victories as the clock ticked crept toward midnight on a gloomy night in his hometown.
“You don’t get trophies for trying,” Daboll said.
The Giants have mostly only gotten losses for their efforts this season. They dropped to 1-5 with their latest defeat. After enduring a gauntlet of Super Bowl contenders to open the season, the Giants’ schedule now lightens, beginning with a home game against Washington next Sunday.
The Giants will need to shed the disappointment from the loss to the Bills and hope Sunday’s effort is a sign of things to come.
“This is a tough one,” Daboll said. “They’re all tough when you don’t get the result you want. But the guys have had the right mindset. We’ll come back ready to work, put this one behind us. But it’s a tough one.”
Here are five more takeaways from the loss:
Daboll spent four years running Buffalo’s offense, aiding in the development of Josh Allen from a raw product out of Wyoming into one of the best quarterbacks in the league. That intimate knowledge was clearly beneficial as Daboll helped devise a plan to stop the player he calls a “really good friend.”
Brian Daboll and Josh Allen walk out together pic.twitter.com/mdgMZ3BSUy
— Charlotte Carroll (@charlottecrrll) October 16, 2023
Players said Daboll wasn’t any more involved in the defensive meetings last week, but he clearly had extensive communication with defensive coordinator Wink Martindale to inform the game plan. The plan worked brilliantly, keeping the Bills, who entered averaging 31.8 points per game, off the scoreboard for the first three quarters.
Martindale went against his inclination to blitz, only sending an extra rusher at Allen on 18.8 percent of his dropbacks (compared to a 38.8 percent blitz rate entering Sunday), according to TruMedia. There was an emphasis on keeping Allen in the pocket with controlled rushes, although the Giants still generated pressure.
Dexter Lawrence lined up over the center more and was a disruptive presence inside. The Giants didn’t sack Allen, but they limited him to two carries for 11 yards.
Another focus of the game plan was limiting Allen’s top target, wide receiver Stefon Diggs. The Giants double-teamed Diggs at times with safety Xavier McKinney and a cornerback in an attempt to frustrate the emotional All-Pro.
“We had some coverages to try to take Diggs out of the game,” McKinney said. “We were trying to frustrate him, trying to hit him as much as we could.”
That plan was effective, despite Diggs finishing with 100 yards on 10 catches. He needed 16 targets to generate that production, and he was held well under his 13.3 yards per catch average.
“We took away their guy,” safety Jason Pinnock said. “We took away (Diggs) for a little bit. He still had 100, but we took him away early. That kind of messed their rhythm up. They like to get him the ball early. We had to stop that and fluster them a little bit.”
Allen looked completely uncomfortable in the first half, but he finally started to find a rhythm after the break. He got outside the pocket and made throws that would be ill-advised for quarterbacks who don’t possess his rocket-powered arm.
WHAT. A. THROW.
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) October 16, 2023
Allen threw the game-winning touchdown pass with 3:48 remaining after scrambling to his right on a second-and-6 from New York’s 15-yard line. Giants safety Dane Belton was plastering tight end Quintin Morris at the goal line, leaving no apparent window for a pass. Allen was undeterred, firing the ball across his body. The pass hit Morris in the chest, just between Belton and the converging Pinnock.
“He got it in there,” Pinnock said. “That’s what makes the greats great.”
Even after that disappointment, the defense bounced back to force a three-and-out after the Giants offense turned the ball over on downs. A missed 53-yard field goal attempt by Buffalo kicker Tyler Bass gave the Giants one more chance with 1:25 left and the ball at their 43-yard line. They advanced all the way to Buffalo’s 1-yard line, but came up short.
“It’s a lot of mixed emotions right now,” McKinney said. “Obviously, we played well as a defense, but it wasn’t enough to win the game.”
Bills RB Damien Harris taken off in ambulance
Giants inside linebacker Bobby Okereke was playing like his hair was on fire. It was the best performance by a Giants linebacker in a long time.
Okereke finished with 11 tackles, two tackles for loss, two passes defended and a forced fumble. The Giants, who didn’t force a turnover in the first four games, have five takeaways in the past two games. Okereke has had a hand in four of those plays.
Okereke set the tone by punching the ball out of wide receiver Gabe Davis’ arms for a fumble on Buffalo’s second possession. Fellow linebacker Micah McFadden recovered the loose ball at the Giants’ 44-yard line, setting up a field goal drive to give New York a 3-0 lead.
McFadden with the recovery!
📺: NBC pic.twitter.com/qjoFbjXVhe
— New York Giants (@Giants) October 16, 2023
Late in the first half, Okereke expertly read Allen and dropped into the passing lane of a seam to tight end Dawson Knox. Okereke tipped the ball, which was intercepted by McFadden to thwart a Bills drive.
Okereke also crashed into the backfield to make a pair of run stuffs at the goal line before Allen hit wide receiver Deonte Harty on a swing pass for a 3-yard touchdown to give Buffalo a 7-6 lead early in the fourth quarter.
“I think I’m just getting more comfortable in the scheme,” Okereke said. “I’m getting more comfortable with my teammates and then trusting myself and my ability.”
Bobby Okereke is putting on a clinic tonight 😱 @BobbyOkereke
— NFL (@NFL) October 16, 2023
The offense wasn’t necessarily good with Taylor at the controls, but it was different. The Giants’ game plan more closely resembled what they used last season, with a steady stream of play-action rollouts to utilize Taylor’s athleticism and negate a Bills pass rush that entered the game with an NFL-leading 21 sacks.
The biggest difference between Taylor and Jones is the backup successfully pulled the trigger on deep balls. Taylor hit wide receiver Darius Slayton with a 27-yard strike on third-and-7 to extend the first-quarter drive that ended in a field goal. Later, Taylor connected with Slayton on a 31-yard fade to push the Giants deep into Buffalo territory on the last drive of the first half that inexplicably ended on the 1-yard line without any points.
DEEP to Slayton
📺: NBC pic.twitter.com/P6MLAqAM8r
— New York Giants (@Giants) October 16, 2023
That botched sequence, with Taylor audibling to a Saquon Barkley run that was stuffed for no gain as time expired in the half, was inexcusable for a player with Taylor’s experience. His failed connection with Waller on the final play of the game was a slightly high throw, but he put the ball in a position for his best receiver to make a play.
Taylor didn’t turn the ball over against the defense that led the NFL in takeaways entering Sunday. And he was only sacked three times despite a makeshift line that got even further depleted when backup left tackle Josh Ezeudu left with a toe injury in the first quarter. Justin Pugh, who was making his first appearance since tearing his ACL a year ago, was forced to move from left guard to left tackle.
Pugh allowed a sack and committed a pair of false start penalties shortly after taking over, but then settled down. Pugh played five snaps at left tackle for the Cardinals in 2021. Before that, he hadn’t played the position since his first stint with the Giants in 2015.
“There’s a lesson in this somewhere,” Pugh said. “You get dealt a sh–y hand, you’ve got to play it the best you can and then go out there and fight for your guys.”
Taylor efficiently converted third downs by hitting receivers near the first-down markers against Buffalo’s soft zone coverage. Wan’Dale Robinson (eight catches for 62 yards) was effective in moving the sticks. Taylor completed 24-of-36 passes for 200 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions.
Most importantly, Taylor failed to get the Giants into the end zone. The Giants finished 0-for-5 in the red zone, including the painful scoreless drives to Buffalo’s 1-yard line at the end of each half. The Giants haven’t scored an offensive touchdown in more than three games. Their last offensive touchdown was Matt Breida’s 8-yard score with 10 minutes left in the third quarter of their Week 3 loss to the 49ers.
Barkley returned after missing three games with a high-ankle sprain. There wasn’t much room to run, but he looked tentative for most of the game, which has been the case when he’s returned from previous injuries.
There were clearly no restrictions on Barkley, as he played the majority of the snaps and had 16 carries in the first half. He had just 31 yards on 18 carries through three quarters before ripping off 19- and 34-yard runs to open the fourth quarter on well-blocked trap plays.
📺: NBC pic.twitter.com/dtj9MtwwoO
— New York Giants (@Giants) October 16, 2023
That’s the type of big-play ability the Giants lacked during Barkley’s absence. He finished with 93 yards on 24 carries.
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Ezeudu’s right foot was in a walking boot after the game. All-Pro left tackle Andrew Thomas, who has missed the past five games with a hamstring injury, is expected to ramp up his rehab work this week, according to a league source. There’s an outside chance Thomas could be ready for the Commanders game if everything goes well, although the Week 8 matchup with the Jets is a more realistic target.
Cornerback Adoree’ Jackson left with a neck injury late in the first quarter. He was replaced by rookie Tre Hawkins for two series before returning late in the second quarter.
Cornerback Cor’Dale Flott, who has been playing well in the slot, left the game twice. Flott said after the game he is fine after aggravating an ankle injury. He was replaced by Darnay Holmes, who finished the game as the slot corner.
Belton got the wind knocked out of him after running into a teammate in the end zone on Buffalo’s first touchdown. He didn’t miss any time after getting attention from the trainers.
(Photo: Timothy T Ludwig / Getty Images)
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