Imagine this during the offseason: the New York Giants losing their top three receiving targets and a very important special teams’ player all in one game.
It was a situation unique to Eli Manning as the Giants’ quarterback was expected to lead his team on a game-winning drive, late in the game, with just one wide receiver on the field. It was a bridge too far for Manning and the Giants, who fell to 0-5 on Sunday with a 27-22 home loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
To say the least, it has been a difficult season for the entire Giants offense, although the group has been better over the past three weeks. But in the first half of Sunday’s loss, the Giants lost wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard to ankle injuries, wide receiver Dwayne Harris to a knee injury in the third quarter and then Pro Bowl wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. late in the game.
All of which means that the Giants only had Roger Lewis Jr. on the field for the game’s final drive. An undrafted rookie free agent out of Bowling Green, Lewis has a high ceiling, but has struggled with consistency in his second year in the league.
It meant that players such as rookie tight end Evan Engram were playing out of position at wide receiver.
“I think everybody knew what they were supposed to run,” Manning said after the game. “Just trying to get guys lined up. Obviously, some guys were in some spots that they’re not used to being. Especially Evan, having him outside on a bunch, and he’s been out there before.
“It’s a tough situation to call plays. You want to call things and make sure guys have an idea of what they’re running.”
Lewis came into the Week 5 game with seven catches and just 14 career receptions. In the third quarter, he found himself on the receiving end of a go-route. Manning found Lewis in stride for a 29-yard touchdown catch and a Giants lead.
For Lewis, it was his first touchdown of the season and a glimmer of hope for the team’s group of beleaguered wide receivers.
“It felt good,” he said. “That’s what I’m here for, is to make plays. We got a loss and I just want to be able to capitalize next week.”
Manning didn’t sugarcoat things. He’s been on a team that started a campaign 0-6 before, so he knows this feeling and what it takes for the Giants to fight through and persevere. But right now, a team that had hopes of challenging for the NFC East title, as well as having legitimate Super Bowl aspirations is now in full-on struggle mode.
“We’ve got to play better,” Manning said. “That’s the only answer. That’s the only way. You know, there’s some good things, but there’s too many bad things, and not taking advantage of opportunities – that great field position in the first half, we couldn’t take advantage of it too many times.
“So, we’re just not playing well enough to win the games. It’s that simple.”