'Definitely a gut punch ending': Emotional Giants let down Daniel Jones in loss to Cowboys

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The emotions of a losing locker room in the NFL are what you would expect.

When you lose a game the way the Giants did against the Cowboys on Monday night, the final offensive play serving as quite the knockout punch, the scene that unfolded was one that'll leave its mark, maybe longer than anticipated.

Daniel Jones, battered and eventually beaten, let down by his teammates even more so.

A dejected David Sills for stumbling when the opportunity was there for a big play. A defeated Evan Neal, seated at his locker, fighting for the right words to put an awful game three weeks into his rookie season into perspective.

But nothing could erase the sight of Sterling Shepard, the longest tenured Giant, clutching his left knee after Jones' final throw on the Giants' last drive.

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Saquon Barkley admitted that, when he realized his best friend was the one down on the MetLife Stadium turf in immense pain, he needed a moment before even approaching Shepard, dropping to a knee and saying a prayer for a teammate who had clearly sustained a serious injury.

Regret filled the Giants' post-game locker room following Monday's 23-16 loss to the Cowboys: they just didn't do enough to pick Jones up.

"Definitely a gut punch ending," Barkley said, his words just above a whisper. No one needed a diagnosis post-game to truly appreciate just how difficult this one was for the Giants, aiming to go 3-0 for the first time since 2009.

The Cowboys (2-1) dominated the line of scrimmage for much of the game, making plays when it mattered. The Giants (2-1), as they did the first two weeks en route to victories, hung in there and were scrappy.

This time, Barkley's 36-yard touchdown run gave them life, and Jones refused to let their upset bid die, not without a fight. "Daniel was fighting his ass off," Sills quipped. "He's a true competitor, he's the biggest competitor we have on this team. He plays hard. He plays tough. And he does whatever he needs to do to give us a chance to succeed."

Judging by pure numbers, Jones was average at best Monday night. It's also pretty foolish to judge his performance strictly by statistics. He completed 20-of-37 passes for 197 yards and an interception, but also rushed for 79 yards on nine carries, scrambling through and around constant duress.

Jones’ career record in prime-time games is now 0-9, and the Giants are 0-11 on this stage since Jones joined the team. He managed the offense well over the first two weeks, but when the Cowboys put him in position to have to make plays with his arm, not just his legs, Jones found a way to do that throughout much of the game.

You can believe Jones isn't the best option at quarterback for the Giants next season and still give him credit for how he's playing. That may be difficult to do for those who are already convinced Jones does not have what it takes to be the guy, and that may ultimately be proven true.

This was not on him, though, and he deserved much better. Drops by Shepard and Kenny Golladay squelched a Giants' rally on their second-to-last possession, and then Sills' slip led to the game-clinching interception.

Added Giants center Jon Feliciano: "[Jones] put his body on the line and he went out there, gave it all he had, and it's up to the rest of us to help him."

Neal was punished by veteran DeMarcus Lawrence, who picked apart every aspect of his game. The Giants' No. 7 overall pick was asked if he has ever had a game that bad.

"Never," he said, pausing for a moment before adding: "Nope. Never."

The final sequence of events on the Giants' last offensive play will be what lingers for Barkley, Sills and others.

Jones fired for what would have been a gain of about 20 yards or so, but Sills stumbled, allowing Trevon Diggs to make a diving interception.

"Slipped on the in-cut, something that can't happen," Sills said. "Can't happen. Can't let offense down like that. Can't let 8 [Jones] down like that. Just can't happen."

While the Giants found themselves in disbelief with how Diggs ended up with the football, they were suddenly forced to make sense of what happened to Shepard on the other side of the field.

"It's hard," Barkley said. "I would say I'm one of the biggest competitors, but when I saw Shep was down, I was like, 'What the heck is happening?' Obviously I realized it was a pick, but in that moment, you see him on the ground, I didn't even want to walk over there. I dropped, said a quick prayer and, [sighs], it's tough. He's been through a lot of injuries recently, it's tough to come back and battle the way he has, from an Achilles, and to go down on a play like that, it's a tough way to end an emotional game."

The Giants have been focused on process over outcome in the early stages of this rebuild with general manager Joe Schoen and coach Brian Daboll at the helm. They won two games very few expected them to win, and with a chance to take a significant step forward in that development, the Cowboys forced the Giants to accept how far they still have to go.

The Bears (2-1) will come to MetLife next Sunday, and the Giants have a chance to finish off their best month in a while.

Take it from Neal, whose growing pains are symbolic of the Giants' current plight: they're competing, but there is a gap that needs to be closed in order to complete the process.

"I just got to play better. There’s no other way to call it," Neal said. "I can get technical with you guys all day long, but I just gotta play better. There’s no other way to slice it or sugarcoat it. I gotta play a better brand of football."

That sentiment perfectly fits these imperfect Giants, with plenty of regret yet not without hope, as they move forward in trying to reset after this one.

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: 'A gut punch ending' for NY Giants in emotional loss to Cowboys