EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – This was not the first impression that quarterback Davis Webb was hoping to make on the new regime. His first six passes in the New York Giants’ preseason opener Thursday night fell incomplete. Most sailed over the heads of the intended receivers.
My notebook on Webb’s first significant NFL action this year read: “high, high, high, high.” He missed wide receiver Russell Shepard on a corner route that would have been a big play. That was the one that bothered Webb most. He thought it was a long completion when the ball left his hand, only to realize seconds later that very little on this day would allow the Giants’ new coach and general manager to feel they had the heir to Eli Manning on their roster.
Webb struggled in the 20-10 loss to the Browns to the point that the Giants likely need to see more in a game atmosphere to feel confident about their backup for the 2018 season.
It's important to remember that it’s only one preseason game. This performance on its own shouldn’t be an indictment of Webb’s abilities. He is still a young quarterback with very little professional playing experience. But it leaves doubt that there is a reliable plan for life after Manning, whenever that may come; he’s signed through the 2019 season.
Webb threw 34 passes last year in the preseason and didn’t appear in a regular-season game. He finished 9-of-22 for 70 yards Thursday night and rarely looked like the quarterback who started training camp so confident and strong.
“Davis gets a little amped up at times, and that’s what causes the ball to sail a little bit, but he had his moments,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “He had some good plays in there.”
Webb’s night ended when the Giants scored their only touchdown of the game after three consecutive runs off a turnover. One of those runs was a scramble for 6 yards.
It wasn’t nearly enough to completely erase the litany of bad throws from the inconsistent performance.
“Yeah, I need to put it on the guy’s chinstrap. That’s what I want to do, that’s what I need to do. Yeah, I missed far too many [throws],” Webb said afterward. “But at the same time, I’m going to get better from it. I’m not too worried about it. I’m going to learn from it and get better for next week.”
Consider it a learning experience. It makes this week with joint practices and then a preseason game against the Lions that much more important, both for Webb and the future of the Giants.
This summer is Webb’s chance to leave an indelible mark on the coach and general manager. They didn’t see him play a single live snap last year before passing on a quarterback with the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft and selecting running back Saquon Barkley. The early returns – one preseason game – on Barkley were encouraging.
But it has left the Giants trying to figure out this summer what they have at quarterback. With Manning entrenched as this year’s starter, Weeks 2 and 4 of the preseason might be Webb’s last opportunities of the year. Playing time in the third preseason game is usually reserved primarily for the starters. Webb and rookie Kyle Lauletta have just a couple of chances left to show in a game environment that the Giants should feel confident about the future of their franchise with a 37-year-old quarterback and two midround picks waiting in the wings.
Lauletta went 6-of-9 passing for 48 yards late in his NFL debut Thursday. He hit a few checkdowns but didn’t have many opportunities down the field. He did at least appear poised.
Manning didn’t seem to put much stock into Webb’s struggles. He’s been there before, and turned into a Pro Bowl quarterback and two-time Super Bowl winner.
Manning had a performance in the preseason of his rookie year that trumped what Webb put on the field Thursday night. Manning went 4-of-14 passing for 20 yards with two interceptions and a fumble that was returned for a touchdown in Week 3 of the 2004 preseason against the New York Jets. He understands the uneasy feeling of trying to impress early in a career.
“Yeah, you’re always nervous,” Manning said. “Your first preseason game, your first game. There is a lot going on. You want to be perfect. You have to get back to stop thinking so much, let your body take over and let your natural playing abilities take over.”
That eventually happened for Manning. But he was the No. 1 overall pick that year. He entered the starting lineup midway through his rookie season and got to experience growing pains in NFL games.
That is where the Giants whiffed. They missed an opportunity to get Webb into games last year, even after they ended Manning’s consecutive games streak. Maybe they could have gotten these kind of rough performances out of the way rather than having them linger into his second season.
Instead, the inexperience was on display Thursday night. Webb was too amped and the result was unimpressive. Now it’s back to the drawing board, get back to work and hope for a better second impression.
“Oh yeah, I’ll watch the game [film] once we get out of here and have some questions ready for the morning and kind of get better from it,” Webb said. “It’s the first preseason game, it’s an extension of training camp and you just try to get better from that.”