EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants continued their winning ways Sunday with a collection of vital contributors both famous and previously anonymous.
Saquon Barkley and the rushing attack again trampled the opposition. Daniel Jones completed more than three-quarters of his passes for the third time this season, played his sixth consecutive game without throwing an interception and posted his career-best passer rating. Playing on his 25th birthday, Dexter Lawrence's ascent to stardom continued with five tackles, one sack, one passed defensed and five quarterback hits.
Those are names Giants fan hear every week. Not so Lawrence Cager, a tight end who scored his first career touchdown. Or safety Jason Pinnock, who had 1.5 sacks, four tackles and twice hit Houston quarterback Davis Mills. How about rookie safety Dane Belton, who came up with a critical fourth-quarter interception in the end zone, just the Giants' second pick of the season?
When the assembled cast concluded its day's work, the Giants had earned a 24-16 victory against the Texans in MetLife Stadium, raising their record to 7-2, the best they've been at this juncture in 14 years. With the Dallas Cowboys' loss late Sunday in Green Bay, the Giants are in sole possession of second place in the NFC East, behind 8-0 Philadelphia, which hosts Washington Monday night.
"I think certainly after the game, you got to enjoy the wins and reflect a little bit on where we are," Jones said. "Certainly, it's a lot better on this side of it than how we've been in years past. You got to enjoy that and appreciate it, but at the same time, know there's still a lot we need to improve on, there's a lot still out there for us to do, especially on offense. That's where we're focused."
"Each week, we just do what we think we need to do for that particular game," coach Brian Daboll said. "If it's 60 passes, it's 60 passes. That's what we do as a coaching staff. That's what we'll always do. I wouldn't give it a label. I would just say we try to do the best job we can to formulate a plan and make sure the players execute it."
View photos from the Giants' Week 10 win over the Houston Texans.
The plan Sunday, as it often is, was run Saquon run. Barkley finished with a career-high 35 carries for 152 yards, including a two-yard touchdown in the third quarter. He also caught an eight-yard pass.
The Giants frequently used one (Nick Gates) or three (Matt Peart, Jack Anderson and Gates) extra linemen to help control the line of scrimmage and create space for Barkley. Their time of possession was a healthy 33:20.
"It's really fun, to be honest," Barley said of his heavy workload. "At the end of the day, just want to a find a way to win games. Today, that was the mindset that we needed to get the job done and we were able to get it done."
Barkley's season totals are 198 carries for 931 yards.
"The thing, I think, with him is (he) takes a lot of shots," Daboll said. "So, we try to do the best job we can – the medical staff, the sports science – of practicing him the right way. And this week, he was fresh. So, he had a really good week of practice. We were handing him the ball at the 20 (yard line) and he was running the ball to the end zone, 80 yards, and then coming back and doing it again. So, I thought that the stuff he did during the week carried over. Obviously, he's having a good season for us. He had a good day."
So did Jones, who completed 13 of 17 passes for 197 yards, including touchdowns of nine yards to Cager in the first quarter and 54 yards to Darius Slayton in the third. His rating of 153.3 was significantly higher than the 132.1 he posted at Washington on Dec. 22, 2019. Jones has thrown 145 consecutive passes without an interception.
Afterward, Jones preferred to discuss the entire offense than his own exploits.
"I think the guys up front did a great job controlling the line of scrimmage all game," Jones said. "I thought we had a good plan in the run game coming in and those guys did a good executing. Saquon (Barkley) obviously did a great job running it. (Running back Matt) Breida did a great job when he got in there, too."
The Giants never trailed. Cager, who joined the practice squad on Oct. 18 and was elevated to the gameday roster for the second time, gave the Giants a 7-0 lead on their first offensive possession. A 38-yard field goal by Houston's Ka'imi Fairbairn cut the Giants halftime lead to four points.
On the fifth play of the second half, Jones was leveled by defensive end Mario Addison, but managed to throw the ball to Slayton, who evaded a tackle attempt by rookie Jalen Pitre and turned a short pass into the Giants' third-longest play of the season.
"I felt the pressure," Jones said. "They brought a blitz and twisted up front. Great job by him losing the guy on the route and then he did the rest."
Houston responded with its only touchdown, on a 12-yard pass from Mills to Nico Collins that made it 14-10.
The Giants went back to attack mode as Barkley gained 22 of the 74 yards on a 12-play drive that ended with his two-yard touchdown run, his sixth score of the season.
The Texans had chances to seize the lead, but the defense wouldn't let them. Houston advanced into the red zone six times, including on each of its five second-half possessions. But the Giants allowed only the one touchdown.
On the second play of the fourth quarter, Leonard Williams forced rookie running back Dameon Pierce to fumble. The ball was recovered at the seven-yard line by Jaylon Smith, who advanced it to the 11.
After the Giants went three-and-out, the Titans took possession at their own 48-yard line. They had a first down at the Giants' 14-yard line before heading backwards – Mills threw an incompletion, Brandin Cooks was penalized for illegal formation and Mills' 19-yard touchdown pass to Cooks was nullified by Kenyon Green's holding penalty. On second-and-25 from the 29, Mills' pass for Phillip Dorsett was intercepted by Belton, who had earlier been unable to help cornerback Fabian Moreau on Collins' touchdown.
"Being able to make a play in general is big," Belton said. "Especially seeing it right before and being able to come back was huge for sure."
"I think they (the takeaways) were huge," Williams said. "They were definitely in scoring positions, and we did a good job of stopping them from scoring. And it ended up being kind of a tight game. If they would've scored in those few red zone plays, then who knows the outcome? But I think defense did a good job of standing up in those situations."
With the Giants owning a two-score lead, the Texans were desperate to reach the end zone. They had a first down at the Giants' 18 but were forced to settle for Fairbairn's 34-yard field goal with 2:22 left.
After Graham Gano's 49-yarder pushed the lead back to 24-13, Houston advanced to the 17-yard line before Pinnock sacked Mills for a 10-yard loss. Fairbairn kicked a 46-yard field goal with just seven seconds left and the Giants secured the subsequent onside kick to clinch the victory.
The Giants will host the 3-6 Detroit Lions next week.
"You're not too excited about it because you know it's a long season and you got to keep going week by week," Barkley said. "Being healthy during it, it's not something that I'm shocked about. I believe in having positive thinking. I've been vocal about it when I was hurt that I feel like we're going to get back on track and I want to be part of the reason to help us get back on track. We're doing it right now, 7-2, great start, especially coming off a bye week and a loss. That was our mindset, come out and go 1-0. We were able to do that and now we got to build on that to next week."