EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It was only fitting that on the day the Giants held their first Legacy Game of the season, they renewed a rivalry that is 97 years old, and the two teams put on a throwback performance.
In an age when most teams prefer to move the ball through the air, the Giants and Chicago Bears staged an old-time ground battle. They combined for 76 rushing attempts, exactly double the 38 passes that were thrown. The teams ran for 411 yards and gained only 226 yards passing.
The Giants emerged from the retro tussle with a 20-12 victory that improved their record to 3-1, their best four-game start since 2011. But it also left them concerned about the health of several players who left the game with injuries.
"Tough game. Physical game," Giants coach Brian Daboll said. "It's what we thought it would be, and I thought Chicago played physical. I thought our guys played physical. (We) made a few more plays than they did. There were a lot of bumps and bruises. I don't know the answers to any of the questions relative to any of the players yet. We'll figure that out as we get going. But tough, competitive game."
Quarterback Daniel Jones figured in both of the game's key elements. In a contest with no passing scores, Jones was responsible for both of the Giants' touchdowns on runs of 21 and eight yards, the second two-rushing touchdown performance of his career.
But Jones also hurt his left ankle when he was sacked by rookie safety Jaquon Brisker late in the third quarter. He was replaced by Tyrod Taylor, who threw the game's only interception but picked up three first downs with third-down runs. However, he was hit in the helmet on the last of those runs and left the game with a concussion. Jones then re-entered the game, first splitting wide left instead of under center.
"I feel good," Jones said. "A little sore but all good. Listen to the trainers and doctors and go from there but feeling good."
Asked if he felt better at the end of the game than he did when he first walked off, Jones said, "Yeah, maybe a little bit. Once I got out there, I got back loose again and felt a little better. Like I said, I'm feeling good, and I'll listen to the trainers and doctors and go from there."
The Giants will next appear in public in London, where they will face the Green Bay Packers.
The dominant player in Sunday's game was Saquon Barkley, who is perfectly suited for this kind of skirmish. He finished with a career-high 31 rushing attempts for 146 yards, his fourth-highest total. After Taylor left and Jones returned to the field with a slight limp, Barkley took four direct snaps and carried the ball on 10 of the Giants' final 11 plays.
"When I saw Tyrod go down, I kind of realized I'm up next, I'm the quarterback," Barkley said. "First of all, you have to give credit to D.J. coming back in the game. I can't curse, he's a tough you know what. Nothing but respect for him to go in and continue to fight through that for his team just shows you the type of person and type of player he is. I think I just tried my best to read it. It's really not that hard, I guess, but I think I made the right reads on them. But we were able to keep the ball moving, get down field, get some points and the defense did a great job for us."
Daboll said the Giants were prepared for losing both of their quarterbacks, a potentially calamitous situation.
"Those were plays we had in the gameplan," Daboll said. "I just thought those were the right thing to use at that particular time based on where Daniel was, limping around a little bit. And then we put a couple of other ones in on the sideline – ones that (offensive line coach) Bobby (Johnson) and I have run in the past. So didn't have to get to all of them but got to a couple of them that I thought helped us.
"Barkley's been ballhandling since training camp, not for this necessary (reason that) both quarterbacks go down –just because it's part of our package that we have. Just thought that was the best thing to do."
View photos from the Giants' Week 4 game against the Chicago Bears at MetLife Stadium.
Since Barkley leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage, it's hard to argue with any plan that puts the ball in his hands.
"(Barkley) is a really good football player," Daboll said. "So, that along with Daniel's, what did he have – about 70 or something around there? That's the way we wanted to play this game. And it worked out."
"It's exciting (blocking for Barkley)," tackle Andrew Thomas said. "Sometimes I'm blocking, and it's almost like I'm watching the game. I'm in there, and you give him a little sliver, and he can make something special happen. So, it's great to block for him."
Jones scored his touchdowns on runs of 21 yards in the first quarter and eight in the second. On each, he faked a handoff to Barkley, who ran to the right with seemingly 10 defenders following him. Jones then slipped out the left side and sprinted to the end zone.
"We hit a couple of big runs with Saquon and things were opened up," Jones said. "We had a couple of complements off it and they were obviously playing Saquon, playing the downhill run, so we had some chances off of it. I think hats off to the offensive line, they did a great job of controlling the line of scrimmage all day."
Graham Gano scored the Giants' remaining points on field goals of 44 and 43 yards in the second half.
The Bears executed the same grind-it-out gameplan. They succeeded in part, rushing for 149 yards. But their scoring was limited to four field goals by Michael Badgley, who substituted for the injured Cairo Santos. They kicked fields goals on each of their three trips into the red zone.
"Bending, but not breaking," lineman Dexter Lawrence said of the defense. "We're big on 'play the next down'. The next play is our play type of thing. You're kind of seeing that in the red zone."
Chicago rarely found success when it tried to pass. Justin Fields threw for 174 yards – 56 on one completion to Darnell Moody – and was sacked six times, twice by Lawrence.
"Just rushing as a group," Lawrence said. "Keeping him in the pocket, he had a lot of yards kind of escaping through little gaps and things like that. So, our plan was just to condense the pocket on him. He was holding the ball for us, and we got him."
The Giants did not allow a touchdown for the first time since Oct. 24, 2021, in a 25-3 victory against Carolina.
The triumph came laden with concerns. In addition to Jones and Taylor, cornerback Aaron Robinson (knee), safety Julian Love (concussion), tackle Evan Neal (neck), wide receiver Kenny Golladay (knee) and defensive tackle Henry Mondeaux (ankle) were all injured and did not return. Guard Mark Glowinski (ankle) did.
"You just move on," Daboll said. "I mean look, you feel for the players that get injured that give everything they have during the week to get their bodies and their minds right. And if somebody's out, that's why you have other players on the roster that you have confidence and faith in, or they wouldn't be on the roster. So, you have to obviously show empathy to your players that get hurt, but you're onto the next play quickly. And you're not worried."
Instead, you win.