Sunday's game between the Giants and Dolphins won't be remembered for anything between the whistles. It will be known as Eli Manning's farewell – if indeed it turns out to be his final start in front of the home crowd.
The lasting image will be of the two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback, just replaced by Alex Tanney with a 36-20 lead comfortably in hand, standing on the sideline as teammates, coaches and fans gave a collective "Thank You."
But that warm, fuzzy moment never happens if not for the following plays in a cold, windy MetLife Stadium. Here are the turning points from the victory that snapped a nine-game losing streak:
PLAY 1 (4th and 1 at NYG10, 2:24 1st qtr): Patrick Laird rush to the right for a loss of 3 yards to the NYG13. Tackled by Julian Love and Dalvin Tomlinson.
Entering this week, the Dolphins had gone for it on fourth down 24 times this season, the second-highest total in the NFL. The highest total belonged to the Giants with 27. So there was not much of a surprise when coach Brian Flores kept Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins offense on the field on fourth-and-one at the Giants 10 late in the first quarter. On the Dolphins' previous drive, their first of the game, Jason Sanders missed a 49-yard field goal attempt. This time they ran the ball, but Tomlinson and Love met Laird in the backfield for a loss. It set the tone as the Dolphins converted just one of three fourth-down attempts on the day. The Giants also held Miami to three of 13 on third down. "It's those types of plays that come back to haunt you in this league," Flores said.
PLAY 2 (1st and 10 at NYG49, 8:12 2nd qtr): Eli Manning pass to the middle to Golden Tate for 51 yards for a TOUCHDOWN.
The Dolphins struck first with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Fitzpatrick to DeVante Parker, but the Giants responded with one of their own on the ensuing possession. After a 24-yard defensive pass interference penalty on Miami, Golden Tate, the NFL's leader in yards after catch since he was drafted in 2010, tipped a 25-yard pass to himself and broke free for a 51-yard catch-and-run into the end zone.
"The way the season is going, the way these last 10 or 11 weeks have gone, the team obviously needed a win just for morale and to keep things going," Manning said. "It's tough to go every week, be close, to compete and practice hard. Guys are giving great effort and doing a lot of good things, we're just falling a little short. But today, we obviously were able to put it all together. The defense played great. Offensively, we ran the ball well, hit up big plays in the passing game and did enough good things to get the win. Just proud of the guys. I know they all wanted to get me a win, and I wanted to get them a win as well."
PLAY 3 (1st and 10 at NYG30, 14:54 3rd qtr): Eli Manning pass to the left to Darius Slayton for 26 yards to the Mia44. Tackled by Nate Brooks.
The Dolphins tacked on a short field goal just before halftime to take a 10-7 lead into the locker room. The Giants came out swinging, though, and Manning hit rookie Darius Slayton for a 26-yard completion on the first play of the second half. With some momentum, Manning drove down the field and capped it off with a five-yard touchdown to Slayton, the rookie's third score in two weeks.
"It's probably something I won't be able to appreciate until I get older and look back fully, but it's definitely a special thing for me," Slayton said. "Just being a young guy, a rookie at that, playing with a Hall of Fame quarterback, getting to see something like that, it was a lot of fun."
PLAY 4 (1st and 10 at NYG32, 1:54 4th qtr): Javorius Allen rush to the right for a loss of 1 yard to the NYG31. Tackled by Vince Biegel. Miami Dolphins timeout. Alex Tanney entered game.
All right, so the outcome of the game did not hinge on this play, but it was the emotional crux. A safety, two Saquon Barkley touchdowns, and another score from Javorius Allen made up a 22-0 run by the Giants to put the game out of reach. Miami then added a touchdown, bringing Manning back on the field for a final time in the game and possibly ever. His last play was a handoff that lost a yard, but what came next was much more than that. The coaching staff took Manning out of the game, and thus the stage was his. Manning was asked in his postgame press conference what he will remember most from the day.
"Probably just the fans, the chants, the awkward feeling of standing there on the sideline, kind of a circle around me," he said. "Everyone looking at me and staring at me, a camera on me and not feeling real comfortable in that circumstance. But getting taken out there in the fourth (quarter) and just having all my teammates come up to me and say something, little hugs. You appreciate all of those guys and everything they've done to get this win today."
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