EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants received critical contributions from numerous players on offense, defense, and special teams in their exciting 38-35 victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday in MetLife Stadium. But it was the oldest and youngest players on the team who stood above all the others.
Eli Manning, 37, and Saquon Barkley, 21, turned in brilliant performances as the Giants won for the first time in five home games this season and earned back-to-back victories for the first time since December 2016.
The 15-year veteran quarterback completed 17 of 18 passes – a Giants record 94.4 percent (minimum 10 attempts) - for 231 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, and Barkley rushed for 142 yards and scored thrice – on two runs and a reception – as the Giants improved to 3-7.
"Eli only had one incompletion, which is tremendous," Shurmur said. "He made some critical throws at critical times, Saquon touched the ball – let's all do the math here – 29 times, 27 runs and two catches, so that's a pretty good day for him."
And a terrific afternoon for the Giants. Many other players deserve mention. Corey Coleman's 40-yard kickoff return and Odell Beckham, Jr.'s 41-yard reception set up Manning's six-yard touchdown pass to Barkley just 3:18 into the game, and gave the Giants a lead they never relinquished. Beckham also scored on an eight-yard catch.
After the Bucs pulled to within three points (31-28) with 5:11 remaining, Evan Engram's 54-yard reception – the game's longest play – set up Barkley's last touchdown, on a two-yard run, that gave the Giants the cushion they needed when Mike Evans scored with 2:22 left on a 41-yard pass from Jameis Winston. Barkley's second touchdown was on a five-yard run.
"We played lights out today," Engram said. "We started out fast (scoring touchdowns on each of their first two possessions). We got our playmakers the ball and we did an amazing job blocking up front. The O-line had control of the game and had control of the line of scrimmage the entire game. Tight ends, we had our blocking packages in. Everybody was just doing their job and so when we start fast and do that, we play complementary football, we score a lot of points and that happened today."
The defense is certainly displeased with some of the Bucs' numbers – 35 points, 510 yards, and 359 passing yards allowed, and 31 first downs. And after twice taking 17-point leads (24-7 and 31-14), the Giants had to hold off a Tampa Bay team that closed to within three points at 31-28, and again at 38-35.
But the defense was also critical to the victory. On Tampa Bay's first possession, Josh Mauro and Landon Collins stopped quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on a fourth-down run from the five-yard line.
"(That is) is essentially a turnover," Shurmur said.
Alec Ogletree scored on a 15-yard interception return and three other Giants picked off passes. Michael Thomas, Ogletree and Curtis Riley intercepted Fitzpatrick, and B.W. Webb caught Winston's desperation heave with 23 seconds remaining. The four takeaways – including three on consecutive possessions spanning the second and third quarters – were a season-high.
"We knew we were going to have an opportunity, because they're a top five passing team in the league," Thomas said. "So they're going to throw the ball, we're going to have a lot of opportunities. When he throws it, let's catch it, let's take advantage of it. It's great that a bunch of guys did that today. We probably left two or three more out there on the field, but it was a great opportunity for us and we knew we needed to do that to win this game."
So did Manning. Before the Giants' bye two weeks ago, there was speculation Manning's playing time would be cut. Since then, the Giants have scored 62 points in victories against San Francisco and Tampa Bay, and Manning has thrown 49 passes without an interception.
"I thought Eli for the second week in a row, especially since the bye here, that was a winning performance by all accounts," Shurmur said.
"Just finding the rhythm," Manning said. "Just kind of our identity. I think the offensive line has been playing really well the last couple of weeks. Just running the football, play actions have been really good for us. Getting the ball down the field, the protection has been good down the field. I think those combinations. We can run the football and play action. That first drive, run the football, get a first down, have a play action pass and hit Odell for a 40-yard gain. That was the start of it. All day, ran the ball well, play action was good and we scored in the red zone. That has been good for us the last couple of weeks."
Barkley added another chapter to what is becoming the finest rookie season by a player in Giants history. He averaged 5.3 yards a carry and became the first Giants player to score three touchdowns in a game since Beckham did it in New Orleans on Nov. 1, 2015. With Barkley leading the way, the Giants rushed for a season-high 163 yards.
"We definitely got the run game going today," said Barkley, who exceeded 100 rushing yards for the third time this season. "We got great calls from our coaches, too. But when we get the run game going, everything else kind of clicked. We got them (Tampa Bay) to commit more to the run so we could take some deep shots and take shots down the field. It also keeps the clock and the chains moving."
Shurmur was asked what kind of luxury it is to have a back as talented like Barkley to hand and throw the ball to.
"It's a huge luxury," he said. "He's an outstanding player and when you can throw it to him and hand it to him, that makes things terrific. He's had a positive contribution in our three victories, and he's gotten better in each of the other games. It's great for the New York Football Giants if Saquon's with us."
The only mishap either Manning or Barkley seemingly had occurred on the same play. It was on Manning's only incompletion of the game, on a second-quarter pass when Barkley was open down the right sideline.
"He was running wide open, we've got to connect on that," Shurmur said.
"I just missed him," Manning said. "I have to look at it on film. Just a combination of both, I could probably throw it a little better and see when he is looking back to make sure he is not looking too late. We have to be able to hit that one. That was a big third down."
Barkley demonstrated he has learned about accountability from his much-admired and experienced teammate.
"I definitely owe Eli something, because he would've had a perfect day if I caught that ball," Barkley said. "I've caught that ball multiple times in practice. I work on that catch every day and every time we warm up for a game, and I wasn't up to my standards there, so I definitely owe him something."
After the way he played on Sunday, the Giants will let it slide.