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Cover 3: Takeaways from Giants vs. Dolphins

The Giants.com crew reacts to the Sunday's 36-20 win over the Dolphins, which snapped a nine-game losing streak by the Giants.

John Schmeelk: What happened at MetLife Stadium on Sunday was rare. Football is not baseball, where a player can easily be taken off the field in the middle of an inning to get a standing ovation from the crowd as he trots back to the dugout. It isn't basketball, where a coach can call a timeout so a player can get pulled off the court to feel the love from his home fans. It is rare that football works that way, but for one day in East Rutherford, New Jersey, it did.

It wasn't quite Derek Jeter making his final swing as a Yankee a walk-off hit, but Eli Manning's potential send-off on Sunday was just about as close as you can get in a NFL game. In what may be his final start for the Giants at MetLife Stadium, Manning outscored the Dolphins, 29-3, in the second half. His name was chanted throughout the game, and he was feted like a hero after being removed in the fourth quarter when the game was no longer in doubt.

Manning is never someone who likes the individual attention, and it was obvious he was a little uncomfortable when he was being shown on the stadium video boards on the team's final possession. The smile he couldn't stop from creeping across his lips showed exactly how much he appreciated the love being shown to him by the fans to whom he gave so many great memories over the years.

In a season without a lot of highlights, Sunday was a fun moment for fans and everyone that has been around Eli Manning for so long. He has been the quarterback of the Giants since I started working Giants games all the way back in 2004 as a board operator at WFAN. He has been a constant since I was hired by the team in 2007. He is the most down to earth, easy-going star athlete I have ever been around and it isn't close. It only would have felt right if the Giants won the game, and they did, in part because of Manning's play in the second half. He deserved a chance to have that experience, and I'm thrilled he got it.

Dan Salomone: Sunday was the 10th 100-yard rushing game of Saquon Barkley's career. It was his first such game without a run of at least 20 yards. "Everyone loves it when we're popping it for 60 and 80 yards," said Barkley, whose longest run was 12 yards near the end of the first quarter. "But sometimes it's those four or fives or gritty runs that wear a defense down." For the first time in a long time, the Giants were able to do just that. They rushed 33 times in all, their second-highest total behind the 37 attempts in Week 4 vs. Washington. The late September matchup was also their last victory.

Barkley did not play in that game. He was one week removed from a high ankle sprain that kept him out three games. Since his Week 7 return, a stretch that had included zero games with 100 yards on the ground and the infamous one yard on 13 carries against the Jets, Barkley fielded questions about his health.

"I've been tired of that," Barkley admitted after scoring two touchdowns and adding 31 yards on four catches. "After the bye week, there's no excuse. I felt like I showed flashes in Chicago and Philly and Green Bay. But realistically, where it was today is where it was going to go. Meaning, if we run the ball, stick to the run. We didn't go away from the run. We had nice, long drives where you can wear and tear them down."

Barkley's last touch of the game came with 12:10 remaining. Buck Allen replaced him and proceeded to put the game out of reach with a one-yard rushing touchdown. But it was another relief appearance that everyone tuned in to see. Alex Tanney went in for Eli Manning with 1:50 remaining in what could be the two-time Super Bowl MVP's final start at home.

"If that is his last game and that's the way we send Eli off, then that's the way we envisioned doing," Barkley said. "I know I wanted to go out there and play my tail off and I know those guys wanted to do the same, too, for 10. He's meant so much to this city and to this franchise for such a long time. He's a special person and a special player. If that is the way he gets sent off, I'm glad we were able to do it in a win and do it in that fashion."

Lance Medow: Following last Monday's loss to the Eagles, I discussed how third down efficiency has helped define the Giants' season. Well, that theme continued Sunday, but this time the team showed how when you have success, you can reap the rewards. In the previous two games, the Giants were 7-26 (26%) on third down and their opponents (Packers, Eagles) 16-34 (47%). That's a noticeable disparity and no surprise why the Giants lost both of those contests. That script completely flipped against the Dolphins. The Giants went 5-11 (45%) on third down and held Miami to 3-13 (23%). So the big question is why the sudden change? Execution on first and second down is the answer.

The Giants ran the ball effectively and produced their third highest rushing total (138 yards) of the season. They also matched their second highest total of first downs with 24. That's no coincidence. On their four touchdown drives in the second half, they faced a total of two third downs and of their 11 third downs, eight were for five yards or less, including seven for three yards or less. That's what happens when you run the ball effectively on early downs and avoid negative plays. Saquon Barkley ran the ball 24 times and he had just one run for no gain and none for negative yards. That hasn't been the case for the bulk of the season. They also pounded the ball in the red zone, which is why they scored touchdowns on all four opportunities inside Miami's 20-yard line, including three rushing scores. When you're dealing with less territory in the red zone, it's imperative to be able to run the ball and that's why the results were the complete opposite of recent history. The team also avoided the costly penalties on offense as they had just two (Sterling Shepard pass interference, Will Hernandez holding). Outside of that, it was mostly clean football.

The same thing can be said for the opposite side of the ball. Of the Dolphins 13 third downs, seven were for nine yards or more and Miami converted just one of those opportunities. In previous games, it really made no difference the down and distance for the opposition because the opposition found a way to convert, but against the Dolphins, while there were some missed tackles early, the defense avoided giving up explosive plays and didn't commit penalties to help extend drives. There were just two penalties on defense (Alec Ogletree holding, DeAndre Baker pass interference). The Giants have been plagued by self-inflicted wounds throughout the season, but that wasn't the case in Sunday's win and when mistakes were made, such as three interceptions, the defense responded by limiting Miami to just six points off those three mishaps.

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