Recap: The Giants improved to 10-4 on the season with a 17-6 win over the Lions.
Jonathan Casillas has played on two Super Bowl-winning teams, so he knows what it takes to win a championship. The Giants' linebacker and defensive captain believes the first requirement is a suffocating defense, one that keeps the opposing team out of the end zone and saps its will. The kind of defense the Giants have.
Despite missing two key players, despite surrendering what could have been a game-changing big play, the unit dominated the Detroit Lions Sunday in the Giants' 17-6 victory in MetLife Stadium. It was the second consecutive game in which the Giants held their foes to a final score in the single digits. Last week, they beat Dallas, 10-7. It's worth remembering the Cowboys and Lions were a combined 20-5 when they ran into the Big Blue stone wall.>> WATCH GIANTS VS. LIONS HIGHLIGHTS
The Giants improved to 10-4 with their eighth victory in nine games."As of right now, I think that's what we're looking at ourselves as a championship-caliber defense, a championship-caliber team," Casillas said. "We're starting to get these games together, we're starting to put them together and we're finishing. At the end of the day, December rolls into January and you want to be finishing these games. And when the opponent watches the film the next week, they want to see you finishing, that's a little bit of an intimidation factor."
The offense did its part, even contributing an extra touchdown this week. Eli Manning completed his first 11 passes, a career-high, and threw touchdown passes to Sterling Shepard (six yards in the first quarter) and Odell Beckham, Jr. (who made a nifty one-handed grab for a four-yard score in the fourth). Robbie Gould added a 47-yard field goal.
Punter Brad Wing had another brilliant game, dropping punts on the Detroit four and three-yard lines on consecutive possessions in the second half. He had a 41.0-yard net average, despite an 18-yard punt caused by a partial block.
But the Giants won primarily because the defense created another masterpiece. Detroit's scoring was limited to Matt Prater field goals of 48 and 33 yards. The Giants did not allow an offensive touchdown for the first time since a 36-7 victory at Tennessee on Dec. 7, 2014 (the Titans scored on an interception return) and surrendered no touchdowns for the first time since a 20-6 victory against Washington on Dec., 29, 2013 (the Redskins got two field goals from Kai Forbath).
"The defense, they hold teams to six points, we're going to win a lot of ballgames," coach Ben McAdoo said.
"That's tough to do in this league, especially against a team like that with that many weapons. But defense played lights-out today."
"It's a mindset," said safety Landon Collins, who led the Giants with eight tackles (seven solo). "Coach Spags (defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo) told us all week that we don't want last week to be our best defensive game. That's our mindset now and we wanted to showcase it today."
Mission accomplished. The Lions did gain 324 yards, but got exactly 100 of them on two plays. Detroit's other 57 plays averaged 3.8 yards. The Lions traveled into the red zone three times, and came out with three total points, thanks to a fumble recovery and an interception in the end zone by the Giants.
"I think that our mindset is to just always play relentless ball," said cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. "Play as hard as we can, for as long as we can. That has been the motto around here, and I think that we have to keep going out and keep fighting."
DRC made two of the game's biggest plays, and he likely had the opportunity because the Giants again lost one of their best defensive players. Already playing without Jason Pierre-Paul – who missed his second game since undergoing surgery to repair a core muscle injury – the defense had to play without premier cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who left with a back injury on a third down with 14:07 remaining in the second quarter.
On Detroit's first offensive play after Jenkins' injury, his replacement, Rodgers-Cromartie, bit on a fake by Golden Tate, who caught Matthew Stafford's pass and turned it into a 67-yard gain. It could have been a touchdown had DRC not ignited his after-burners and run down Tate on the Giants' 11, a tackle that proved to be critical.
"I tried to jump one and I came out of my zone," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "I was being undisciplined, and that is a thing that I have to work on. That play should have never happened. But I just kept fighting and made sure that I caught him before he got the touchdown."
But the defense is playing so well, it comes out on top even after a mistake that results in a gain of almost 70 yards. On the next snap, Zach Zenner ran seven yards to the four, where defensive back Leon Hall knocked the ball from his hands. It bounced into the end zone, where Olivier Vernon fell on it for a touchback. It's was Hall's first forced fumble in six years, and the first recovery of Vernon's five-year career.
"Just going for the solid tackle, first and foremost," Hall said. "Anything better than that is icing on the cake."
Fittingly, it was Rodgers-Cromartie who added the final sweet touch. The Lions, desperately hoping for an unlikely comeback, drove from their own 25 to the Giants' 17 with 2:09 remaining. On third down, Stafford's pass to Anquan Boldin was intercepted in the end zone by DRC, who meandered across the end zone before stepping out of bounds.
"The play before, they lined up in the same formation," DRC said. "The slot guy was kind of open. I knew they were going to come back to it. They definitely thought they had a play. I just kept my eyes open for it. Once I saw it, I just reached for it."
When he grabbed it, the game was essentially finished. And the Giants' ravenous defense had devoured another victim.