Ahmad Bradshaw and Corey Webster probably wish the Giants played Buffalo more than once every four years, because the Bills bring out the best in them.
On Sunday, Bradshaw rushed for a season-high 104 yards and scored three one-yard touchdowns and Webster intercepted two passes as the Giants overcame an early deficit to defeat the Bills, 27-24, in MetLife Stadium. The Giants, who played without Justin Tuck, Chris Snee and Brandon Jacobs, won for the fourth time in five games and head into their bye week with a 4-2 record. They are 18-5 prior to a regular season bye, tying Dallas for the best record in such games.
"I would like to be 6-0, but this is a hard-earned win," said Coach Tom Coughlin, whose team rebounded from a tough loss last week to Seattle. "To be 4-2 right now and have the bye and to be an optimist if I may, maybe we do get some (injured) guys back after this two-week period. That can help us. You have to take your hat off to the guys who went out today and played the way they did from a team concept, displaying once again the mental toughness that we always talk about. We are a team and whoever is called upon has to step up and make a play."
Bradshaw, Webster and many others did that Sunday. Lawrence Tynes scored the game-winning points on a 23-yard field goal with 1:32 remaining. But Webster and Bradshaw both made huge contributions to help set up the score. Webster intercepted Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick for the second time at the Giants' four-yard line with the score tied and only 4:02 remaining. Stevie Johnson's facemask penalty gave the Giants possession at the 19.
Bradshaw, who had a career-high 26 carries, opened the drive with an 11-yard run. Two plays later, he went around left end for a 30-yard gain to the Buffalo 37-yard line. Two pass interference penalties on Drayton Florence and two more Bradshaw runs totaling 10 yards helped move the ball to the Bills' one-yard line. But Bradshaw lost four yards and Eli Manning threw an incompletion, so Tynes came on to kick the field goal.
"Anytime I have a chance, trying to put the team on my back, keep making plays and that is what I plan to do," Bradshaw said. "Anytime they give me a shot I try to take advantage of it. They called a great play, a misdirection, and those guys up front did a heck of a job today. My hat goes off to those guys."
Asked about the 30-yard run, Bradshaw said, "Like I said, it was a misdirection. It split wide open and Mario Manningham came on a block on the safety, I was able to make the corner miss, and just tried to use my speed from there."
Webster's two interceptions were his first of the season.
"I like them both the same," Webster said when asked for his favorite. "We just needed the opportunity to get the offense back the ball, so the second one kind of set up a little better, but our job as a defense is to go out there and stop the opposing team's offense and I think we did a good job of that."
Bradshaw and Webster have had limited opportunities to play the Bills, but they've made the most of them. When the Giants clinched a postseason berth with a 38-21 victory in Buffalo on Dec. 23, 2007, Bradshaw, then a rookie, rushed for a career-high 151 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown. Webster intercepted a Trent Edwards pass and returned it 34 yards for his only career touchdown.
On Sunday, Bradshaw and Webster were again tormenting the Bills. Bradshaw is the first Giant to score three touchdowns in a game since Hakeem Nicks had three scoring receptions against Carolina on Sept. 12, 2010. He is the first Giant to run for three scores in a game since Brandon Jacobs – also against the Panthers – on Dec. 21, 2008. Jacobs scored on a pair of two-yard runs and a one-yarder.
"Bradshaw did a good job," Coughlin said. "Bradshaw is an inspiration by the energy and the way he plays. He is a tough, hard-nosed guy who wants the ball and will do what you ask him to do from a blocking standpoint. He is very competitive and from the standpoint of wanting to play according to the example he sets, it is a good one."
Asked about Webster, Coughlin said, "He made two super plays. The one interception in front of our bench, it is going to be hard to say he even saw the ball. He just made a play on it and it was a last second reaction and intercepted the ball. The other one was when they were headed into the end zone. They are moving down the field, they had hit us on a fade stop and so they decide to go over the top and he makes a hell of a play."
While the Giants scored short touchdowns, Buffalo used big plays for its points. Fred Jackson ran 80 yards for one touchdown and Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a touchdown pass to Naaman Roosevelt that covered 60 yards. He also threw a nine-yarder to Stevie Johnson in the fourth quarter. Rian Lindell kicked a 49-yard field goal for the Bills.
"We gave up a couple of big plays early in the game," Webster said. "We strive to not give up big plays. We wanted to do something to get those back. We had an opportunity to make some turnovers and get our hands on the ball and we took full advantage of it."
No one more than Webster.
Fitzpatrick's touchdown pass to Johnson tied the score at 24-24 with 8:57 remaining in the fourth quarter. On second-and-six from the nine, Johnson used a head fake to get past Webster and caught Fitzpatrick's pass in the left front corner of the end zone.
When the Bills had an opportunity to take the lead several minutes later, they ran the same play. This time, Webster picked off the pass.
"You want the chance, the opportunity, to even the score," Webster said. "That is what you play for, the competitive spirit. You want to go out there and have a chance to either play that slant route or play that exact same route again. I was blessed with the opportunity again and just wanted to be in good position to make a play on the ball."
After Tynes kicked the go-head field goal, the Bills had one last shot to win or tie the game. But they advanced no further than their own 25-yard line, where Jason Pierre-Paul knocked down Fitzpatrick's fourth-down pass.
"We practiced putting our hands up," Pierre-Paul said. "Coach told us Saturday morning to keep putting our hands up and I put my hands up last minute and knocked the ball down."
Bradshaw's third touchdown of the game gave the Giants a 24-17 lead with 6:53 remaining in the third quarter. This one was a little different than the first two, because Bradshaw leaped high with the ball held out in front of him to get in the end zone. Linebacker Nick Barnett undercut him, but Bradshaw held onto the ball.
"It was kind of cloudy at the bottom," Bradshaw said, "and I have been visualizing it all week, how I was going to try to go over the top if I had to, and I just tried to use my athletic ability to get over the top and get the ball over the line."
The Giants drove 75 yards in 10 plays for the score, the longest a 20-yard pass to Jake Ballard. Manning also threw to Manningham for a 15-yard gain. Three plays later, they appeared to hook up for a seven-yard touchdown. But after review, referee Clete Blakeman ruled that Manningham's knee had hit the ground at the one-yard line. Bradshaw dove into the end zone on the next play.
On the Bills' next possession, Fitzpatrick tried to throw a pass up the left sideline to Johnson. But Webster reached up and grabbed it at the Giants' 27-yard line and returned it 25 yards to the Buffalo 48.
But the Giants were unable to capitalize on the good field position. They almost had a touchdown on a 37-yard Manning pass, but Manningham could not hold onto it in the end zone. Coughlin challenged the ruling, but Blakeman upheld the call on the field. Later in the series, Tynes' 51-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Alex Carrington.
The game was tied at halftime, 17-17, the second week in a row the Giants were deadlocked with their opponents after two quarters.
Lindell's 49-yard field goal with 39 seconds remaining in the first half pulled the Bills even. Fitzpatrick's 15-yard pass to C.J. Spiller and Pierre-Paul's 16-yard penalty for roughing Fitzpatrick helped set up the score.
The Giants had taken a 17-14 lead on Bradshaw's second short touchdown, with 2:58 remaining. The score capped the Giants' longest drive of the season, an 89-yarder that required only five plays to complete. The longest was Manning's 60-yard pass up the left sideline to Hakeem Nicks, who caught the ball on the Bills' 35-yard line and was pushed out of bounds at the five.
D.J. Ware ran for four yards before Bradshaw took a handoff, moved up the middle and stuck out his arm to get the ball over the goal line.
Tynes' 26-yard field goal had lifted the Giants to within 14-10 with 9:51 remaining in the second quarter. Before the kick, the Giants marched 84 yards in 12 plays and 5:33. The longest plays of the series were Manning passes of 17 yards to Nicks and 14 yards to Bear Pascoe.
Buffalo led at the end of the first quarter, 14-7, after scoring two touchdowns on plays that totaled 140 yards.
The first was Jackson's 80-yard run. On the first play after the Giants' initial touchdown, Jackson ran right up the middle, zipped past safety Deon Grant and sprinted down the field. When Jackson got inside the 20, he cut to his left to avoid Aaron Ross and completed the run.
It was the longest run given up by the Giants since Oct. 15, 2006, when the Falcons' Warrick Dunn scored on a 90-yard run in Atlanta and the longest they surrendered at home since Sept. 20, 1982, when Green Bay wide receiver James Lofton scored on an 83-yard run.
The Giants went three-and-out and after Steve Weatherford's punt, the Bills took possession at their own 22. Buffalo traveled 78 yards, but required six plays to do so. Roosevelt scored the touchdown by catching Fitzpatrick's short pass on the left side before running right and up the field. He outraced the Giants' secondary to give Buffalo a 14-7 lead.
The first of Bradshaw's one-yard touchdowns gave the Giants a 7-0 lead with 5:20 remaining in the first quarter. On first-and-goal, Bradshaw powered his way between guard David Diehl and tackle Will Beatty for the score.
The touchdown was set up by Manning's 24-yard pass to Ballard, who was brought down at the one. Manning also completed passes of 17 yards to Bradshaw and 16 yards to Manningham on the drive.
Manning completed 21 of 32 passes for 292 yards, no touchdown and no interceptions. Best of all, he gets to savor a victory for two weeks before the Giants return to action Oct. 30 at home vs. Miami.
"I love winning before a bye," Manning said, "because it's just a long two weeks where you're thinking about what you could have done, where you needed to get better. Just having that locker room excited, especially a fourth quarter come from behind - defense stepped up, offense stepped up at the end. Everybody did their part."