Numerous new and relatively unknown members of the Giants' supporting cast became major players on Sunday, but the biggest contribution was made by one of the team's longest-tenured and most famous figures.
Running back Ahmad Bradshaw carried the ball 30 times for 200 yards and a touchdown – the ninth 200-yard game in franchise history – as the Giants rebounded from an early 14-point deficit to run away from the Cleveland Browns, 41-27, in MetLife Stadium.
The rushing attempts and yards were both career highs for Bradshaw, a six-year veteran playing in his 74th career regular-season game.
"I felt great today coming in the game," said Bradshaw, who began the day with 133 yards in three games (he missed the victory at Carolina with a neck injury). "I was excited because we were planning on running the ball a lot and it's a blessing in the skies. My hat goes off to my lineman; they did a great job. They couldn't have done any better. There were holes everywhere. All I did was just run and it was a great day, great game and we came out successful."
The Giants rushed for 243 yards, their highest total since 301 yards vs. Carolina on Dec. 21, 2008. They have waited for a breakout game after finishing last in the NFL in rushing in 2011.
"We knew we could do it all along," Bradshaw said. "We knew we could run the ball. We plan on it every game. We just came out today fired up and ready."
Bradshaw actually lost a fumble on the game's first play. He had 15 carries in each half, and ran for 80 yards in the first and 120 in the second.
"He made some big runs," quarterback Eli Manning said. "He made some guys miss. The offensive line, tight ends and fullbacks were all doing a great job opening up some holes and giving him an opportunity. If you give him a little crack, he can make something happen, so that's fun to see. When our offense can do that, when we can run the ball like that, it can make us very dangerous as an offense."
Manning and Victor Cruz were the other big-name offensive players who had outstanding games. Manning threw for 259 yards and three touchdowns, all of them to Cruz, for three, seven and 28 yards.
But while Manning, Cruz and Bradshaw are expected to have high-production days, many of the game's other important players stepped up for the first time.
Rookie Rueben Randle had team-high totals of six receptions for 82 yards. First-round draft choice David Wilson scored his first touchdown on a 40-yard run. Stevie Brown, who played strong safety for the injured Kenny Phillips, made what was arguably the game's biggest plays when he intercepted Brandon Weeden in the second quarter and soon added a fumble recovery on a kickoff. Rookie Markus Kuhn made his first start at defensive tackle and helped limited the Browns to 84 rushing yards. Spencer Paysinger started for the first time in his two-year career at weakside linebacker and had three tackles.
"A lot of the young men that had a chance to play under these circumstances with some people injured came through and did well, Stevie Brown being a good example," coach Tom Coughlin said. "He gave up a big play, came back and got a pick, picked up a fumble and put us in good field position. We are starving for that kind of stuff."
They certainly were early. With less than five minutes expired, they trailed, 14-0.
"My pregame talk today was all about starting fast," Manning said, "so that obviously got thrown out the window pretty early."
The Giants didn't stay down for long. In addition to their five touchdowns, Lawrence Tynes kicked field goals of 29 and 40 yards.
Cleveland countered with a 15-yard touchdown run by Trent Richardson, Weeden touchdown passes to rookie Josh Gordon of 62 and 20 yards and two Phil Dawson field goals.
The Giants seized control of the game in the second quarter, when two big plays by Brown helped spark a 17-point outburst that enabled the Giants to take a 27-17 halftime lead. The Giants scored the last 20 points of the half. It was the Giants' highest-scoring second quarter since Sept. 19, 2004 against Washington.
After Dawson and Tynes kicked field goals, the Browns owned a 17-10 lead midway through the quarter.
The Browns were in position to add to their lead with a third-and-one at the Giants' 25-yard line when Weeden's pass sailed over Gordon's head and right to Brown, who returned it 46 yards to the Cleveland 40-yard line. The takeaway was particularly satisfying for Brown, who admitted that he was at fault on Gordon's long touchdown reception.
"I knew I wanted to get back, get another turnover for the team, for doing that," Brown said. "At the same time, I don't want to press, because whenever you start pressing and you try to make a play, that's when you give up more plays. So, I was trying to be able to do what I could do, through the framework of the defense."
On first down, Manning executed a perfect play-action fake to Bradshaw before throwing to the left side for Randle, who was wide open when he caught the ball at the 20. Randle carried the ball to the four and on the next play, Bradshaw snuck through the left side of the line for the touchdown that tied the score at 17-17 with 2:52 remaining in the half.
The Giants quickly regained possession when Will Hill forced a fumble by Joshua Cribbs on the kickoff that was recovered by Brown, who returned the ball nine yards to the Browns' 29-yard line.
"It's never easy to get a turnover," Brown said. "Back-to-back like that, it did feel good. I was a little tired, but other than that, it was good."
On third-and-eight, Manning connected with tight end Martellus Bennett for a 17-yard gain. Bradshaw ran for three yards before Manning executed another outstanding play fake and threw to Cruz, who was a solitary figure on the left side of the end zone when he caught the ball.
Just 1:42 after tying the score, Cruz's touchdown gave the Giants had a 24-17 lead with 1:10 to go.
But they weren't finished. The Giants forced a punt and took possession at their 42 with only 17 seconds remaining and one timeout. With assistance from the Browns, that was more than enough time.
Bradshaw ran for 12 yards to the Browns' 46 and the Giants called timeout with 10 seconds remaining. Manning then threw down the field for Randle and the Giants got exactly what they needed, a 24-yard pass interference penalty on Buster Skrine that advanced the ball to the 22 with four seconds left. Tynes took advantage by kicking a 40-yard field goal as time expired for the 10-point halftime lead.
The Giants continued applying pressure in the third quarter, when Manning's 28-yard pass to Cruz increased the lead to 34-17. On second-and-10, Cruz got behind the Browns' secondary for the first three-touchdown game of his career.
"I was just happy to be out there and be somebody that Eli can count on," Cruz said. "I was able to come through with some big plays today so it felt good.
"We are out there understanding what we are seeing throughout the weeks of practice, in those meeting rooms, understanding what is going on and it really shows come game time."
The score capped a 95-yard drive, the Giants' longest since their 99-yarder against the Jets last Dec. 24, which included Cruz's franchise-record 99-yard catch-and-run. This series was highlighted by Bradshaw's season-long 37-yard run.
After Cruz's touchdown, Cribbs returned the kickoff 74 yards to the Giants' 30-yard line. But Weeden's third-down pass to Ben Watson gained only one yard and Dawson came on to kick a 41-yard field goal, cutting the Browns' deficit to 34-20.
Cleveland had a scoring chance early in the fourth quarter, when Usama Young intercepted a Manning pass that Cruz briefly had before Sheldon Brown knocked it from his hands. Young returned the ball 44 yards to the Giants' 27. Weeden's 10-yard pass to Richardson gave the Browns a first down at the 10. But on fourth down, Weeden's pass into the end zone was intercepted by Chase Blackburn.
Moments later, Bradshaw ran for 28 yards four plays before Wilson scored on a 40-yard run to increase the Giants' lead to 41-20 with 5:41 remaining.
Gordon scored the game's final points on a 20-yard pass from Weeden with 3:56 remaining. Will Hill recovered Dawson's onside kick to end all doubt about the outcome.
The game began disastrously for the Giants, who quickly found themselves in a 14-0 hole.
On the game's first play, Bradshaw ran off right tackle and lost the ball when guard Chris Snee inadvertently hit it. Sheldon Brown recovered for Cleveland at the Giants' 22-yard line.
The Browns scored in two plays, both Richardson runs. The first was a seven-yarder off the right side. On second down, Richardson galloped through a gaping hole in the center of the Giants' defense for the touchdown that gave the visitors a 7-0 lead just 52 seconds into the game.
After a touchback on a Giants punt, Cleveland took possession at its own 20-yard line. Five plays later, on second-and-five from the 38, Gordon won a footrace with the linebacker Chase Blackburn covering him and caught Weeden's long pass for a 62-yard touchdown, the longest play allowed by the Giants this season. Just 4:57 into the game, the Giants trailed, 14-0.
The Giants got back into the game on their next possession, an 82-yarder that ended with Manning's three-yard touchdown pass to Cruz.
On the drive, Bradshaw ran for 33 yards, Manning completed all six of his passes for 61 yards and Randle had four receptions for 42 yards. The Giants also overcame Bradshaw's 15-yard penalty for a chop block.
The Giants never got to third down in the series. Consecutive receptions by Randle moved the ball to the Browns' 24-yard line. Bradshaw then carried twice to set up a first-and-goal at the eight. Manning's pass to Randle gained five yards. On second down, Cruz's head fake enabled him to elude Skrine before he caught Manning's throw on the right side of the end zone for the Giants' first touchdown, cutting their deficit to 14-7 at the end of the first quarter.
They took over the game in the second quarter and never looked back in the second half.
"It didn't start out the way we wanted to," Coughlin said, "but along the way it got a lot better."
Thanks to contributions from numerous players, both famous and comparatively anonymous.