Talk never seemed so cheap and playing a game was never as sweet as it was for the Giants Saturday in MetLife Stadium.
After a week listening to the Jets sling verbal barbs in their direction – and arriving at the stadium to find the Super Bowl logos painted outside their locker room had been covered with a black curtain by the home-team Jets – the Giants answered in the best possible fashion. They took the lead on a franchise-record 99-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter and never relinquished it in delivering a 29-14 decision over the Jets.
The Giants improved to 8-7 and the victory sets up an NFC East title game in the same venue next week against the Dallas Cowboys, who sport the same record. The winner will capture the division championship and host a wild card playoff game the following week. The loser will end its season at 8-8.
"This is a big win because of everything that was on the line - playoffs and we knew we had to win this game to have a shot to keep ourselves in the playoff hunt," said Eli Manning, who threw the record pass to Victor Cruz. "Playing against the cross-town rivals - a lot was on the line. Guys stepped up and made some big plays."
"They did a lot of talking and we let our play do the talking for us," said safety Kenny Phillips. "We will just leave it at that."
Justin Tuck, who had a big game with four tackles, a sack and two passes defensed, admitted the victory was a little more special because the Jets had been typically chatty during the week.
"We know it's going to be hyped up – it should be," Tuck said. "I know we did a good job of saying, 'Talk is cheap, play the game' all week, but we knew they were going to talk a lot and we talked a little bit ourselves. We're not that innocent. The thing we did is we came out and backed it up. That's the most important thing. It was a must-win game for us and we get to go off to the next round, play for a playoff berth."
"Talk is cheap, play the game" is an ideal Coach Tom Coughlin delivered to the team in 2007. He mentioned it again last week even before the trash-talking reached its peak. After the game, Coughlin stuck to his script.
"We won the game and it keeps us in the playoffs," Coughlin said. "It keeps us in the hunt with destiny in our hands. That is the only way to look at it."
This game belonged to the Giants' defense. The Jets ran 89 plays – 12 more than any other opponent this season – and held the ball for 36:06, 14 minutes longer than the Giants. But the Jets averaged only 3.7 yards per play and managed only two touchdowns in 16 offensive possessions.
"I told our defense that last week we practiced with more energy and more enthusiasm and greater speed than we had in a long time," Coughlin said. "It was shocking, I looked up and said is that the same guys. I tell you they had great purpose and the way they practiced is the way they played. Tonight they were exceptional and regardless of the circumstances, kept turning the Jet offense back and that was the determining factor in the game."
"We played great team defense today," safety Antrel Rolle said. "We were relentless. We played great team ball. We forced some turnovers. We never buckled. We stayed relentless and kept our eyes on the prize. We have to keep our eye on the prize and understand that this is just the beginning of the battle. We are in playoff mode right now. We understand that and our coaches did a great job of preparing us all week. We had a game plan and we stuck to it 100 percent."
In addition to the Cruz's record touchdown, the Giants scored on a pair of rushing touchdowns by Ahmad Bradshaw, two Lawrence Tynes' field goals and a safety when Chris Canty sacked Mark Sanchez in the end zone.
The Jets, whose playoff hopes were severely damaged as they fell to 8-7, got Sanchez's five-yard touchdown pass to Josh Baker on their first offensive series and Sanchez's one-yard run in the fourth quarter.
The Giants got the first score of the second half with 13 seconds remaining in the third quarter on Bradshaw's 14-yard run. On first down, Bradshaw took a handoff, slipped between blocks by Chris Snee and Kareem McKenzie before steamrolling safety Brodney Pool at the seven and continuing to the end zone.
The score capped a four-play, 81-yard drive that was highlighted by Manning's 36-yard pass to Cruz. On the next snap, Brandon Jacobs motored around left end for a season-long 28-yard gain to the 14. Bradshaw scored on the next play.
On the first play of the fourth quarter – and the third play of the Jets' subsequent drive – Kenny Phillips intercepted an overthrown Sanchez pass for Jeremy Kerley and returned the ball to the Jets' 14-yard line. But the Giants lost four yards, so Tynes came onto kick a 36-yard field goal, which increased the Giants' lead to 20-7 with 13:18 remaining.
The Jets' ensuing possession was a wild one that included a) a defensive pass interference on Deon Grant, b) an offensive pass interference by Plaxico Burress that nullified his touchdown reception, and c) a Tuck fumble recovery that was wiped out on a review when referee Peter Morelli ruled it was actually a forward pass. The possession ended when Sanchez fumbled a snap from the one-yard line and Jacquian Williams recovered the ball in the end zone with 8:53 remaining in the game.
But the Giants gave the ball right back to the Jets when Manning's pass for Hakeem Nicks was intercepted by David Harris, who returned it to the 11-yard line. Two plays later, another Sanchez fumble was nullified when Morelli again ruled it was a pass. This time, the Jets capitalized and Sanchez's one-yard run around right end made it 20-14 with 7:17 remaining.
With 2:24 left, the Jets took possession at their own eight-yard line after Steve Weatherford's ninth punt. On the next play, Canty crashed through the line and tackled Sanchez, who tried to get rid of the ball as he was going down. But Morelli ruled that his forward progress had stopped in the end zone, where a sack is a safety.
The Jets attempted an onside kick on the free kick, but the ball went out of bounds at the Giants' 19. On first down, Bradshaw took a handoff, darted to his right and scored the clinching touchdown (and giving the Giants nine points in nine seconds).
"After the safety, I was telling Ahmad that it has happened twice to me where everybody is loaded up and the ball comes popping through," Coughlin said. "It is a great scene."
Corey Webster's interception with 40 seconds left sealed the deal.
The Giants took a 10-7 lead on an event that hadn't previously occurred in the 87-year history of the franchise – a 99-yard play. This one was a pass from Manning to Cruz, who scored his eighth touchdown of the season.
On third-and-10 from the Giants' one – where the Jets had downed a punt, Manning threw to the right side for Cruz, who caught the ball at the 11. Cruz eluded tackle attempts by Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson and took off down the sideline. Safety Eric Smith lunged at him near midfield, but Cruz skipped away from him and quickly covered the rest of the ground to the end zone. He scored with 2:12 remaining in the first half
"Just a great effort by him," Manning said of Cruz. "We wanted to call something to have a shot to get the first down, but get the ball out of my hands pretty quickly when you're backed up in your own end zone. Threw it to him and it was going to be close if we got the first down or not. I was just kind of hoping that he could maybe fall forward to get the first down in that situation. But he made two guys miss and then you saw a little speed. I thought the safety had an angle on him on the sideline, but he ran by everybody.
"A huge play in the game right there - we're down, at that point we were backed up. If we were to punt there, the Jets would've gotten great field position, a chance to score before halftime and take a pretty big lead. Obviously that flip-flopped everything. We take the lead, they miss the field goal, we go into halftime with a three-point lead in that situation. So a great effort by him and a huge play."
The 99-yard play was the longest in Giants history. The previous standard was a 98-yard pass from Earl Morrall to Homer Jones at Pittsburgh on Sept. 11, 1966. Cruz's reception was the fourth completion of at least 90 yards in Giants history.
Manning's previous long throw was a 92-yard touchdown to Mario Manningham in the 2010 season finale at Washington on Jan. 2, 2011. Cruz's previous long reception was a 74-yarder at Philadelphia on Sept.25.
The Giants took the three-point lead into their locker room at halftime when Nick Folk missed a 44-yard field goal attempt as time expired in the second quarter.
Tynes' 21-yard field goal with 11:51 remaining in the second quarter moved the Giants to within 7-3.
The nine-play, 53-yard drive included a 20-yard reception by Nicks and a 29-yard catch-and-run by Cruz, which advanced the ball to the Jets' two. But the Giants could not get the ball into the end zone. Manning threw incomplete passes to Travis Beckum and Nicks on either side of Jacobs' run that was stopped for no gain.
The Jets took a 7-0 lead on their first offensive possession on Baker's five-yard touchdown reception. On first-and-goal, Baker lined up in the backfield, slipped through the line and cut to his left. He caught Sanchez's short pass at the two and stepped into the end zone.
After the Giants punted on the game's first series, the Jets drove 53 yards in 10 plays. The Jets came up short on their only third-down conversion attempt on the drive. But when they went for it on fourth-and-four, the Giants were penalized for having 12 men on the field, giving the Jets a first down at the Giants' 31.
Two plays later, Sanchez and Santonio Holmes hooked up for a 13-yard gain. After a two-yard run, Burress caught an 11-yard pass, setting up a first-and-goal at the five. Baker scored the game's first points on the next play.