*The Giants extended their winning stream to six games with a defeat of the Browns Sunday: *
CLEVELAND – Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was born in 1986, 21 years after the popular television show "Rawhide" went off the air. But there he was, singing the theme song late Sunday afternoon in Cleveland.
"We are rollin', rollin', rollin,'" DRC crooned as he entered the locker room in FirstEnergy Stadium. It likely won't catch on as the Giants' theme song, but the nine-year veteran cornerback spoke – actually, sang – the truth. The Giants stretched their longest winning streak in eight years to six games with a 27-13 victory against the winless Browns. The 8-3 Giants must now prepare for a five-game stretch run that begins with three consecutive first-place teams in Pittsburgh, Dallas and Detroit.
"We have to get better," coach Ben McAdoo said. "We believe that we're going to win the game and find a way to get the game in our favor at the end. We need to get better at getting better as the season goes on."
The Giants had several noteworthy performances. Eli Manning threw three touchdown passes, including two to Odell Beckham, Jr., who had a third score on a punt return nullified by a holding penalty. Dwayne Harris had the other touchdown catch, on his first reception of the season. Jason Pierre-Paul had a career-high 3.0 sacks and returned a fumble 43 yards for a score to become the first player in history to put that daily double together in a game. Punter Brad Wing was a weapon, finishing with a 44.7-yard net average and placing five punts inside the 20, including three inside the 10.
Yet the prevailing opinion in the locker room was that while the players like the feeling of rollin', they are making the journey much more difficult than it needs to be.
The Giants finished with 296 yards and 13 first downs, and owned the ball for just 26:09, a trio of figures that hardly guarantees success in the NFL. Manning completed only 15 passes and missed several open receivers. At one point, he flung a cup to the ground in disgust on the sideline, a rare display of emotion from the 13-year veteran. The Giants were penalized nine times, and Bobby Rainey muffed a fumble that led to both a Cody Parkey field goal and Rainey's removal as the team's punt returner. Jeez, Robbie Gould even missed another extra point attempt, his third in two games.
"It was tough," Manning conceded. "Tough to move the ball consistently. They had a good plan for us. They showed a lot of the same looks. It was just tough to make some plays. Had some opportunities and looks to make some. We had to come up with them. It was one of those days where they were kind of giving us some shots down the field and you have to hit them. We hit a couple of them, but we have to be able to hit more of those. Just be able to find completions and run the ball consistently. Have to move the ball better than we did today."
"I feel like we came out and were sloppy altogether," Pierre-Paul said. "We played on their level. We're going to correct it. Just look at film and correct it. Those guys knew that. Kelvin Shepard told us that it wasn't a great win and we have to get better. It wasn't a great win and we do have to get better. That's the important thing, just to get better."
It took some time to do that Sunday. The Giants punted on each of their first four possessions. The Browns were no better, punting four times and losing a fumble on their first five series. But Cleveland is 0-12 and has struggled all year. The Giants have much higher aspirations. So why did the offense sputter for much of the game?
"Too many penalties, for one thing," McAdoo said. "The type of game it was, I thought we had some moments where we ran the ball well, but we were inconsistent there. At times, pass protection was good and at times, it wasn't. The way they were playing coverage, we needed a little time to beat it. We had some opportunities to make some big plays in the ballgame and we didn't make them. Just inconsistent and penalties."
The Giants took a 7-0 lead midway through the second quarter when Harris beat rookie cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun and caught Manning's perfectly-thrown 13-yard pass.
"I'll take it," Harris said. "One target, one catch, one touchdown. That sounds nice to me."
Harris did not handle the punt and kickoff return duties as he normally does.
"I'm a little banged up," Harris said. "Wrist, finger, shoulder, toe. Whatever you can name, I have it banged up. They just try and keep the hits on me minimal. That's why I didn't return today."
After Parkey's field goal, Manning hit Beckham, who was crossing left to right in the center of the field and had a step on two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden. Beckham caught the ball on the Cleveland 30-yard line and jetted untouched to the end zone. Parkey's 25-yard field goal as time expired cut the Giants' halftime lead to 14-6.
After a scoreless third quarter, the Giants scored first in the fourth when Johnathan Hankins sacked Josh McCown, the ball popped in the air, and Pierre-Paul grabbed it and returned it 43 yards for his third career touchdown.
"He's been playing like a monster," fellow defensive end Olivier Vernon said of JPP, who has 6.0 sacks in two games.
The Browns quickly drove 75 yards in five plays, including McCown's 21-yard touchdown pass to rookie Corey Coleman, who was alone in the end zone.
The Giants responded with a six-play, 73-yard series on which Beckham's 41-yard catch-and-run set up his 4-yard touchdown reception for the game's final score. But the Giants couldn't capitalize on an opportunity to clinch the victory when they got the ball back with 2:32 remaining. Instead, they came up short on a third down and punted.
In the postgame locker room, the players evidenced an odd mixture of happiness about their victory, but dissatisfaction regarding their performance.
"Whatever it is, a win is a win," Beckham said. "Just have to find ways to not put the defense back on the field. Just close these games out ourselves. Take steps as an offense. I don't think we took a step back today, but I definitely think we could've taken a bigger step forward. We have time. A couple more games left. We have to progress from here."
"We could've played way better today," Vernon said. "I'm glad we got the win, but we still have a lot of work to do to play a full phase football game. All we can do now is look forward to Pittsburgh."
These five players made a key impact Sunday in Cleveland