EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It was a long overdue victory far from home, but the Giants hope it becomes a step toward greater success and not a stand-alone highlight.
With a stirring late-game, Eli Manning-led drive, the Giants overcame a fourth-quarter deficit to defeat the San Francisco 49ers, 27-23, last night in Levi's Stadium. Sterling Shepard scored the game-winning touchdown on a three-yard pass from Manning with just 53 seconds remaining.
Their five-game losing streak ended, the Giants are 2-7 as they await their home game Sunday against the 3-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The goal now is not to celebrate the triumph in northern California, but build on it.
"Trust me it feels really good, but we still got work to do," said tight end Evan Engram, who had two key receptions on the deciding possession. "We still have goals for this season. It's just great to get out of here with a win and get back and have a short week, and keep this thing going."
That was the theme in the postgame locker room; let's not make this a one-shot deal, but instead build on it and make the game one of several victories in the season's second half.
"Wins are important," Manning said. "Wins mean a lot, especially after this season and what we've had to go through as a team, what I've had to go through, and just the questions and this and that. So, just to be able to have a two-minute drive to win a football game, hopefully we can just focus on some positive things for at least one more week."
"We are working on seven more games," said wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., who caught two touchdown passes. "We are working on Tampa. We'll see what happens after that. I wasn't joking when I said we have to win eight games (to make the playoffs). That's obviously the goal. I don't come here to line up and lose. We come here to win these games."
The Giants did enough last night to give them confidence they can continue to improve. They averaged 4.2 yards on their 23 rushing attempts, including a 23-yarder by Shepard. Manning, sacked almost four times a game in the 1-7 first half, was tackled attempting to pass only once. The defense, with linebacker B.J. Goodson intercepting two passes, held the 49ers to two touchdowns and three field goals.
The victory helped alleviate whatever frustration the Giants might have felt after all their hard work yielded just one victory in the season's first two months.
"Anytime you win, it kind of verifies that what you're doing is right," coach Pat Shurmur said. "The reason we all started playing and coaching football is because we love the competition, we love the physical nature of the game, and we love the process of getting ready to play the next opponent. Then on game day, you put all your energy into winning, all your energy into putting a winning performance on the field. So I sensed real joy in the locker room yesterday – a bunch of guys that put a lot into it - and we were able to overcome some adversity and win a football game. Hopefully, we can get on a little run now and win a few games in a row here and just see what happens. Certainly when you win, it helps verify and justify that what you're doing is right."
"I think (this helps) the morale of the team," Manning said. "We've been going through a tough stretch and it wasn't terrible football, it just wasn't good enough. Done some good, just didn't score enough points, didn't well enough in the red zone (and made) just enough bad plays that kept us from winning games. (Last night), the whole team was able to make enough good plays and the defense gets some stops, special teams get a nice kick return. Just kind of doing the things right. Not harm ourselves and if we do that I think we got a chance of winning these football games."
The Giants may have found an offensive line that can lead them forward. Jamon Brown, claimed off waivers on Halloween after the Los Angeles Rams released him, played the entire game at right guard, and the entire line stepped up its game. Saquon Barkley had more room to run, and Manning was kept mostly upright. If that continues, the Giants will have a much better chance to win each of their final seven games.
"Thought the offensive line played great," Manning said. "I thought they did a good job. I thought we had a good game plan and tried to stick with the run. We're good with it, we're patient with it and he's got us in some third and manageable and not having to hold the ball long and get the ball out of time. They did a good job. Hit some play action, hit a few things down the field and was able to get some good action and a good time."
"I thought for the most part our pass protection was as good as it's been this year," Shurmur said. "They really challenged themselves, they (the 49ers) sacked Oakland a bunch of times (in their previous game) and they have really an outstanding front, so I thought in general the O-line pass protection was really good."
The Giants' season was supposed to be all but finished when they lost seven of their first eight games. Somebody forgot to tell the Giants.
"We're not a group of guys that's going to quit," Shepard said. "We want to show everybody what the first half of the season should've looked like. We're going to try and accomplish that in the second half of the season. Like I said, guys aren't going to quit and we're going to finish this thing out."