LONDON – The Giants concluded their 2021 season on January 9 with only four victories in their 17-game season. On Sunday, exactly nine months later, the Giants won their fourth game in 2022 in just the fifth week of the season.
The revitalization of the Giants continued with their most impressive victory under first-year coach Brian Daboll. Playing in a hostile atmosphere in a foreign country, they overcame an early two-touchdown deficit, reached the end zone on consecutive fourth-quarter possessions and thwarted one of the history's great quarterbacks as Xavier McKinney put the exclamation point on the comeback by getting his hands on Aaron Rodgers' fourth-down pass from the six-yard line with 1:02 remaining.
The defense did not allow a point in the second half as the Giants held off the Green Bay Packers, 27-22, in Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The 27 points are a season high.
The Giants' 4-1 start is their best at this juncture of the season since they were 5-0 in 2009. They have won four games by a total of 17 points.
"I just think the guys just keep playing," Daboll said. "We put them in as many stressful situations as we could in OTAs, in training camp and don't flinch when something bad happens. We just don't want to flinch. We just want to keep playing. It's easy to say, I think it's hard to do but our guys do a good job with it. It's what we try to do every game. Sometimes the outcome is when what we want and sometimes it's not. I give credit to our guys, they compete like heck for 60 minutes."
They did in what sounded like Lambeau Field Europe for most of the game. And they used a formula that was equal parts standard and surprising.
Saquon Barkley was once again the offense's primary power source, with 13 carries for 70 yards, including the game-winning two-yard touchdown as a wildcat quarterback with 6:08 remaining. He briefly left the game with what appeared to be a shoulder injury, but return.
"I think we've got a tough group," quarterback Daniel Jones said. "A group that's going to compete for four quarters and 60 minutes. We got down the first half. Found a way to fight back at the end. I think we've known that, and I think we've known we have a tough, competitive group and I thought we showed that today."
Jones certainly did. One week after limping off the field with a sprained ankle, he completed 21 of 27 passes for 217 yards – despite missing his four top receivers - and ran for 27 yards on 10 carries. With Sterling Shepard, Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney and Wan'Dale Robinson all injured, the wideouts who suited up were David Sills, Darius Slayton, Richie James and Marcus Johnson, who started in his second game with the team. Slayton led the Giants with six catches for 79 yards.
"I thought the quarterback had an excellent game and he's had a few of those," Daboll said. "Maybe his stats don't reflect it, but he's led his team down to wins. He's played good at crunch time coming back from a little bit of an ankle."
Defensively, Julian Love, Jaylon Smith and Adoree' Jackson each had six tackles, though Jackson did not play in the second half after suffering neck and knee injuries. Dexter Lawrence picked up his third sack in two games and Oshane Ximines sacked a desperate Rogers on the game's final play.
And then there were the unlikely contributors. Second-year running back Gary Brightwell tied the game with his first NFL touchdown on a two-yard run with 10:08 remaining
Rookie tight end Daniel Bellinger scored he first rushing touchdown of his life – also from two yards out – to lift the Giants to within 17-10 late in the second quarter. Jones took the snap, ran to his right and flipped the ball to Barkley, who lateraled to Bellinger, who was running right and had the option to run or pass.
Bellinger said he was "pretty close" to throwing the ball. I saw Daniel Jones. I saw my teammate (tight end) Tanner Hudson. I thought about it, but I thought the smartest thing to do was run it."
"It's a play we've run in the past," Daboll said. "This one, I just told him, 'If you can run it in, I trust your legs a little bit more than your arm. I still think you can do it, but if you can do it, go ahead and do it. But if you think there's – whatsoever – anything that it might get knocked on or a might bad play happen, we have got another down, let's just line up and go again.'"
Defensively, Fabian Moreau started at right cornerback for the injured Aaron Robinson. After Jackson went down late in the half and Moreau in the fourth quarter, Nick McCloud and Justin Layne stepped in and combined for five tackles and two passes defensed.
"They did a hell of a job," McKinney said. "They were ready to go, so all credit goes to them. We didn't have to talk to them much on being ready to go. They were already prepared. When they went out there, they balled. They did what they were supposed to do. And that's all we could ask for."
Playing against the patchwork secondary, Rodgers completed only seven of 15 passes for 75 yards in the second half. Green Bay's only points in the final two quarters came courtesy of a strategic Giants safety with 11 seconds left.
"We made some adjustments at the half that we all felt great about," Love said. "We wanted to apply more pressure and we wanted to be stickier in coverage and we executed defensively. Those guys who are out there today are tough players, and so they made it work. They're crafty the way they get after things and they were just resilient the whole time."
Despite all the good the Giants did in the second half, Rodgers still had a chance to complete one of his patented comebacks when the Packers took possession at their own 25 after Barkley's touchdown.
At the two-minute warning, the Packers had a first down on the Giants' 15-yard line. Two Aaron Jones runs later, it was third-and-one at the six. Rodgers then threw to passes – the first was tipped by Kayvon Thibodeaux and the one on fourth down was deflected by McKinney.
"That's a situation where they needed obviously a touchdown," Love said. "We were up seven and they were driving; Aaron Rodgers does just what he does. That's why he's one of the greatest quarterbacks that's playing right now. We just talked as a defense and realized we've got to settle down a little bit. Just play a normal series here and just do what we do. We got them to third down and we got them to fourth down. When we get to third and fourth is when we get our really good looks in, and we made a play. That was a good stop. Bend-don't-break type of thing."
The Giants were unable to run out the clock, so on fourth down with 15 seconds left, punter Jamie Gillan took a snap, ran for the left sideline and stepped out of bounds for a safety. Following the free kick and a false start, the Packers had one last shot, but Rodgers was sacked by Ximines and fumbled as time expired.
The early part of the game did not go smoothly for the Giants. The Packers took a quick 10-0 lead on Mason Crosby's 46-yard field goal and Rodgers' four-yard touchdown pass to Allen Lazard. Graham Gano's 48-yard field goal with nine seconds left in the quarter.
In the second, two Rodgers play action fakes left tight end Marcedes Lewis wide open to catch a touchdown pass from – what else? – two yards out to make it 17-3.
The Giants responded with an 86-yard drive that ended with Bellinger's touchdown. Crosby's 48-yard field goal as time expired increased Green Bay's halftime lead to 20-10.
Gano's 37-yard field goal on the opening series of the third quarter cut the Giants' deficit to seven points. After a Packers punt, the Giants executed their most impressive drive of the season, a 15-play, 91-yard excursion that took 8:07 off the clock, all season highs. Bright concluded it by bulling his way over the goal line.
The Packers then went three-and-out as Rodgers inexplicably threw three deep passes. The big play on the Giants' game-winning drive was a pass that Barkley brilliantly turned into a 41-yard gain. He fittingly scored the deciding touchdown by taking Jon Feliciano's snap and spriting to the right front corner of the end zone.
The defense did the rest and the Giants' European adventure was a resounding success.
"It's great start. 4-1 … where you want to be," Saquon Barkley said. "But you can't get too caught up in it. You've just got to keep working and there's a reason why we're 4-1 and that's because of the process, and that's because we've got guys coming in and working and believing in the system, setting the culture, setting the standard and following it. And that's what it means. We've got to just continue to do that and if we continue to do that, continue to believe in each other, when we look back at this thing we'll be pretty excited."