EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Daniel Jones will get the headlines, but Jake Carlock made the biggest play of the night for the Giants in their 31-22 preseason-opening victory against the Jets on Thursday night.
Which will undoubtedly lead many fans to ask, "Jake who?"
That's Carlock, a rookie free agent from noted football power LIU Post. He is listed as the fourth-team weakside linebacker on the team's depth chart. But in the third quarter, he intercepted a pass thrown by former Giant Davis Webb and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown, increasing the Giants' lead to 24-15 and causing near pandemonium among his teammates.
"That was awesome, wasn't it?" coach Pat Shurmur said. "He's a team favorite because he's so tough. When we had all of those injuries, those little nagging injuries at the first part of training camp, he took a ton of reps - more than the law allows. He's tough, tough as nails. The sideline exploded when he scored. It was really a great feeling. He's a fan favorite on our team."
"The guys were making fun of me because I used to play DB, so I acted like a DB on the play," Carlock said. "It was my first NFL game, this preseason game, and to make a play like that, it feels pretty good."
What did he see on the play?
"Honestly, I just couldn't really get around the tackle at first, so when I saw, I believe it was Webb," Carlock said. "He was looking around. I just put my hands up. When I saw the ball I got my hand on it and then I tracked it into my hands and then I thought someone was behind me, so I took off as fast as I could down the sidelines."
Carlock also had one tackle – a three-yard sack of Luke Falk in the fourth quarter.
"I mean it was a great night and that was just, I think, an effort sack," he said. "I was just running around trying to make some plays, but it feels good to get some plays in.
"I think for me, it's all about effort. I'm not the biggest (6-2 and 238 pounds). I'm not the strongest. I'm not the fastest, but I can only control how fast I can go. So, every play, I'm going to give it 100 percent. … You have to take advantage of your opportunities. As an undrafted free agent, you don't get many. Once those guys went down (in camp with injuries), it was time for me to step up and try my best to make some plays, and I did."
Carlock's path to the NFL was anything but customary. He began his collegiate career at Stony Brook before transferring to LIU Post, where he played in 21 games. As a senior last year, he tallied a team-high 67 tackles (44 solo) along with 11 pass break ups, three fumble recoveries, 4.0 sacks and two interceptions. Carlock also scored a touchdown on a punt return, so he has some experience carrying the football long distances to the end zone. He was named the Northeast-10 Conference defensive player of the year.
Carlock's exploits caught the attention of the Giants, who signed him on May 2. More than three months later, he's still in the running for a roster spot.
"It feels awesome," he said. "Especially for me. I grew up a die-hard Giants fan, so this is pretty surreal for me. Since day one, these guys have welcomed me in and they're all good guys and all the veterans are helping me out, so I'm having an awesome time."
Carlock has seven siblings and he said prior to the game that two busloads of his family and friends would attend the game. He gave them quite a show.
"I heard them chanting my name throughout the game, and I kind of caught eyes with them, I think it was after the pick 6 and I was pointing to them, so I was just smiling and I was happy as could be."
So were they – and the Giants.
*The Giants were victimized by the new rule that allows coaches to issue a challenge when interference is or is not called on a pass play. On a third down in the third quarter, Jets quarterback Davis Webb, a former Giant, threw an incomplete pass to Tim White, ostensibly forcing the Jets to punt. But Jets coach Adam Gase threw his red challenge flag, hoping to get an interference call on Giants rookie Corey Ballentine. After review, that's exactly what he got, as referee Clete Blakeman announced that Ballentine had interfered with White. The resulting 33-yard penalty moved the ball to the Giants' 45-yard line. The Jets still eventually punted.
*Ballentine got his revenge with 2:10 remaining in the quarter when he intercepted a Webb pass down the right sideline intended for White.
"Just taking it from practice and transitioning to the game was a big thing I was trying to focus on, and just improving," Ballentine said. "Coach put me in the right position, and it was up to me to make the play. So, I went out there and tried to do my thing."
Ballentine played at Division II Washburn University. This was the first NFL game he ever saw live.
"I've always felt like I could compete at this level and with these types of athletes, so the speed of the game wasn't too different for me," he said. "I think I handled it well, and I think I'm fast enough to keep up with them and physical enough to keep up with them as well."
*The third quarter was momentous for Giants rookies. Between Ballentine's penalty and his pick, Carlock intercepted Webb and scored.
*The game was delayed for 59 minutes because of severe weather with 1:23 remaining in the first quarter. The teams left the field and the stadium seating areas were cleared of fans at 7:39 p.m. After a brief downpour and several lightning strikes, everyone was permitted to return at 8:20 and play resumed at 8:38. Because of the delay, halftime was reduced to five minutes from the standard 12 minutes.
After the delay, many of the Giants' starters returned to the field in their jerseys, but without their shoulder pads.
*Third-team quarterback Alex Tanney completed 14 of 19 passes for 190 yards, including a 51-yard touchdown to Russell Shepard…Kyle Lauletta completed nine of 12 throws for 116 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown to TJ Jones, who led the Giants with six receptions for 72 yards…The Giants' four quarterbacks threw 37 passes without an interception.
*All seven of the Giants' 2019 defensive draft choices played. Lineman Dexter Lawrence and cornerback DeAndre Baker started. Linebackers Oshane Ximines and Ryan Connelly; cornerbacks Julian Love, Corey Ballentine and Baker; and tackle Chris Slayton got extensive playing time after the delay.
*Running back Saquon Barkley and tight end Evan Engram did not play.
*The following Giants did not dress because of injury: cornerbacks Sam Beal (hamstring), Antonio Hamilton (groin) and Grant Haley (shoulder); tackles Chad Wheeler (back), Brian Mihalik (burner) and George Asafo-Adjei (concussion); wide receivers Amba Etta-Tawo (hamstring), Brittan Golden (groin) and Darius Slayton (hamstring); and linebacker Avery Moss (hip flexor).
Wide receiver Sterling Shepard was also on the pregame list of players who were held out of the game, but he was in uniform and participated in warmups. Shepard has a broken left thumb, but has been practicing.
*The Giants are 37-30-3 in preseason openers since 1950.
*This was just the third time the Giants and Jets squared off in a preseason opener. They also did so in 1983 and 2010, the latter in the first NFL game in MetLife Stadium. The Giants have won all three games.
*The teams have met in 51 consecutive preseasons. The Giants have won four in a row to tie the series, 25-25-1. The tie was in 1972.