JACKSONVILLE – The 2022 Giants clearly do not enjoy traveling on easy street. Playing close games is in their DNA. They've made a habit of overcoming second-half leads.
On Sunday in Jacksonville, they added a new twist in keeping fans in their seats or in front of their televisions until the clock hits all zeroes.
Despite giving up 452 total yards, 310 passing yards, 27 first downs and never once sacking the opposing quarterback and despite losing three offensive starters with injuries, the Giants could have walked out of TIAA Bank Field with a three-point victory had they drained the final 4:29 off the clock. They didn't, in part because Saquon Barkley inadvertently slid out of bounds. And while that set up a Graham Gano field that gave the Giants a six-point cushion, it gave the Jaguars a chance to win the game.
Aided by three Giants penalties, Jacksonville drove 74 yards in 10 plays. Unfortunately for the Jaguars, they needed to go 75 yards. On the game's final play, Trevor Lawrence completed a pass to Christian Kirk, who was quickly surrounded by several Giants defenders and tackled at the one-yard-line as time expired.
The Giants escaped with a 23-17 victory that increased their winning streak to four games.
"Good to get a win," stoic coach Brian Daboll said at his postgame news conference. "Made it tougher than we needed to, but good to be 6-1."
Many of the players picked up on that theme.
"Went down to the wire there," quarterback Daniel Jones said. "Defense did a good job holding them, holding them ultimately. Yeah, (we) did enough to win. Obviously, there's some plays we'd like to have back, but it's a good team we played, and did enough to win."
"Things happen in the game, and it ain't going to be perfect," said safety Xavier McKinney, one of those who stonewalled Kirk. "But we've all got each other's back, and that's the greatest thing about this team. We play as a unit no matter what. For us defensively, we just knew we had to go out there and make another stop, which we wanted to do and which we were able to do. A lot of us don't think we played very good defensively today. (It was) probably our worst defensive performance. But we know we've got a lot of work to do in order to get where we want to be. We've got a lot of things to improve on."
Each of the Giants' six wins have been by eight points or fewer, five of which featured a second-half comeback and four of which included a fourth-quarter comeback.
"Yeah, a little (nerve wracking)," wide receiver Darius Slayton said. "But it's just how we're living right now. I think we kind of are getting a comfort."
The Giants had numerous signature performances and moments. They finished with season-high totals of 436 yards and 27 first downs and rushed for 236 yards. The Giants did not commit a turnover, and Jones was sacked just once.
For just the third time in their history, they had two 100-yard rushers in a game, and for the first time, one of them was a quarterback. Barkley, the NFL leader in scrimmage yards, carried 24 times for 110 yards - 92 after halftime - and caught four passes for 25 yards. Jones ran for 107 yards on 11 attempts, one of them a one-yard quarterback sneak that gave the Giants the lead for good with 5:32 remaining. He also threw for 202 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown to Slayton on the game's first possession.
Jones said Jacksonville's focus on Barkley was a "big piece" of his success running the ball.
"He attracts a lot of attention, rightfully so, and then some things opened up off of it," Jones said. "I thought the offensive line did a great job controlling the line of scrimmage throughout the game and cleared some opportunities for us to make plays."
The rushing attack averaged 6.1 yards a carry despite losing three important blockers in the first half: left guard Ben Bredeson and right tackle Evan Neal injured their knees and tight end Daniel Bellinger suffered an injury to his left eye that Daboll said "looks terrible." Bellinger will see an ophthalmologist on Monday.
But the Giants marched on. Although Jacksonville also scored on its first offensive series (on Travis Etienne's seven-yard touchdown run), Gano kicked two 33-yard field goals to give the Giants a 13-11 halftime lead (The Jaguars took an extra point off the board and went for two after the Giants were penalized for an illegal formation).
The Jaguars regained the lead when Trevor Lawrence forced his way to the goal line from a yard out early in the third quarter. Jacksonville's 17-13 advantage held up until Jones duplicated Lawrence's touchdown at the same spot on the field to give the lead back to the Giants at 20-17.
After the Jaguars went three-and-out, the fun really began. On first down, Barkley stayed in bounds at the end of a 13-yard run. Two plays later, he again went up the right side and gained 20 yards but was pushed out of bounds, stopping the clock. The game seemed well in hand when Jones raced 15 yards to the Jacksonville 20 and, after the two-minute warning, the Jaguars used their final timeout.
But on third-and-10, Barkley ran for four yards before going down with about 35 seconds remaining. The officials ruled he was in bounds, but after review, the call was reversed. Barkley's foot was out of bounds before his knee was down. That critically changed the time remaining to 1:11. Gano's third field goal increased the Giants' lead to six points, but Jacksonville had a chance to win the game.
"We should have stayed inbounds," Daboll said. "Put it on me. We've got to do a better job than that."
Barkley was angry at himself after the game.
"Obviously, I've got to be way better in situational football there, not even putting us in that situation, giving Jacksonville another opportunity with that much time on the clock," he said. "But the defense had my back, not only my back but the offense's back. We trust each other, and we were able to get a win."
Asked if he lost his balance, Barkley said, "Just got to do better. Not going to make any excuses. Just got to be better. That's really it. I'm expected to understand the situation. I knew the situation. I tried to get down but got to do a better job of it."
The Jaguars took possession at their 25. Lawrence and Kirk connected for a 10-yard gain on third-and-10. They got another first down when cornerback Adoree' Jackson was penalized for holding. On the next play, Fabian Moreau seemingly ended the suspense by intercepting a Lawrence pass, but rookie safety Dane Belton was penalized for hands to the face, another free first down for the Jaguars.
When Jacksonville faced a third-and-15 with 19 seconds left, Lawrence completed a 28-yard pass to Marvin Jones, Jr. The Jaguars received an additional 15 yards when Dexter Lawrence was flagged for roughing the passer. Jacksonville suddenly had a first down at the Giants' 17 with 16 seconds left.
After two incomplete passes, seven seconds remained. Lawrence threw down the middle for Kirk, who caught the ball and was quickly hit by Moreau, who kept the receiver out of the end zone as the cavalry arrived to help.
"I got to get him down, and I've got to make a better tackle," Moreau said. "To me, I got to make that play no matter what. I just hold myself to a high standard."
Moreau took his cue from his teammates. The Giants are winning. But they believe they can play much better.