EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The most spectacular play on the ball by a Giants player in the team's preseason finale against New England was turned in by … an inside linebacker.
The Patriots were backed up on their own six-yard line and faced a third-and-seven late in the first quarter when quarterback Cam Newton fired a pass deep down the center of the field. Wide receiver Jakobi Meyers got his hands on the ball. Blake Martinez, with his back to Newton and in single coverage, instinctively put up his hands and stole the ball from Meyers at the 41-yard line.
So, how did the ball end up in Martinez's hands?
"I saw he was like the classic receiver with wide open eyes," Martinez said after the Giants 22-20 loss in their preseason finale. "I was like, 'Oh, he actually threw it.' So, once he had it in his hands and came down, I went to go punch it out, but my hand got the ball and I just ripped it out of his hands."
If Martinez applies for a transfer to cornerback tomorrow, he might get the job.
"So (defensive backs coach) Jerome (Henderson) at halftime was like, 'Hey, we can't let the linebackers beat us,'" Martinez said. "But I was like, 'Whoa, I'm part of your guys' group now.' So, I'll try to help them out."
Martinez is a tackling machine. Last season, he led the Giants and was third in the NFL with 151 tackles (86 solo), his fourth consecutive season with at least 147 tackles.
But Martinez's coverage skills have been questioned in the past, despite his four career interceptions. Though he has improved, Martinez admits he remains motivated by the criticism.
"One hundred percent," he said. "It's one of those things each year I want to keep improving on something, making my weaknesses into strengths. Especially this offseason, I wanted to make sure coverage-wise every single day, one-on-ones, doing multiple reps, man coverage, just doing everything I can to work on those fundamentals and just have a plan when I go out there. I think I've improved a lot."
Check out the best photos from the Giants' preseason finale against the New England Patriots.
*The Giants had two surprise starters on the offensive line. Nate Solder opened the game at right tackle for Matt Peart. And though left guard Shane Lemieux didn't practice last week and was expected to sit out, it was expected that Kenny Wiggins would start in his place. Instead, Ted Larsen did. Larsen was signed on Aug. 14.
"We just wanted to make sure we gave Nate an opportunity to get out there and get playing," coach Joe Judge said. "He's been practicing very well for us, competing very hard. Matt's done a solid job this camp as well. I wouldn't read too much into that at all. You guys (reporters) know our history here, I'll play everyone at the game. We played three tackles last year, we played three guards last year. I have no problem mixing up and rotating on through. To me, it's important to get different guys involved with chemistry and see how they react with each other."
Solder and Larsen were joined in the starting lineup by left tackle Andrew Thomas, right guard Will Hernandez and center Nick Gates. When the first group played in the first half, the Giants averaged 2.8 yards on 12 rushing attempts and Daniel Jones was sacked twice and pressured on several other dropbacks.
"We're working every day to get better," Thomas said. "We know what we have to do. We are going to go in, watch the film together and do the things we have to do to get better for the first week."
Thomas said after the game, "I started a little slow." But Judge was forceful in his defense of the second-year tackle.
"I've seen a lot of work from Andrew," Judge said. "There's been some things early in camp with all those linemen being limited, so it kind of slowed down some of our progress early in camp. There was a lot of catching up they had to do and some gaps they've all missed, but I think overall, he's done a solid job for us. He keeps on improving. He's going to be a better player a month from now, two months from now and the end of the season. He's got to keep on improving as a young player in this league and making strides going forward. There's a lot of bright spots with those guys that I got to focus on. There's lot of things we've got to clean up as an entire team and we can help them in a lot of different aspects, it's not just sitting on one player's shoulders."
*The following Giants did not play: running back Saquon Barkley; wide receivers Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, John Ross III and Austin Mack; tight end Kyle Rudolph; guard Shane Lemieux; defensive tackle Danny Shelton; linebacker Elerson Smith; and cornerbacks Adoree' Jackson and Josh Jackson.
*Joe Judge wore a red United States Marine Corps cap on the sideline to honor the 13 United States servicemen and servicewomen killed last week in the attack near the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.
"We lost 13 soldiers this past week in Afghanistan," Judge said. "I get pictures all the time of people wearing Giants hats, people wearing Giants T-shirts, letters from all over, soldiers overseas, letting us know, 'Hey, we're overseas, but we're rooting for you.' It's great that they're rooting for our team, I think it's more important we all acknowledge we're on the same team and that we're supporting them as well. We appreciate everything they do, we want to see them all come home safely and obviously we don't want to see anyone lose their lives needlessly.
"I'd say in terms of wearing the hats, I thought it was a good opportunity to just go ahead and draw some awareness that there were 11 Marines that lost their lives this week, one Naval, one Army as well. We had all three services represented at the coin toss with the captains going out there. Our team, we stay very in tune to the first responders, the military, the people that really make what we do, which is coach and play a game, possible. I think it's important to keep that in perspective that, look, the reality is, it's serious to us because it's serious business, right? That's what it is. It's a production business, we're paid very handsomely to go out there and do a job as a player or a coach, but at the end day it is a game, it's entertainment, right? That's what it is. Now, they're playing life or death. It's important that we keep in perspective what we do and that we stay very grateful and we acknowledge what they're doing on a daily basis so that we can go out there and do this professionally and be involved with the game."
*The Giants finished 0-3 this month, their first winless preseason since 2000, when the Giants were 0-4 prior to a season that ended with them playing in the Super Bowl.