The Giants' were down several starters, but pulled off a 23-10 win over the Broncos:
DENVER – Ben McAdoo hammered home his theme all last week. Without Odell Beckham, Jr., without Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard, and without several other key injured players, no one outside the Giants' locker room gave them a chance to defeat the Broncos in Denver, traditionally one of the NFL's most inhospitable venues for visiting teams.
"We talked about it all week long," McAdoo said. "Revisited it last night and we talked about - our record wasn't good. But that doesn't mean we're a bad football team. We are a good football team, we just need to find paths to victory. We found one tonight."
And how sweet it was. The Giants dominated from start to finish and defeated the Broncos, 23-10, at Sports Authority Field in Mile High. It was their first victory of the season after five defeats. Denver fell to 3-2.
"We believe in ourselves and we feel like we're all we've got as a team," running back Orleans Darkwa said. "I feel like we've got a talented roster. We've lost some close games in the last three games, and I'm just glad we were able to close this one out."
The Giants made several changes to open a path to victory. Most notably, McAdoo, who had called the plays in every game since his arrival as offensive coordinator in 2014, ceded those duties to the current coordinator, Mike Sullivan.
"I need to do what is best for the team, just like we ask the players and just like we ask the coaches," McAdoo said. "I thought the team and the whole locker room needed me this week, I needed to be at my best for these players and coaches this week."
With their most productive and experienced receivers sidelined with injuries, the Giants moved the ball the old-fashioned way, on the ground. They ran 32 times against only 19 pass attempts. Darkwa led the way with career-high totals of 21 carries and 117 yards, including a career-long 47-yarder. The Giants didn't run for a touchdown, but they totaled 148 yards on the ground. Their lone offensive touchdown was a five-yard pass from Eli Manning to tight end Evan Engram; five of the seven plays on the 75-yard drive were runs.
"We knew it was going to be a little different type of game," said Manning, who threw for only 128 yards. "We were going up against a good defense. We were going to have to run it and keep running it, and stick with it. I thought the guys did a good job. Broke a couple nice runs, hit Evan (Engram) on a couple shallow routes and got some big gains. … It's not so much that the game plan was different. A lot of the same plays. It's probably just a greater emphasis on sticking with the run and staying with it, because we got some new guys and different guys in different spots and the matchups we got. So I think we did a good job running the ball."
That was helped mightily by the Giants' fifth starting offensive line combination in six games. Justin Pugh played right tackle, DJ. Fluker was at right guard, John Jerry at left guard, Ereck Flowers at left tackle, and Brett Jones played center for Weston Richburg, who missed his second game with a concussion. The linemen were totally on board with the run-first plan.
"It was what we wanted to do for a while," Fluker said. "I'm happy we established it. It wasn't perfect at times, but we just kept going and coach Sully (Sullivan) was like, 'You might get two yards, you might get three yards, sometimes you might get four, we might get a big play, but you never know so we're going to pound it until we figure out what we're going to do. And that's what we did. We went out there and pounded the rock. We passed it when we had to pass it. I think that was a great game plan by our staff. We did a great job."
Of course, old-time Giants football also requires a dominant defense, and in Denver the Giants' D contributed more than its share. The Broncos might have had the most unproductive 412-yard game in NFL history. They failed to score a touchdown until 4:07 remained in the game. The Giants' defense scored a touchdown on Janoris Jenkins' 43-yard interception return, it forced three turnovers, including Landon Collins' interception of a Trevor Siemian pass, and sacked the Denver quarterback four times, three by Jason Pierre-Paul, who tied his career high.
"This week you could tell the guys were hungry," Pierre-Paul said. "We practiced with effort and intensity. Everything the coaches asked us to do, we executed it very well. It's a game of football, we're going to make some mistakes, but I think the effort outweighed the mistakes."
The defense was at its best on a goal line stand in the fourth quarter. The Broncos drove from their own 15-yard line to the Giants' eight, where they had a first down. They advanced to the five and then to the one (where a terrific tackle by cornerback Ross Cockrell, on Bennie Fowler III kept the receiver out of the end zone). On fourth down, C.J. Anderson ran behind the right guard, but was stopped just shy of a touchdown by a group of Giants, including Avery Moss and Jenkins. Broncos coach Vance Joseph challenged the ruling, but referee Bill Vinovich upheld the call on the field, preserving the Giants' 20-3 lead.
The Giants were backed up on their one when Darkwa broke free for a 15-yard gain that gave them vital breathing room.
"Every day at practice when we do goal line," Jenkins said. "I always tell my big guys to force it to me. It just so happened that they forced it to me this game and I just came up with the stop."
Special teams also contributed as Aldrick Rosas kicked field goals of 25, 51 and 40 yards.
"Give credit to the players," McAdoo said. "They came out and they executed the plan at a high level. We knew it wasn't going to be a real pretty football game. But that's our style. That's how we feel like we have to win. Physical, heavy handed, there were a lot of messes on the field. And I liked it."
Denver scored on Brandon McManus' 28-yard field goal – he missed two attempts, one of which was blocked - and Siemian's13-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Heuerman.
In the postgame locker room, the players, aware that McAdoo has absorbed his share of criticism for the team's poor start, were as happy for their coach as they were for themselves. They appreciated the faith that McAdoo showed in them despite the difficult start.
"He's the same guy," Pugh said. "He just keeps coming in. He's pushing us hard. He's a great coach. I've been around him for so long, I'm used to him. I'm just happy we were able to get this win for him and the staff, because we've really been so close. We really could be sitting here and looking at a different record right now. So to come out and beat a team nobody thought we had a chance to beat, it makes you feel good."
"You've got to understand that he doesn't play the game," Jenkins said. "We play the game as players. He coaches. Unfortunately, we started 0-5. We've got to figure out how to play better. We can't point fingers at the offense, defense or head coach. It's everybody as a collective unit."
On a memorable night in Denver, that unit shocked the football public and gave a hint of what it's capable. But it's just a start.
"We found one (victory) tonight," McAdoo said. "Now we need to start stacking them."