HOUSTON – The football public might think the Giants’ first victory of the season was borne of desperation after two season-opening defeats, but Odell Beckham, Jr. insisted far more positive forces were at play in the Giants’ 27-22 victory against the Houston Texans.
“I just feel like apart from (more offensive production) that we just had energy,” Beckham said. “We came out, we played like we loved the game of football, like this was football with kids and we were having fun. It was lighter. It wasn’t like we’re down 0-2, we got to win. It was like, let’s go out and have fun today, and that’s what we did and we got the W doing that.”
They got it in more convincing fashion than the final score suggests because the Texans scored a window-dressing touchdown with one second remaining.
“I told the team I’ve always known they’re tough, I always knew they were gritty, I always knew they had great resolve, but today we just made enough plays to win,” said Pat Shurmur, who earned his first victory as the Giants’ head coach. “We went from almost in a lot of areas to finishing it, so it was a team victory.”
That common cliché was very true, as the Giants had a lengthy list of important contributors.
Start with Eli Manning, who had the second-highest completion percentage of his career (86.2), hitting 25 of 29 passes for 297 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. The touchdowns were a 16-yarder to tight end Rhett Ellison and a seven-yarder to Sterling Shepard.
Odell Beckham, Jr. led the receptions parade with nine for 109 yards, his second 100-yard game in three weeks and 21st in his 50-game career.
Rookie running back Saquon Barkley scored the Giants’ first touchdown on a 15-yard run, rushed for 82 yards and caught five passes for 35 yards to become the first Giants player in franchise history to exceed 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his first three career games.
The offensive line, with new starters Chad Wheeler at right tackle and John Greco at center, enabled the Giants to rush for 114 yards and Manning to finish with a 132.3 passer rating, his highest since he posted a 151.5 while completing a career high 87.1 percent of his passes (27 of 31) at Miami on Dec. 14, 2015.
Alec Ogletree had a goal line interception and Donte Deayon a fumble recovery. B.J. Hill and Lorenzo Carter had their first career sacks, and Mario Edwards his first with the Giants. Houston’s top runner, Lamar Miller, was held to 10 yards on 10 carries, and the Texans ran for only 59 yards.
Aldrick Rosas kicked field goals of 44 and 30 yards.
A team victory indeed, and one that felt especially good because it was the season’s first after two defeats.
“It’s (been) a long time coming,” Ogletree said. “We’ve been close in the last few games, but today we finally put it together and were able to make enough plays to win the game. That’s all you can ask for from the team to go out there and fight every play. I thought we did that today and were able to come out with a win.”
“Like coach said, we’ve kind’ve been an ‘almost’ team,” Manning said. “We’ve been close on a few things and today put it together. It was good to see us kind of being able to start fast and have a dominant first half, and then also finish the game at the end. We needed a drive to go finish it, we were able to go do that; it was nice to see.”
The game was not without its anxious moments for the Giants.
As Manning noted, they controlled the first half. After spotting Houston a 3-0 lead on Ka’imi Fairbairn’s 23-yard field goal, the Giants put 20 consecutive points on the board while scoring on all four of their first-half possessions – on Barkley’s run, Manning’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Ellison, and Rosas’ field goals. Fairbairn’s field goal as time expired cut the Giants’ halftime lead to 20-6.
When the teams returned to the field, the game did not unfold quite as smoothly for the Giants, who punted on each of their first four possessions.
“We had a stretch there in the second half where we didn’t move the ball worth a darn,” Shurmur said. “Our defense did a really, really good job of creating two turnovers when they were driving the ball, so that’s very critical.”
But the Texans still moved within striking distance. Fairbairn’s 54-yard field goal made it 20-9. After the Giants’ takeaways on successive Houston possessions, Deshaun Watson threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Will Fuller V. The two-point conversion try failed, but with 7:37 remaining, the Texans trailed by just 20-15. Another pointless Giants possession and the game might have slipped away.
As always, Manning took a positive approach in the huddle and then led the team to a score it badly needed.
“This is an opportunity to go win a football game,” was the message to his teammates. “It comes down to this drive. We had a great first half, hadn’t done really anything in the second half and we had a chance to go win the football game. Guys stepped up, made some big plays. I think coach called it aggressive.”
The drive began with a short pass that Shepard turned into a 23-yard gain. Two plays later, Manning found Ellison for 17 more yards. On third-and-two from the Houston 27, Barkley split wide right, got behind linebacker Zach Cunningham, and caught a perfectly-thrown Manning pass for 21 yards and a first down at the six.
The Giants were soon faced with a third-and-goal from the seven. If they settled for a field goal, the Texans could have tied the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion. But Manning and Shepard settled the issue by hooking up for the clinching seven-yard touchdown.
“The last touchdown was designed really to go to Odell isolated,” Shurmur said. “They doubled him, so Eli went back and threw the ball to Shep. That’s just the way this thing works and it was good.”
“Eli got me pretty hyped up in the huddle,” Shepard said. “He was like, ‘Man, we score this touchdown, we’re winning. We need a field goal, but let’s score this touchdown,’ so I was hyped up, ready to go, ran the under route, kind of slipped behind the backer and Eli made a perfect throw. Only person who could get it was me, so went and got it.”
When he did, the Giants had their first victory of both the young season and the Shurmur era.
“Fortunately, along the way I’ve been involved with a lot of wins,” Shurmur said. “It feels special, because I think we’re making progress.”
He’ll get no dissent after that performance.