EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Brian Daboll has preached the importance of playing complementary football all season and Sunday the Giants responded with a long-sought victory in which the offense, defense and special teams all made notable contributions.
But two critical second-half turnovers made the final moments more uncomfortable and the final score closer than the numbers suggest they should have been.
The most salient points are the Giants moved the ball behind a patchwork offensive line and with a backup quarterback, scored two second-quarter touchdowns, benefitted from a superb defensive performance, and got a huge break late in the game to gut out a 14-7 victory against the Washington Commanders in MetLife Stadium.
The Giants broke their four-game losing streak to improve to 2-5. They host the Jets next week. Washington fell to 3-4.
"They played a good complementary game, had a couple of turnovers which hurt us," Daboll said. "Guys were ready to play, the coaching staffs on all three sides did a good job and we made the plays we needed to make. It was a little bit closer than it needed to be, but this is NFL."
Where nothing comes easy, particularly, it seems, for the Giants.
They started their sixth offensive line combination in seven games. It included two tackles – Justin Pugh and Tyre Phillips - who were signed to the roster last week, a left guard (Marcus McKethan) who started at the position for the first time, a center (Ben Bredeson) whose best position is guard, and a right guard (Mark Glowinski) who lost his starting role after the season opener but has returned to the lineup because of injuries. Tackles Andrew Thomas, Evan Neal and center John Michael Schmitz were all inactive with injuries.
"They're pros, the guys that were out there tonight, and they worked extremely hard during the week," Daboll said of the linemen who suited up. "We were moving guys around and we settled on it say Thursday of how it was gonna go and if Evan could go, and if he could go, then we had another kind of lineup change, if you would. But (offensive linemen coach) Bobby (Johnson) has met with those guys early and late, and he has a kind of revolving door there. Tough competitors."
The linemen did enough to help backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor again perform nobly. Taylor started his second straight game in place of Daniel Jones, who hasn't been cleared by the team's medical staff to return to the field after injuring his neck two weeks ago in Miami. The 13-year veteran threw for 279 yards, including touchdowns of 12 yards to Darren Waller and 32 yards to Saquon Barkley (who picked up 30 yards after catching the ball) and was not intercepted for the second week in a row.
"It felt good," Taylor said. "Anytime you can win at home always is big, especially just the way our season has been going. Not being on the winning side of things, we've done some good things throughout the season, but haven't been able to put a full game together. Today, I think was a true testament to us playing complementary football. Defense, special teams creating plays as well as us doing some things on offense."
Barkley rushed for a team-high 77 yards and Waller led the Giants with seven receptions for 98 yards. The touchdown was his first with the Giants and the first for the offense in more than three games.
"I knew it had been a while and kind of having the sour taste in the mouth after last week (when the Giants came up short in Buffalo)," Waller said. "It's like you're just itching for another chance to get an opportunity. I feel like I provided a spark for the team. That's all you ask for."
The defense was terrific, limiting the Commanders to 76 rushing yards and one third-down conversion in 15 attempts, sacking quarterback Sam Howell six times, and forcing 10 punts on 14 Washington possessions. Dexter Lawrence led the sack brigade with his first two sacks of the season and Kayvon Thibodeaux had 1.5. Rookie cornerback Deonte Banks picked off a Howell pass for his first career interception and made a huge third down tackle on wide receiver Terry McLaurin. Linebacker Bobby Okereke was the Giants' leading tackler for the fourth consecutive game, this time with 11 (seven solo).
"I think we showed how good we are," safety Xavier McKinney said. "Obviously, I think we've shown it in the game previously, but right now just certain situations in certain spots, I think it really showed what we had defensively. I thought we played a really, really, really, really, really good game."
"We're just building a mindset of just continuing to fight where we are," Lawrence said. "No matter where the ball's at, we get another chance to make a play. They don't always have to go for the offense. There are two teams on the field, and we can make a play and make game-changing plays."
The most significant contribution from the special teams came from one of the defensive stalwarts, lineman Leonard Williams (who also had a sack). Early in the fourth quarter, Joey Slye lined up for what would normally be a chip-shot 27-yard field goal. But Williams blocked the kick, the Giants' first such play since Oct. 15, 2017, and the first of Williams' career.
But just as the special teams taketh, they also giveth away. Graham Gano was wide right on a 42-yard field goal try on the Giants' second possession. And Sterling Shepard, who was summoned to return punts after Eric Gray left the game with a calf injury, muffed a Tress Way kick and the ball was recovered by Dyami Brown with 13:09 remaining in the third quarter.
The Commanders, who advanced no further than 20 yards on any of their first nine possessions, took advantage of the Giants' turnover by driving 21 yards in six plays for their only score of the game, Brian Robinson's four-yard run.
On the series after Williams' block, rookie Jalin Hyatt's tiptoe 42-yard reception on the right sideline (which was upheld after a challenge by Washington coach Ron Rivera) gave the Giants a first down on, coincidentally, the same 21-yard line where the Commanders had started their scoring drive. Given how well the defense was playing, the Giants seemed poised to score a clinching touchdown or field goal.
But on first-and-goal from the 10, Barkley took a handoff for a third consecutive play, was hit by Daron Payne and John Ridgeway III, and fumbled. The ball was recovered by Payne at the eight.
"On the red zone fumble, I have to be better," Barkley said. "Simple as that; I have to be better and do a better job of protecting the ball. I've been better at protecting the ball throughout my career, but in that moment, that's a key moment, and you have to find a way to come up with points there. I let my team down, but the defense had my back."
But it took a while. Washington's offense, which traveled 81 yards before Slye's unsuccessful field goal attempt, continued its rejuvenation. The Commanders evaded their third down blues by running 12 plays before having to face one. They failed on a third down at the two-minute warning, but converted on fourth-and-one, giving them a first down at the Giants' 12-yard line with 1:17 left.
A pass to McLaurin set up a fourth-and-five. Howell took a shotgun snap and as he had been all afternoon, was forced from the pocket. Running left, he threw behind wideout Jahan Dotson, who appeared as if he could have caught the ball. But he was unable to corral the ball, a failure that set up three Taylor kneel-downs that clinched the victory everyone seemed to have a hand in.
"That's how you win football games," Barkley said. "That's something we haven't been doing and obviously, we didn't win 40-0 or we didn't blow a team out, but at the end of the day we got the Dub (win) and that's what we've got to continue to do the rest of the season is lean on each other. When the defense makes a play, we go out there, respond, and sometimes we need the defense to pick us up and vice versa, and same thing with special teams.
"That's how we were last year. That's the type of team we have. That just wasn't the product we were showing the first couple games of the season, the first six games of the season. We've got to get back to playing that way. That's Giants football, that is the way we have been playing. This is winning football, complementary football. Playing for each other, feed off each other, have each other's back. Find a way to win games."
They finally found a way to win one.
View photos from the Giants' Week 7 matchup against the Washington Commanders.