The Giants stuck to a similar blueprint that got them a win last week: run the ball, give the quarterback time, force turnovers, and get a lift from special teams.
They didn’t follow the plans to perfection in their 38-35 victory over the Buccaneers, but they were close enough. Now they are starting to resemble what general manager Dave Gettleman and coach Pat Shurmur are trying to build.
“Hard on the heart, I guess,” Shurmur said after the game at MetLife Stadium. “But first I’d like to say this is our first victory in front of our home crowd, this new group. We were thrilled. I was talking to the players about how thrilled I am to be able to do that. It’s too damn late in the year for that to be the first one here at home, but that’s the way it is. I’m just glad they were able to watch a victory.”
IT WAS OVER WHEN: Cornerback B.W. Webb intercepted Jameis Winston, who did not start the game, with 13 seconds left in the fourth quarter. The Buccaneers had twice cut the Giants’ 17-point, fourth-quarter lead down to three with 5:11 and 2:22 left in the game. Eli Manning took over in the victory formation as the Giants claimed back-to-back wins for the first time since 2016.
“We were giving them too many opportunities [at the end],” safety and defensive co-captain Landon Collins said. “If we go back, we probably dropped eight picks. Every time we gave them the opportunity, they moved the ball. We’ve got to get off the field when that happens. … We gave up too many points, we gave up too many opportunities, but we came out with the win, and we finished it.
TAKE ‘EM AWAY: Webb notched the fourth and final interception off Buccaneers quarterbacks. Ryan Fitzpatrick, the starter, threw three to Michael Thomas, Curtis Riley and Alec Ogletree, who returned his 15 yards for a touchdown right after halftime. It led to Winston coming in the game for the turnover-prone Buccaneers. Thomas opened the flood gates late in the second quarter to keep Tampa Bay from potentially tying the game before the break. The Giants had just four interceptions in the first eight games, but now they have six in the past two weeks.
ONE NOT DONE: Eli Manning had just one incompletion on Sunday. The 37-year old’s 94.4 completion percentage tied Pro Football Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton and Craig Morton for the third-highest in a single game in NFL history (minimum 15 attempts). His 155.8 passer rating is his highest in a game in which he has played all four quarters. He had a perfect 158.3 rating vs. Oakland in 2009 but was relieved late in the first half after he had already built a 28-0 lead in what ended as a 44-7 victory. Shurmur sat down with Manning over the bye week and told him he would continue to be the starter “with the idea that he’s going to get us on a run here.” The Giants are 2-0 since then.
“Just finding the rhythm, just kind of our identity,” Manning said of what has changed. “I think the offensive line has been playing really well the last couple of weeks. Just running the football, play-actions have been really good for us. Getting the ball down the field, the protection has been good down the field. I think those combinations. We can run the football and play-action. That first drive, run the football, get a first down, have a play-action pass and hit Odell [Beckham Jr.] for a 40-yard gain. That was the start of it. All day, ran the ball well, play-action was good and we scored in the red zone. That has been good for us the last couple of weeks.”
SAQUON AND ON: Running back Saquon Barkley, the second overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, is carving out space in the record books. He is now the sixth player in NFL history to record at least 1,200 scrimmage yards and 10 touchdowns in their first 10 games, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk, and Ezekiel Elliott, Adrian Peterson and Billy Sims. On Sunday, Barkley had season highs in total touchdowns (three), rushing touchdowns (two), carries (27), rushing yards (142) and rushing first downs (eight).
“Yeah, we definitely got the run game going,” Barkley said. “We got great calls from our coaches, too. But when we get the run game going, everything else kind of clicked. We got them to commit more to the run so we could take some deep shots and take shots down the field. It also keeps the clock and the chains moving.”
WHAT THE WIN MEANS FOR THE GIANTS: They are 2-0 in their post-bye season, 3-7 overall. Next up is a trip to Philadelphia, home of the defending Super Bowl champions who fell to 4-6 with a 48-7 loss in New Orleans in Week 11. The NFC East-leading Redskins lost a game and their starting quarterback on Sunday. Alex Smith suffered a gruesome leg injury and was replaced by Colt McCoy, who could not lead the team to a victory over Houston as Washington dropped to 6-4. Dallas defeated Atlanta to move to .500 on the season at 5-5.
“It’s the same mentality every week,” said Beckham, who had four catches for 74 yards and his fifth touchdown in the last six games. “If the O-line is playing like that every single game, it’s going to be hard. The goal is to win every game. So six games left, it’s really only crazy until you do it.”
WHAT THE LOSS MEANS FOR THE BUCCANEERS: Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter said after their fourth consecutive loss that it was a “close” decision to start Fitzpatrick in Week 11. Winston entered the game in the third quarter and went 12 of 16 for 199 yards and two touchdowns with the interception at the end of the game. “Fantastic,” Koetter said of his performance. “He came in and lit it up.” Winston, however, could not escape the turnover bug that has dogged Tampa Bay all season.
“Turnovers are definitely killing us,” Koetter said of his 3-7 team. “We can’t put a depleted defense into the situations that we are doing, including a pick-six. We can’t do that. It’s not a good recipe to be successful.”