This was the vision.
This was the vision back when ownership and the new front office decided Eli Manning was still the man at quarterback, Saquon Barkley was the obvious choice with the No. 2 pick in the draft and Odell Beckham Jr. was worth the $95 million investment. This was the vision. Points aplenty. Too many weapons to contain. Options galore.
What the Giants put together in Sunday’s 38-35 victory over the Buccaneers was more than the first home win of the season, the first time this season the MefLife Stadium faithful got to stay entertained and exit satisfied. This was the sight the Giants envisioned when this team was assembled. But seeing their 37-year-old quarterback this efficient — nearly perfect, actually — well, that might have required bifocals.
“You look at Saquon going crazy, Odell making big, contested catches, moving the chains, Eli standing the pocket, the O-line playing lights out,’’ tight end Evan Engram said.
Just look at the close of this wild affair — the Giants led 31-14 early in the fourth quarter and fended off repeated threats by Jameis Winston after he replaced the turnover-prone Ryan Fitzpatrick. The lead was down to 31-28 with 5:11 remaining, loads of time for a collapse to further stain this difficult season.
All week, the Giants worked on this play. Engram knew he could beat the patchwork Buccaneers linebacker corps and waited for his chance. The Giants were running the ball so well — Barkley in his best showing of the season had 142 rushing yards and scored a total of three touchdowns — Engram knew the defense would leave him in a favorable matchup.
“I saw it from the snap,” Engram said. “We run the ball like we did, those linebackers got to step up, at least take one step and that’s all we need. I knew it was coming. I just had to be there to finish it.”
Barkley’s running set it all up. Engram easily sped by linebacker Devante Bond, Manning hit his target in stride and 54 yards later the Giants were in business on the Bucs’ 11-yard line. Three plays later, Barkley ran it in and the Giants had all they points they needed — barely.
“Just finding the rhythm, just kind of our identity,’’ Manning said. “We can run the football and play-action. That has been good for us the last couple of weeks.’’
Since readjusting their focus coming off their bye week, the Giants have their first two-game winning streak in nearly two years.
“Even though these are tremendous athletes, confidence kicks in when you do it back-to-back like this,’’ coach Pat Shurmur said. “You have to be confident in what you do, and aside from getting this right as we move forward, we need to learn how to win again.’’
At 3-7, the Giants remain in last place in the NFC East, but the division is so steeped in mediocrity — the Redskins (6-4) are the only team over .500 — that the next game, in Philadelphia against the reeling defending Super Bowl champion Eagles (4-6), at least has some juice to it.
“Crazy, isn’t it?” Shurmur said. “We’ve got a long way to go. There are a lot of things we’ve got to get better at, but if we can just keep battling and keep fighting, who knows? That would be a fun thing for everybody to write about.”
“So, six games left, it’s really only crazy until you do it,’’ said Beckham, who with the Giants at 1-7 went public with his goal of winning the remaining eight games. There were plenty of snickers when he said it two weeks ago, and two victories later, the Giants are nowhere near the summit, but at least have climbed a few steps up the mountain.
This was the most points scored by the Giants in three years and Manning has never been more accurate. He completed 17-of-18 passes for 231 yards and touchdown tosses to Barkley and Beckham for a passer rating of 155.8. The one misfire was not a misfire at all and actually might have been the best-designed play of the day. It came late in the second quarter and completely baffled the defensively challenged Bucs. Barkley broke wide open on a wheel route to the right sideline, Manning lofted the ball, but Barkley could not locate it in the air and it fell to the turf.
The Giants had four interceptions, pilfering Fitzpatrick three times. Linebacker Alec Ogletree picked the ball off Janoris Jenkins’ chest and returned it 15 yards for an interception return for a touchdown to put the Giants up 21-7. Fitzpatrick was pulled midway through the third quarter after throwing the ball up for grabs in the end zone for DeSean Jackson and instead found safety Curtis Riley.
The Bucs got within three points with 3:22 remaining on Winston’s 41-yard hookup with Mike Evans. Michael Thomas recovered the onside kick and the Bucs got the ball back with 23 seconds to go before B.W. Webb got the Giants’ fourth interception and Manning trotted onto the field one last time for his favorite play: the Victory Formation kneel-down.
“That’s 10 man, he hasn’t batted an eye this whole year,’’ Engram said. “It’s really cool to be a part of these last two weeks with him. Really excited about what he’s got left.”