EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – A second straight win against another bad team may not be good news for anyone rooting for the Giants to land a Top 5 pick in the next NFL draft.
But it sure did feel good to everyone at the Meadowlands on Sunday afternoon.
Even though the Giants seemed to barely hang on to their 38-35 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it was still a reminder of the value of a victory. They topped 30 points for just the second time in 42 games, dating back three seasons. They got a defensive touchdown and forced the Bucs to bench their starting quarterback (although that turned out to be a not-so good thing).
And coupled with their win in San Francisco last Monday night, they’ve now won back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 2016.
Yes, Jameis Winston nearly led a remarkable comeback for the Bucs, who had 510 yards of total offense, and yes the Giants defense should be ashamed of that. But all that really matters is the end result for a team that has been struggling to find a positive vibe, to avoid unnecessary controversies, and to remember how to win. Yes, a Top 5 pick would help, especially since they so desperately need a quarterback of the future. But first-year head coach Pat Shurmur knows winning and getting his players to play well again matters even more.
Besides, the home fans needed something to feel good about too. A stadium that has been filled with mostly boos for two years erupted in huge cheers for the Giants throughout the game — including as they headed into the locker room at halftime, which is something they have rarely heard in recent seasons. In the end, nobody was booing them for refusing to tank.
Does it really matter that they beat a bad and banged up Bucs team one week after beating a bad 49ers team with a third-string quarterback? Probably not. As wide open as the NFC East seems, the Giants (3-7) would still need to win their final six games to have a realistic shot at the playoffs.
But if they keep playing like this, at least they’ll be a franchise showing signs of life — which can only help them in the future, no matter where they end up picking in the 2019 Draft.
Here are some more takeaways from the Giants’ third win of the season …
- Saquon Barkley had a predictably huge game against this banged up (and generally bad) Buccaneers defense. He finished with a career-high 142 yards rushing and three total touchdowns. The Giants rode him early and kept going to him all game long, which is exactly what Shurmur prefers to do. The run blocking for him was better than it’s been in a while, too, which helped. And it’s worth noting that Eli Manning‘s lone incompletion came on a deep pass where Barkley was wide open for what would’ve been a touchdown, but the pass was thrown slightly behind him and he couldn’t pull it in.
- It’s amazing what Manning can do with a little blocking in front of him. For the second straight game his protection was solid. As a result, he completed his first 11 passes and finished 17 of 18 for 231 yards and two touchdowns. And with Barkley able to run effectively through some pretty big holes, it set up an effective play-action passing game, too. Suddenly, Manning doesn’t look so “done” anymore when he’s not constantly throwing with a defender in his face.
- The Giants’ opening drive was a textbook display of how their offense is supposed to work. They opened with three straight Barkley runs, two of them effective, but it was enough to draw the defense in. On the fourth play, Manning hits them with a play-action pass that goes 41 yards to Odell Beckham Jr. Then two plays after that he runs the play-action again and finds Barkley wide open for a 6-yard touchdown. If the run isn’t working, those passes wouldn’t have worked either. And that all comes down to the line.
- LB Alec Ogletree made his biggest play as a Giant with a pick-6 to open the second half and expand the Giants’ lead to 21-7. The play was actually caused by CB Janoris Jenkins, who nearly had the interception, then somehow tipped it up while laying on the ground. Ogletree grabbed it, hit the ground, but no one touched him so he got up and ran it in for a 15-yard score.
- The Giants defense had a huge day, with three interceptions. They also came up with two game-changing plays that got lost in the shuffle. On the Bucs first drive they went for it on 4th and 1 from the Giants 5. But a huge push by the Giants’ defensive line — Dalvin Tomlinson and Josh Mauro, in particular — stopped Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick on a sneak. And at the end of the first half, the Bucs were driving for at least a field goal, but veteran safety Michael Thomas picked off Fitzpatrick at the Giants 13.
- The defense actually nearly came up with two other huge plays. On Fitzpatrick’s touchdown run in the first half, they blew up his attempted screen pass and cut off his running lane up the middle. Somehow he bounced outside where safety Landon Collins caught him, but Fitzpatrick barely got the ball across the goal line before he hit the ground. Then, in the third quarter, Bucs backup QB Jameis Winston tried for a touchdown run and Giants DE Mario Edwards caught him from behind and forced a fumble. Unfortunately for the Giants, Bucs WR Mike Evans recovered it in the end zone.
- All those nice things I just said about the Giants’ defense? They don’t take into account the way the Bucs rolled over them after Winston took over for Fitzpatrick. He came in with 7:04 left in the third quarter and with the Bucs trailing 24-7. Then he completed 12 of 16 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns and led the Bucs to 28 points. He even had the ball in his hands with 25 seconds to go and a chance to get into field goal range, but his first pass was intercepted deep by Giants CB B.W. Webb.
- That last first-half drive by the Bucs was aided by a rare triple-play from Giants LB Olivier Vernon. He had penalties on three consecutive plays. First he got called for roughing the passer after what would’ve been an incompletion on 3rd and 10. Then he got called for back-to-back neutral zone infractions. He single-handedly moved the Bucs 25 yards.
- Giants TE Evan Engram didn’t do much in this game — and he didn’t play a lot — but his 54-yard reception inside the final five minutes was what sealed the game. He caught a pass over the middle and took off straight up the field, flashing the speed the Giants don’t use often enough.
- Corey Coleman has added a nice spark to the Giants’ kick return team. He opened the game with a 40-yarder which helped the Giants to their game-opening touchdown.