Right from the first offensive play on Sunday, an Eli Manning pass that bounced off the hands of Odell Beckham for a Sterling Moore interception, you knew the New York Giants were going to have to scratch their way to a victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They did, and now the 5-4 Giants head into next Sunday's game against the 8-0 New England Patriots with the NFC East lead and a little momentum.
Let's look at what we learned Sunday.
Jason Pierre-Paul is still a force
First game since the end of the 2014 season. A permanently damaged right hand that forced him to change his stance and much of his technique. A massive club on that right hand. Barely two weeks of practice. None of it seemed to matter as Jason Pierre-Paul, with fresh legs and thrilled to be playing again, was a force for the Giants on Sunday.
Pierre-Paul never sacked Jameis Winston. He didn't make any spectacular plays.
Pectoral muscles and the Giants do not get along
Of course the injury suffered by Johnathan Hankins would be a torn pectoral muscle. What else would it be? This is the third pectoral muscle injury suffered by the Giants this season, with Will Beatty having now missed nine games and Prince Amukamara the last four.
I'm not going to buy any of the nonsense that a torn pectoral has anything to do with improper conditioning, training or stretching. Hankins' injury was one that was suffered when he made an awkward hit on Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin in a scrum at the line of scrimmage. How do you prevent a guy getting hurt at the bottom of a pile of 300-pound human beings?
It's unfortunate. It's frustrating. Losing Hankins, the best run defender on a team struggling to defend the run, is a huge loss. There is no way, at least in my view, that you can blame the Giants for this one.
The running back rotation lives
The Giants continued to rotate running backs Sunday, with Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams, Shane Vereen and Orleans Darkwa taking turns. Jennings had 13 carries for 48 yards. Williams (seven carries, 30 yards, a team-best 4.3 yards per carry), Darkwa (six carries 23 yards) and Vereen (six carries, 14 yards) all got opportunities. The position continues to be a true committee, with Vereen having the defined role as the pass-catching back. He had four receptions on Sunday.
Whatever, it appears to be working. The Giants ran the ball for 113 yards on 33 carries. While that isn't a great per-carry average, they got some late first downs and held the ball for 34:55.
Damontre is ... well, still Damontre
Another game, another roughing the passer penalty of the third-year defensive end. This one came in the second quarter giving Tampa Bay a first-and-goal at the Giants' 9-yard line. Fortunately, the Giants held the Buccaneers to a field goal. This penalty wasn't nearly as awful as the ones in recent weeks against the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints, but it was a penalty. The ball was clearly long gone and Moore clearly could have -- and should have -- avoided tackling Winston.
I would have to go back and watch the film again, but it appeared to me that Moore had his head down and wasn't really aware of whether or not Winston still had the ball.
Maybe the Giants DO have a middle linebacker
No Jon Beason. No Uani 'Unga. No high draft pick ready to step in and take over as the quarterback of the Giants' defense. Apparently, no problem. At least it wasn't on Sunday.
Seven-year veteran Jasper Brinkley, who signed with the Giants after the season started and had barely played before seeing limited action last week, was terrific for the Giants on Sunday. He had a team-high seven tackles, including one for loss. More importantly, he contributed to two Giants' scores with a second-quarter fumble recovery that led to a touchdown and a third-quarter forced fumble that led to a Josh Brown field goal.
The Giants can close a game
The Giants entered the fourth quarter with a 20-12 lead, and you know what fourth-quarter leads have been for the Giants this season. A bad thing. When Tampa Bay closed to within 20-18 on a touchdown run by Winston with 9:25 to go, you had to get the feeling that another game might slip away from the Giants.
It didn't, though. The Bucs couldn't convert the two-point conversion, and the Giants scored the game's final 12 points. They got a little help from the Bucs in the form of penalties and critical dropped passes, but they made some plays themselves. Josh Brown drilled a clutch 53-yard field goal and made a 44-yarder in the closing minutes. Odell Beckham extended the Giants' final drive with a tremendous catch of a low throw on third-and-6 from the Giants' 24-yard line. That enabled the Giants, leading by five points, to keep the ball rather than punt it to the Bucs with 4:14 left. Even ahead eight points, the Giants covered the game's final kickoff well, then scored a defensive touchdown when Trevin Wade scooped up a mishandled lateral and scored on Tampa's final offensive play.
Odell Beckham is pretty good
Odell Beckham's longest catch on Sunday was 24 yards. There weren't any long touchdown passes, fancy celebration or historic catches. The coolest thing he did was body slam Alterraun Verner after an interception.
Beckham, though, played a terrific football game. None of Beckham's receptions were bigger then the ankle-high 9-yard catch he made on third-and-6 from the Giants-24-yard line with 4:14 left. It gave the Giants a first down, led to a field goal and let them run nearly three more minutes off the clock.
Beckham ended up with nine catches for 105 yards, having a spectacular day without making a single spectacular play.