If we were going to give out a game ball following the New York Giants’ 28-23 victory Sunday over the Philadelphia Eagles, it would go to the Giants’ defense as a collective unit. In fact, let’s go ahead and give them a figurative Big Blue View game ball. They earned it.
Could Sunday’s critical, agonizing NFC East encounter with a team that always seems to find a way to break the hearts of Giants fans have been decided any other way but with that defense on the field having to make one more stop, one more play to salt away a victory?
The Giants’ offense did its part, at least for the most part. They took advantage of two short fields following interceptions to score touchdowns, and ended up with a season-high 28 points. Taking the ball with 3:47 left and a five-point lead the offense came oh so close, a Philadelphia defensive lineman’s fingertip close, to running out the clock and preserving a victory. Still, that fingertip left the outcome of the game up to the Giants’ defense.
And they were up to the task.
“There’s a lot of things being said (in the huddle). Get off the field, we have to stop them, we have to get the ball back to our offense. We believe it. It’s not just fluff talk. It’s real talk. We believe we’re going to make that play. The big plays that we all dreamed about making. We all feel like we can make them on the defensive side of the ball,” said defensive captain Jonathan Casillas.
“I always believe. When you have this group of guys, the group that we have here. You have so much talent at every position and so much instincts and football savvy at every position. You know those guys are going to make the play. You know I’m going to make the play. I think we’re relying on each other and we’re all being accountable, paying attention to detail. I think that’s showing up every day.”
Safety Landon Collins led the Giants with 12 tackles and tacked on an interception and a sack.
“All our mindset is, is that defense wins championships. We were called upon again to make a play, make a stop and that is what we strive on,” said Collins.
Trevin Wade, playing because rookie Eli Apple took a seat after experiencing a rough game, was in excellent coverage on Jordan Matthews on Philly’s final desperation fourth-and-10 throw into the end zone.
Wade said he knew the Eagles would target him on their final play and that “it felt good to not let the team down.”
The Giants had the worst defense in the NFL last season. They spent more than $200 million and used three of their first four 2016 NFL Draft picks to try and fix it.
It looks like they have.
Sunday, the Giants gave up seven pass plays of 20 yards or more, and an unseemly 443 total yards. They stopped the Eagles on three-of-four fourth-down conversions, though, making big plays at big moments to lift the Giants to one of their biggest victories in a long time.
The secondary is star-studded. Collins. Janoris “Jackrabbit” Jenkins. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Apple had an awful day Sunday, but the day will come when he is the Giants’ best cornerback.
Defensive ends Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul are not piling up high sack totals, but Sunday both made plays and impacted the game.
Defensive tackles Damon “Snacks” Harrison and Johnathan Hankins make the middle difficult to penetrate with the run.
Beyond the stars, though, the Giants Sunday got contributions from role players. Wade. Linebacker Keenan Robinson. Safety Andrew Adams.
No one on the defense is a bigger story, or surprise, than Adams.
Last year when the Giants suffered a rash of injuries at safety they had to turn to has-been safeties Brandon Meriweather and Craig Dahl. If it wasn’t for Adams, an undrafted player from UConn, they would have had to turn to the safety scrap heap again this year with injuries to Darian Thompson and Nat Berhe.
Sunday, Adams had his first career interception, used an all-out last second dive to tip away a pass to Jordan Matthews that would have been a touchdown, and finished with nine tackles.
After the game, Adams was busy doing radio interviews and chatting up a steady stream of reporters — including yours truly — who traipsed to his locker to learn more about him.
Adams, though, had only thing on his mind. Where was the ball? The one from his first career interception that he was determined to turn into a souvenir. He didn’t have it, and he was frantically trying to make sure one of the equipment guys did.
"I think the equipment people got it,” Adams said. “I gotta go find them right now and see."
He said the ball will “go in a safe place” at home. Provided, of course, that he found it.
Adams also said the defense was “excited” about the challenge at the end of the game.
"The defense was so excited. We didn't want it any other way than the defense to win with us out on the field,” Adams said. “Guys were head-butting, shaking hands, saying let's go, it's on us. I saw the fire in all 11 of our guys.”
It bodes well for the Giants’ defense that they were able to hang on Sunday, that they have a growing belief in their capabilities and that they are getting contributions from more than just their highly-paid stars.
Defensively, it looks increasingly like they have managed to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.