The game was much closer and tenser than it needed to be -- and the few people who took the "under" are probably happiest right now -- but the New York Giants avenged their 2015 last second loss to the New Orleans Saints witha 16-13 victory on Sunday.
Though they scored 33 points less in the process.
What did we learn from the Giants' nail-biter of a win?
The Giants were able to move the ball on the Saints' defense to the tune of 417 yards of total offense. The offensive performance, however, just wasn't that good. There were bright spots but three consecutive fumbles in the first half made it seem like the Giants' offense were doing everything in their power to hand the win to the Saints.
Where they were efficient in the red zone against the Dallas Cowboys, they suffered drops and mental mistakes. Missed blocks, missed assignments, and poor execution blunted far too many drives for the Giants. The Giants need their offense to start carrying its weight. The points will help force opposing quarterbacks into passing situations, helping the pass rush, and give them both some breathers and some breathing room.
While the offense floundered, the defense once again proved to be dominant.
The Giants might have given up completions -- that's going to happen against a quarterback like Brees -- they got off the field on third down and largely kept the Saints out of the endzone.
It's one thing to hold an offense featuring a rookie quarterback to 19 points. Holding one of the most prolific coach/quarterback pairings in league history to 13 points despite turning the ball over four times (once on downs, thrice on fumbles) is a huge accomplishment.
Landon Collins Is Proving The Giants Right
The Giants were surprised that Landon Collins fell out of the 1st round in the 2015 draft, so surprised that they engineered a trade up for the Alabama safety.
Collins was widely criticized after a mixed rookie campaign that saw him playing roles he was unfamiliar with in a new defense that was largely devoid of talent.
So far his sophomore campaign has been phenomenal.
About 15 pounds lighter, Collins is moving far better than last year, firing down hill in run support or on a blitz and much improved in coverage. He was responsible for a number of big plays, including the Giants' first sack of 2016.
Protecting The Duke?
For the second game in a row the Giants failed to "Protect The Duke" as Ben McAdoo likes to say.
With three consecutive fumbles in the first half, the Giants' offense did their absolute best to give the game away, but the defense stood strong, getting off the field on 3rd down. The final fumble, a questionable sack-fumble of Eli Manning, even (indirectly) lead to the Giants' only touchdown of the game when John Hankins blocked the Saints' field goal attempt and Janoris Jenkins ran it back for the touchdown.
Ball security has been a problem so far in the season, and it's a problem that the Giants need to get figured out fast.
"We need to handle the football better. We need to take care of The Duke, whether it was dropped passes, fumbles, sack fumble, whatever it is, we need to take care of the football better, no question," coach Ben McAdoo said. "What we do in practice needs to show up in the game. We took care of the ball well last week other than one minor incident, but this week, we need to do a better job, we need to clean that up."
Cruz Taketh Away and Cruz Giveth
During Cruz's breakout 2011 season, the feeling always was "Cruz giveth, and Cruz taketh away".
That's because for as many big plays as the electric undrafted phenom made, it seemed that he would always give something back to the opposing defense. A drop, a fumble ... something.
But the big plays always made up for it.
It was like that once again for Cruz. He fumbled the ball in the first half trying to eke out every yard he possibly could but was woefully careless with the ball. But in classic Cruz form, he made up for it as the game ended with a huge catch to put the Giants in position to kick the winning field goal, wrestling for control of the ball as he hit the ground.
It was one of the biggest plays of the game, and it was classic Cruz.
100-Yard Game For Sterling Shepard
It didn't take long for rookie receiver Sterling Shepard to eclipse 100 yards in a game, with the rookie accomplishing the feat in just his second game. Odell Beckham challenged him to better his record for yards as a rookie, and Shepard is making a fair start.
Beckham didn't get his first 100-yard game until his fourth game, totaling 106 yards through his first three games. Shepard totaled 117 yards today, and has 160 yards through his first two games.
Even more than the yards, Shepard came up big in a number of key situations. The kid's got skills, and he's quickly becoming a key cog.
For the second time in two weeks the Giants won as time expired. In Week 1 it was a heady defensive play by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to keep the clock running on the Dallas Cowboys. This week it was a field goal as time expired.
While the ending is fitting, given that it's how the 2015 meeting between these two teams ended, it would be nice if the Giants would win comfortably without then need for last-second heroics.
Of course, it probably wouldn't be New York Giants football if that happened.
Big (Quiet) Day For Eli Manning
Eli Manning had a good day by almost any measure.
He threw for 368 yards, completing 32-of-41 passes, a sparkling 78 percent completion rate and 11.5 yards per completion. It really was one of his finest (and most efficient) days as a passer.
One minor problem, though, he didn't throw for any touchdowns. In fact, the offense didn't score any touchdowns at all.
The only touchdown scored by the Giants was on a blocedk kick returned for a touchdown by Janoris Jenkins -- a defensive player on a special teams play!
It wasn't for lack of trying though. Eli had hit Larry Donnell, Odell Beckham, and Victor Cruz each in the hands only to have the ball dropped or knocked away at the last instant. You have to believe that that won't happen again.
The Giants are 2-0
Regardless of what else happens this weekend, the New York Giants are undefeated and in first place in the NFC East (by virtue of their 1-0 division record). Those two things haven't happened since 2009, and while it may not be pretty -- in fact, the wins have been maddeningly ugly -- it's the truth.
By my reckoning, while these are ugly wins, they're good victories. They aren't blowing teams off the field, yet they are finding ways to win games, something previous Giants' teams couldn't manage to do. The Giants are young at many positions, and young teams need to learn how to put games away and finish. Also, the ugliness of the first two games should help remind the Giants that they aren't a great team (yet), and give the coaches plenty of tape to teach from in a positive atmosphere.
The best teams are never at their best at the start of the year, they learn, grow, and get better throughout the year. They build on successes and correcting mistakes as they go, "getting hot" at the end of the year when everything comes together. Hopefully
Surprise Of The Game -- Again, The Defense!
If I had predicted that the Giants would hold Drew Brees and the Saints to just 13 points, I probably would have been called a madman, or at least a delusional homer.
But that's exactly what they did.
Every Single Analyst predicted a high-scoring affair. And while it should have been on the Giants' side, the defense was impressively stout. The run defense held the Saints to just 41 total yards on the ground, and Brees to just 263 yards through the air, and only Brandon Cooks approached 70 yards receiving (on 7 catches). Steve Spagnuolo's confidence in his secondary is obvious and the pass rush managed two sacks and a good number of hits and hurries on Brees.
While they did manage to get a pair of sacks, if the offense had carried its weight and scored as they should have they might have had the quick-throwing Brees under even more duress.
This was another impressive performance all the way around for the Giants' revamped defense.
But maybe even more impressive is their attitude.
Odell Beckham on Giants D: "They're a championship defense."— Art Stapleton (@art_stapleton) September 18, 2016
Landon Collins: "We're not a championship defense until we win a championship."