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Giants-Bucs ‘Kudos & Wet Willies’ review: It’s a winning streak, and there is much praise to be given

Let’s look at who played well and who did not

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New York Giants
Curtis Riley intercepts a pass in the end zone on Sunday.
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Two straight happy recaps? It’s another Monday following a victory by the New York Giants, this one a nail-biting 38-35 track meet with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Let’s get to our traditional “Kudos & Wet Willies” review.


Kudos to ...

Saquon Barkley — The Giants have been waiting for the next step in the progression of their outstanding rookie running back. Sunday, it happened. The Giants have been waiting for Barkley, who’s biggest flaw to date has been a tendency to turn down available yards while looking for home runs — sometimes turning positive plays into negative ones — to learn to just take what was available. Sunday, he did that.

Barkley set career highs in carries (27) and yards (142) while scoring two touchdowns. Many of those carries were between the tackles and many of those yards were physical ones where he just stayed the course and trusted the play design and the blocking.

Barkley set that tone on the game’s third play with a physical 6-yard run on a third-and-1. It culminated in the fourth quarter when, at the Tampa Bay 11-yard line and clinging a 31-28 lead, the Giants handed the ball to Barkley three straight times to earn a much-needed touchdown.

“I thought today was the best he ran. He had a better tempo. He was hitting the holes fast and was running hard,” quarterback Eli Manning said. “He was close to breaking a couple of long ones but he was just efficient.”

Despite Barkley’s explosiveness the Giants had entered the game as the league’s least efficient rushing team, per SB Nation’s advanced statistics. Barkley helped change that on Sunday.

Offensive line — Coach Pat Shurmur has often said that the Giants would only go as far as the offensive line would take them. Sunday, that still-getting-to-know-each-other group had an awful lot to do with taking the Giants to victory.

The run-blocking was especially impressive. The Giants asked Barkley to stick with plays and trust his blocking, which means the blockers had to come through. And they did. The Giants often ran behind rookie guard Will Hernandez, center Spencer Pulley (fourth start) and guard Jamon Brown (second start). They used fullback Elijhaa Penny for a season-high 16 snaps. They used reserve tight end Scott Simonson (18 snaps) as an extra blocker at times, often removing pass-catching tight end Evan Engram (only 17 snaps). The Giants even used wide receiver Bennie Fowler (17 snaps) as a blocker on the edge, at times even removing Beckham from the game.

The pass-blocking wasn’t as good. Eli Manning was sacked four times, twice by Jason Pierre-Paul. He was hit five times. That means he was hit on nine of 22 drop backs, or 41 percent. Not good. But, when the protection was good it was really good. Manning did go 17-of-18 (94.4 percent completion rate) for 231 yards and two scores, his most efficient day in a 15-year career. Let’s get into that more next.

Eli Manning — Amazing what an efficient running game and comfort in the pocket can do for a veteran quarterback. Barkley had his best and most consistent day as a pro, providing the Giants with tough running yards whenever they needed them. When he was asked to throw, Manning was comfortable, aggressive and on target. He threw a beautiful 41-yard strike to Odell Beckham Jr. on the game’s first drive, splitting a double team and hitting him in stride. He hit Sterling Shepard for 18 yards on a third-and-13. He squeezed a throw in to Beckham for an 8-yard touchdown. He hit Evan Engram in stride, leading him to a 54-yard catch-and-run. He misfired on one throw all day, a wheel route to Barkley that might have been a touchdown if it was thrown a bit better.

Manning averaged season highs in yards gained per attempt (12.83) and adjusted yards per attempt (15.06). The last two weeks have shown what the Giants thought they could create if they could support their quarterback.

Odell Beckham Jr. — The numbers weren’t overwhelming, but Beckham had that 41-yard catch. The touchdown catch was a terrific hands catch on a ball that was a touch underthrown. He had four catches for 74 yards and a score, and an 11-yard run on a reverse. A good day. And his dream of an 8-0 second-half run for the Giants remains alive.

Special teams — Could this group actually be turning into a strength for the Giants? It sure looked that way Sunday as all phases of special teams were excellent.

  • Corey Coleman continued to show that he is a dangerous kickoff returner. He opened the game with a 40-yard return and averaged 26.8 yards on five returns.
  • Oddly, none of Aldrick Rosas’ seven kickoffs went for touchbacks. The Giants, though, gave up only an average of 19.6 yards on seven Tampa Bay returns.
  • The kickoff “hands” team recovered an onside kick late in the game. More on that below.
  • It might seem weird, but the best thing punter Riley Dixon did was boot a 46-yard touchback. That’s because it came with 31 seconds left and DeSean Jackson back to return for the Buccaneers. You remember what happened the last time the Giants punted to Jackson at the end of a game, right? The murmur in the MetLife Stadium crowd told you it did. So did coach Pat Shurmur.

“I was on the other team when that happened one time,” Shurmur said. “I was jumping around saying, ‘it’s No. 11’, so we just wanted to make sure he wasn’t going to catch the ball,” Shurmur said. “My reaction was the same as the people gulping, because I saw the other side of it once.”

Michael Thomas — The veteran defensive back is becoming an increasingly important player for the Giants. Sunday, he made two critical plays. Near the end of the first half he undercut a route by Tampa Bay tight end O.J. Howard to intercept a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass at the Giants’ 13-yard line, ensuring that the Giants would go to halftime with a lead. Thomas also correctly diagnosed and recovered an onside kick with 2:22 remaining and the Giants leading 38-35.

Wet Willies to ...

Olivier Vernon — Three consecutive penalties? On what really amounted to one snap? You’ve got to be kidding me? With Tampa Bay facing third-and-10 Vernon turned an incompletion and a punting situation with 45 seconds left in the half into a first down at the Buccaneers’ 49-yard line. He then turned that into a first down at the Giants’ 41 with back-to-back offsides penalties, giving the Bucs 25 yards in gift-wrapped yardage. Oh, and the veteran edge player was also quiet. He didn’t register a sack, tackle or quarterback hit in 54 defensive snaps. The penalties were Vernon’s only stats in the game.

Kwillies to ...

Giants’ defense — When the Giants were catching the passes that Buccaneers quarterbacks were throwing to them (three interceptions of Ryan Fitzpatrick, one of Jameis Winston) they were great. Curtis Riley, Michael Thomas, Alec Ogletree (Pick 6) and B.W. Webb had interceptions.

The Giants made one big fourth-down stop near the goal line. Other than that, not so great.

The Giants only got one sack. They only got six total hits in 38 drop backs (15.8 percent).

The Giants gave up 510 yards in total offense. They volleyballed two potential interceptions, turning them into incompletions. They allowed Peyton Barber of Tampa Bay a career-high 106 yards on 18 carries (5.9 yards per attempt). They surrendered four straight touchdown drives (none shorter than 66 yards) once Winston replaced Fitzpatrick.

They did enough to beat a team that has now turned the ball over a league-worst 29 times. They will, however, have to do more if the Giants are going to continue winning.