If the New York Giants were going to have any realistic chance of having a successful 2018 season they had to have a victory Sunday against the Houston Texans. They got that desperately-needed victory by a 27-22 score, and it wasn’t an accident.
For the first time this season, Giants’ football looked the way new coach Pat Shurmur and Co. hoped it would.
The Giants were efficient and explosive on offense, especially in the first half. They were opportunistic, especially in the second half, on defense. They didn’t hurt themselves on special teams.
Sunday began with the news that Ereck Flowers was no longer a member of the Giants’ starting offensive line. It ended with the first victory of the Pat Shurmur era. And renewed optimism that the Giants, underdogs on Sunday and facing the potential of a disastrous 0-3 start, could do good things in 2018.
Coach Shurmur: It feels special because it feels like we're making progress. #GiantsPride— New York Giants (@Giants) September 23, 2018
The Giants once again failed to reach the 30-point plateau, a mark they haven’t hit since the final game of the 2015 season when Tom Coughlin’s career with the team was ending. Still, when J.J. Watt wasn’t wrecking their plans, they showed the variety of weapons that could make their offense special.
The Giants scored the first four times they had the ball, with a pair of touchdowns and a pair of Aldrick Rosas field goals.
Saquon Barkley, again showing that he is virtually impossible for the first defender to tackle, took advantage of the best run-blocking the Giants have given him this season. Barkley had a 15-yard scoring run, a 24-yard run, and ended up with 17 carries for 82 yards.
When it was winning time in the fourth quarter, nursing a 20-15 lead and needing a drive, it was Barkley the Giants leaned on. On a 9-play, 77-yard drive that ended up giving them a commanding 27-15 lead with 5:29 remaining Barkley carried the ball three times and caught two passes for 27 yards, including a 21-yard catch when he lined up as a wide receiver.
“We found a way to finish the game. We started with a nice play to Shep, then we ran the ball a little bit. We found a way to complete some passes, and then obviously at the end, score there,” Shurmur said.
Eli Manning was an incredibly efficient 25-of-29 for 297 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 132.3. He was sacked four times, three by Watt, but generally had time to set his feet and step into his throws. Shurmur also moved him left and right, creating some easy throws. Manning was as good as he’s been in a long, long time.
Pat Shurmur on Eli Manning: “He played a good game. I should say a damn good game.”— Paul Schwartz (@NYPost_Schwartz) September 23, 2018
Manning took advantage of mismatches all day, just like the Giants hoped he would be able to do if they could block well enough to give him a chance.
“That’s how I see playing offense. You deal up a progression. Dial it up and then the ball goes where it’s supposed to go. If it gets out on time, we really trust all of our players out there,” Shurmur said. “The last touchdown was designed really to go to Odell (Beckham Jr.) isolated. They doubled him, so Eli went back and threw the ball to Shep (Sterling Shepard). That’s just the way this thing works, and it was good.”
Manning was told after the game that he seemed more comfortable in the pocket than he had been the first two weeks.
“I thought we did a good job having a good plan to get the ball out. The ball was coming out fast, could see what they were doing. The offensive line was blocking, doing what they were doing, they were blocking things up and we didn’t have the mistakes,” Manning said. “I thought we kind of condensed the offense a little bit and made sure guys knew what they were doing. Plays that they knew, they were playing fast, the offensive line was playing fast and we have good players, just let them go play. Let’s not try to be perfect and trick or do too much. Let our guys go win, because we got good athletes.”
Relying heavily on various crossing routes, Manning completed 9-of-10 passes directed at Odell Beckham Jr. for 109 yards. When the Texans jumped Beckham and left single coverage elsewhere, the Giants took advantage of that.
Sterling Shepard caught six passes for 80 yards, Rhett Ellison three for 39 and a touchdown, Barkley five for 35, Evan Engram one for 19 before being hurt and Cody Latimer one for 15.
Defensively, as the game rolled into the latter stages and it looked like momentum was shifting to the Texans, the defense came up with a pair of critical takeaways to keep Houston at bay.
Late in the third quarter, Kerry Wynn knocked a ball away from Lamar Miller and Donte Deayon recovered at the Giants’ 25-yard line. Houston’s next possession reached the Giants’ 8-yard line, but a penalty, sack and outstanding athletic interception by Alec Ogletree in the end zone ended that opportunity.
Wynn was terrific. Damon Harrison dominated the middle. B.J. Hill and Lorenzo Carter got their first sacks. The Giants did enough in the secondary. They survived a game without Olivier Vernon and Eli Apple.
Can the Giants build on this?
That’s a really good question.
Shurmur said his first victory as Giants’ coach “feels special because we’re making progress.”
Will they, however, sustain it and make it meaningful?
The Giants return home next week to face the New Orleans Saints, 2-1 after a 43-37 overtime victory Sunday over the Atlanta Falcons. That won’t be an easy game against Drew Brees and Co., a team with a terrific offense but a defense that can be taken advantage of.
The Giants showed us Sunday what they can be. What they will be remains to be seen.
“This is what we were itching for, itching for a win. Guys had a great week of preparation, so it shows us how we should prepare, and if we want to keep this feeling then that’s what we have to keep on doing,” Shepard said. “Everybody was freaking out about the two games but we remained calm as a team.”
Beckham was well aware that one victory does not mean all is well in the Giants’ world.
“We have to get some more wins and start putting them together,” he said. “We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves, because it’s just one game. Now we have to start tacking it on, build off this today and keep improving.”
What they managed to do Sunday, though, is to get a reprieve and make things interesting going forward.