It was only the Cleveland Browns, but the New York Giants have a lot to be excited about after their 27-13 victory at FirstEnergy Stadium on Sunday. Big Blue is 8-3 and sitting comfortably atop the NFC Wild Card race. They’ve won six games in a row and their defensive line is as good as it’s been since the days of the NASCAR package.
Jason Pierre-Paul has anchored that line, he’s been on a tear in recent weeks. On the other side of the ball, Odell Beckham Jr. is making more headlines for his play than his touchdown celebrations- and there’s been more of those celebrations of late. Beckham had two more touchdown receptions, and had a punt return touchdown called back on a hold by Mark Herzlich.
Check out the big winners and losers from Sunday’s victory.
WINNER: Giants’ defensive line
The Giants’ defensive line over the past few weeks has been getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but it’s when they dial that pressure up that’s encouraging. Their fourth-quarter pass rush is becoming a trend. They punished Andy Dalton, Jay Cutler and now Josh McCown in successive fourth quarters, when the they needed it most.
They had 10 knockdowns, 10 QB hits, seven sacks, three forced fumbles and a touchdown Sunday, in Cleveland. JPP led the charge with three sacks, a forced fumble of his own and the TD on a 43-yard fumble return. Pierre-Paul has 5.5 sacks over his last two games and is playing as well as any end in football.
The Giants defensive line is peaking at an ideal time -- with the playoff race heating up and temperatures cooling down.
LOSERS: Kick returners NOT named Odell Beckham
OBJ’s big-day-that-didn’t-count on special teams only happened because the Giants’ pulled their regular return specialists, wide receiver Dwyane Harris and running back Bobby Rainey.
Harris has struggled with his decision-making on special teams all season long, and it cost him his spot in the return game this week. Bobby Rainey got the nod and he wasn’t much better. Rainey was penalized for a dangerous invalid fair catch signal, and muffed a punt in the second quarter which the Browns recovered. They scored their first points of the game on a Britton Colquitt field goal 10 plays later. He was pulled for Beckham from that point on.
The sight of OBJ returning kicks brings back painful Jason Sehorn memories for some, but Beckham’s upside is undeniable. Still, it’s easier to stomach in small doses. If Harris or Rainey aren’t going to be the answers, the Giants must find a permanent solution sooner rather than later.