If you listened to the oddsmakers and only saw the final score, you’d have thought Sunday’s game at the New Meadowlands Stadium was a fairly easy home victory for the New York Giants (4-2) over the Detroit Lions (1-5).
Sometimes, both the oddsmakers and the final score can be misleading.
The Giants, who came in as ten-point favorites, and who won by nearly that amount, notched their third straight victory, but only after getting some help and holding on until the end, to beat the Lions, 28-20, in a contest that was lost by mistake-prone Detroit, more than it in was won by New York.
The outcome might have been vastly different if not for the Lions aiding the Giants with 11 penalties – many occurring during crucial moments — for 91 yards and three costly turnovers (two of which led to 14 Giants’ points, and a third, which thwarted a last-minute Lions’ rally).
Although New York limited its own mistakes to just a single turnover and only two penalties for 15 yards, it was the Giants who made the first critical blunder which helped give Detroit an early lead.
A recurring problem reared its ugly head again on the final play of the opening possession of the game, as Giants’ punter Matt Dodge once again fumbled a snap, leading to a recovery by the Lions at the Giants’ 43 yard-line.
Nine plays later, the Detroit cashed in on Dodge’s gift, scoring on a 14-yard touchdown pass from second-string quarterback Shaun Hill (who replaced injured starter Matthew Stafford for the fifth straight week) to wide receiver Nate Burleson (6 catches, 50 yards, 1 TD), to give the Lions a 7-0 lead 7:15 into the game.
The Giants though, tied the game on their third possession, as punt returner Darius Reynaud, finally gave his team what it had long awaited for weeks, with a 20-yard punt return to the Detroit 40 yard-line.
New York used the short field to tie the game five plays later, 7-7, with 1:30 left in the opening quarter, on a 4-yard touchdown run by Brandon Jacobs (9 carries, 35 yards, 2 TD).
Jacobs’ score was set up by two earlier connections of 20 yards and 11 yards from quarterback Eli Manning (20-30, 177 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT) to wide receiver Steve Smith (team-highs of 6 catches and 70 yards) on the same drive.
The Giants then mounted a nice scoring drive on their second possession of the second quarter, traveling 93 yards on 11 plays, in 6:42, beating the Lions’ man-to-man blitz coverage, with a 33-yard, 3rd-and-4 strike, down the middle from Manning to wide receiver Mario Manningham (4 catches, 51 yards, 1 TD), to lead 14-7, with 3:14 left in the first half.
Detroit’s final drive of the half was mixed. The Lions answered with a score halftime, but lost Hill for the remainder of the game after Hill suffered n injury to his left arm on a tough hit with 1:16 to go before halftime.
With the Giants knocking out a quarterback for the fourth time this season, third-string quarterback Drew Stanton (playing in only his ninth NFL game in his third season) took over for Hill, and scrambled nine yards before completing three passes of 3, 11, and 6 yards, to set up kicker Jason Hanson for the first of two 50-yard field goals he would make on the day, to pull the Lions to within 14-10 at halftime. Hanson’s kick might have hooked left under normal circumstances, but a strong wind pushed the ball from left to right, causing the ball to knuckle low and through the right upright.
The second half began with the Giants taking advantage of a key Lions penalty and turnover, after Stanton drove Detroit from its own 36 yard-line to the New York 33 yard-line.
On 3rd-and 3, Stanton (19-34, 222 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) completed a pass up the right sideline inside the Giants’ 10 yard-line, which could have set Detroit up to take the lead. But, an illegal formation penalty negated the play, forcing a 3rd-and-8 at the New York 38 yard-line.
Giants’ defensive End Osi Umenyiora (who recorded both of the Giants’ sacks on the day, both on Stanton), then hit Stanton, forcing a fumble that was recovered by defensive end Justin Tuck at the Giants’ 43 yard-line.
Instead of a Detroit lead, the Giants made it a 14-point swing the other way, going 57 yards on 8 plays in 4:25, taking a 21-10 lead with 6:43 left in the third quarter on a third-down, one-yard touchdown pass from Manning to tight end Travis Beckum (his only catch).
Prior to the touchdown, after New York drove to the Detroit 18 yard-line, the Lions were flagged for a pass interference call on a short pass attempt for Giants’ wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, at the Lions’ 8 yard-line.
Detroit then had New York stopped on 3rd-and-3 from the Lions’ own 3 yard-line, but consecutive penalties – for a personal foul, and then defensive holding – the ninth and tenth flags, and 57th and 58th on the season for the league’s most penalized team — gave the Giants a first-and-goal prior to Beckum’s touchdown reception.
On the first possession of the fourth quarter, the Lions capitalized on a coverage breakdown as the always dangerous wide receiving threat Calvin Johnson (5 catches, game-high 146 yards, 1 TD) scored on an 87-yard touchdown pass from Stanton with 13:17 left in the game.
Cornerback Terrell Thomas jumped up on a simple short route in the left flat, playing the ball, instead of Johnson, who spun toward the sideline while making the catch, as Thomas jumped inward toward the middle of the field.
Saftey Antrel Rolle, who should have been providing help over the top, broke too soon, in front of Thomas and Johnson, instead of backing up Thomas, leaving Johnson to easily streak up the left side to bring the Lions to within 21-17.
Meanwhile, with the Giants managing just 27 total yards on seven plays while punting on each of their first two fourth-quarter possessions, the Lions threatened to take the lead late in the fourth quarter.
Detroit moved from its own 13 yard-line into Giants territory on eight plays, but wide receiver Nate Burleson (6 catches, 50 yards) after catching a Stanton pass and already picking up a first down, fumbled after he was hit by Thomas and safety Deon Grant, who recovered Burleson’s fumble at the Giants’ 42 yard-line.
New York didn’t take long to capitalize on yet another Detroit mistake.
One play later, running back Ahmad Bradshaw (game-high 133 yards on just 19 carries) burst through the line for 45 yards to the Lions’ 13 yard-line.
Jacobs then rushed for seven yards, and then a 6-yard score to put the Giants up 28-17, with 3:24 left in the game.
Kick returner Stefan Logan then quickly got the Lions back in business, taking the ensuing kickoff 58 yards to the New York 40 yard-line.
The Giants’ defense, which held the Lions to just 64 yards rushing on 21 carries, made a stop, but Hanson booted another 50-yard field goal, to pull the Lions to within 28-20, with 2:50 remaining.
Detroit then stopped New York on a three-and-out, and took over at its own 14 yard-line with 2:18 left. The Lions methodically drove 11 plays and 48 yards into Giants’ territory, to the New York 38 yard-line, with 21 seconds left, and they nearly completed a pass in the Giants’ red zone, which would have set up a chance or two at tying the game in the final seconds.
But, a Stanton pass was a bit too high for tight end Brandon Pettigrew (7 catches, 61 yards), who while jumping, had the ball glance off of his hands and into the arms of Rolle for an interception to ice the game for the Giants.
And, another near win on the road for the Lions ended with Detroit’s 24th straight defeat away from home.
For New York, the win already marked its final non-divisional, conference home game of the year, as the Giants prepare to play their first NFC East contest of the season against the Cowboys on Monday Night Football, October 25th, in Dallas.