Hosting the extremely opportunistic Buffalo Bills, the New York Giants knew ball security would be the key to victory at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on Sunday.
Forcing a couple of turnovers themselves, didn’t hurt either.
The Giants (4-2), who led the NFL with 42 turnovers last year, and who committed five more in a home loss to Seattle last week, played turnover free football against the Bills (4-2), who entered the game with a plus-11 takeaway ratio.
Cornerback Corey Webster meanwhile, secured two interceptions for New York, the second of which stymied a late Bills’ drive deep in Giants’ territory and led to an eventual field goal by kicker Lawrence Tynes to give New York a 27-24 victory.
The game-deciding boot was the second of two short field goals by Tynes, as the Giants’ other scores came on a trio of one-yard touchdown runs by running back Ahmad Bradshaw (26 carries, 104 yards, 3 TD).
For the second straight week, the favored Giants fell behind 14-7 after the opening quarter, only this time, the ending was much happier for New York.
After the teams traded punts to start the game, the Giants drove 69 yards on nine plays to take a 7-0 lead on a touchdown plunge by Bradshaw with 5:20 left in first quarter.
Quarterback Eli Manning (21-32, 292 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 0 sacks), who tied a career-best streak by going over 200 passing yards for a ninth straight game, completed passes of 17 yards (to Bradshaw), 16 yards (to wide receiver Mario Manningham – 5 catches, 56 yards), and 24 yards (to tight end Jake Ballard – 5 catches, 81 yards) on the drive.
Running back Fred Jackson (16 carries, 121 yards, 1 TD) tied the game though, 7-7, on the next play from scrimmage, going 80 yards on a touchdown against the middle of the Giants’ soft run defense.
A New York three-and-out followed, leading to another Buffalo score just six plays later, as quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (21-30, 244 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT, 3 sacks) connected with Buffalo native and former University of Buffalo star, wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt, who made his only catch of the game at midfield before racing past the Giants’ secondary on a 60-yard touchdown reception that gave the Bills their first lead, 14-7, with 24 seconds left in the opening quarter.
The Giants’ offense scored on their next two possessions to regain the lead, however.
ew York marched 84 yards on 13 plays in 5:28, but stalled at the Buffalo 8-yard line and settled for a 26-yard field goal by
Tynes, to trim the Bills’ lead to 14-10 with 9:51 left in the first half.
The Giants traveled even further on their next trip, going 89 yards in five plays, to take a 17-14 lead on Bradshaw’s second touchdown run with 2:58 left in the half.
The drive was highlighted by wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (4 catches, 96 yards) streaking up the left side to gain 60 yards on an over-the-shoulder catch and run to the Buffalo 5-yard line.
New York might have caught a break at the end of the possession when an inconclusive replay showed Bradshaw questionably breaking the plane of the goal line as his knee hit the turf inside the 1-yard line on a second-down rushing attempt.
The Bills responded to Bradshaw’s score with a six-play, 49-yard drive to tie the game, 17-17, on a 29-yard field goal by kicker Ryan Lindell, with 39 seconds to go in the half, after Buffalo head coach Chan Gailey called time out and changed his mind about going for a fourth-and-1 play at the New York 31-yard line.
Good fortune again shined upon the Giants on the Bills’ opening possession of the second half, as a Buffalo punt was forced after linebacker Jacquian Williams wasn’t flagged for clearly interfering on a pass attempt to Jackson on 3rd-and-9 from the New York 36-yard line.
The Giants immediately took advantage, with Manning completing all five of his passes (four of those were for between 11 and 20 yards) during a ten-play, 75-yard drive that culminated with Bradshaw’s final touchdown run of the day following another replay review.
Manningham thought he had his first touchdown reception of the season, but he his knee was down just before the ball reached the goal line, making it necessary for Bradshaw to go over the top on the next play, to put the Giants back in front, 24-17, with 6:53 left in the third quarter.
The score gave Bradshaw his first three-touchdown game of his five-year career and made him the first Gant to rush for that many touchdowns in a game since his current backfield mate, running back Brandon Jacobs (who missed the game with a knee injury) did the same in 2008.
Fitzpatrick tried to attack the Giants’ injury-depleted secondary downfield on the Bills’ next possession, but Webster (4 tackles, 2 pass deflections, 2 INT) made a nice pick in front of speedy wide receiver Stevie Johnson (5 catches, 39 yards, 1 TD), while running stride for stride with Johnson up the left sideline.
New York could not capitalize on the turnover however, as Manningham had a touchdown overturned on first down from the Buffalo 37-yard line. Cornerback Terrence McGee (11 tackles, 2 pass deflections) used his right hand to strip the ball from Manningham’s grasp as Mannnigham fell to the ground in the end zone underneath McGee.
Three plays later, a 50-yard field goal attempt by Tynes was blocked, and the Bills subsequently drove to tie the game for a third time.
Fitzpatrick completed all five of his passes (for 52 yards) during a 12-play, 60 yard drive that consumed 7:02, and finished off the possession with a nine-yard back shoulder touchdown pass to Johnson (against Webster), to even the game, 24-24, with 8:57 left in the contest.
The Bills then forced a three-and-out, and Fitzpatrick quickly moved his offense from its own 26-yard line to the Giants’ 27-yard line after a 32-yard completion to wide receiver David Nelson (4 catches, 62 yards).
But, on the next play, with Fitzpatrick looking perhaps too soon for the go-ahead score, Webster, in the same way he did the first time, intercepted Fitzpatrick up the left side again, staying with Johnson the whole way.
A 15-yard-facemask penalty by Johnson against Webster on the play gave New York some breathing room at its own 19-yard line with 4:02 remaining.
The Giants took to the ground from there with Bradshaw rushing five times for 55 yards, including a key 30-yard burst to the left side on the third play of a nine-play, 76-yard drive that resulted in a Tynes’ game-winning field goal with 1:32 left.
The drive was aided by Nicks drawing two pass interference penalties. The first occurred on the play after Bradshaw’s 30-yard run to the Bills’ 37-yard line, and the second was on a 3rd-and-6 play from the Buffalo 22-yard line, setting up a 1st-and-goal at the Bills’ 7-yard line.
Bradshaw nearly got his fourth touchdown two plays later, but he was tackled just short of the goal line before the Giants later settled for Tynes’ kick.
In between those two plays was a third-down incompletion on which cornerback Leodis McKelvin reached out his right hand to break up a pass intended for Manningham. Another step in front of Manningham, and McKelvin might have taken the play the other way for a game-winning pick-six, reminiscent of a play that cost the Giants a potential win in the final moments against Seattle a week earlier.
But, Sunday was a day on which New York was able to stay away from such mistakes, and as a result, the Giants moved into sole possession of first place in the NFC East, one-half game ahead of Washington (3-2), which lost at home to Philadelphia on Sunday.
The Giants now head into their bye week with the same 2-1 record at home as they have on the road, before they return to action on Sunday, October 30th at 1 pm ET, when they’ll host Miami (0-4), which will visit MetLife stadium two weeks in a row after playing the Giants’ co-tenants, the New York Jets, on Monday night.