The New York Giants proved they’re New York football’s finest.
Now, they’ll have a good chance to finish with the much greater reward of a division title.
For the Giants, it was a perfect way to close the calendar year. With a single victory, they ended the season of one rival, put another’s in serious jeopardy, and gained momentum for a first-place, regular season finale showdown with a third.
After spotting the New York Jets (8-7) an early 7-0 lead, the Giants (8-7) scored the next 20 points, and ultimately, the final nine points, to beat their co-tenants for a fifth straight time, 29-14, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ on Saturday.
The Giants’ victory puts the Jets’ postseason hopes in peril. To make the playoffs, the Jets will need to win at Miami, and have both Cincinnati and Tennessee, and either Denver or Oakland lose next week.
Meanwhile, the Giants also eliminated the NFC East preseason favorite Philadelphia Eagles (7-8) from postseason contention despite the Eagles completing a season sweep over the Dallas Cowboys (8-7), who could either be without starting quarterback Tony Romo, or with Romo at less than full strength when they visit the Giants on New Year’s Day.
The winner of that game will be crowned NFC East champions and will host a first-round playoff game the following weekend, while the loser will have to wait until next season. Dallas is hopeful that Romo, who bruised his throwing hand in a home loss to Philadelphia shortly after the Giants earned their city bragging rights against the Jets, will be healthy enough to salvage their season at the Meadowlands.
As for the battle of New York (and New Jersey), in the first meaningful game for both the Giants and Jets in twelve regular season meetings, it was the Jets looking like they might actually back up the boastful words of head coach Rex Ryan, whose mouth once again wrote a check that his team couldn’t cash.
Ryan followed his early season Jets Super Bowl victory guarantee by declaring earlier in the week that the Jets were the best team in New York.
Initially, the Giants were making Ryan’s words ring true, as they started the game with three punts while amassing just 20 total yards, and going three-and-out on their first two possessions.
They also allowed the Jets to get the game’s first six first downs, gain 65 of the game’s first 73 yards, and take an early lead.
Following a Giants’ punt to start the game, a careless penalty by the Giants helped the Jets go 53 yards on ten plays during the Jets’ opening possession, for the game’s first score.
As the road team playing in their own building, in front of a crowd that was estimated at only about 55-60 percent in favor of the Jets, the Giants lacked their usual figurative 12th man. By mistake, they put an actual one on the field and that cost them dearly, as they were flagged for having too many men on the field on an incomplete screen pass on 4th-and-4 from quarterback Mark Sanchez (30-59, 258 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 5 sacks) to running back Shonn Greene (14 carries, 58 yards; 3 catches, 20 yards).
The Jets capitalized just five plays later, taking a 7-0 lead on the first career score by seldom-used, undrafted rookie running back Josh Baker (1 catch, 5 yards, TD; no carries), who walked into the end zone on a five-yard screen to the left from Sanchez with 7:56 left in the first quarter.
The Giants’ defense, which struggled severely in recent weeks, but which stepped up against the Jets, forced punts on each of the Jets’ next two possessions, the second of which set the Giants up at midfield.
Quarterback Eli Manning (9-27, 225 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 2 sacks) then completed a 20-yard pass to wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, one of six different Giants with one catch in the game. Three plays later, Manning connected with wide receiver Victor Cruz (3 catches, 164 yards, 1 TD) for 29 yards to give the Giants a 1st-and-goal at the Jets’ 2-yard line, but the Giants were forced to settle for a 21-yard field goal by kicker Lawrence Tynes, which cut the Jets’ lead to 7-3, with 11:51 remaining in the opening half.
The Jets then punted twice and the Giants once before a huge turning point followed.
A Jets punt downed at the Giants’ 1-yard line nearly became disastrous for the Giants when former special teams captain Chase Blackburn (in his second go-around with the team) inexplicably tried to dive between a few Jets with no realistic chance at advancing the ball. Blackburn nearly touched it before the Jets did, which could have given the Jets’ offense a first down inside the Giants’ five-yard line.
Instead, Manning completed a short pass to Cruz, to the right, three plays later, which Cruz broke for a game-breaker.
Answering some trash-talking about him from the Jets’ secondary leading up to the game, Cruz, the Giants’ leading receiver this season, who is likely to make his first Pro Bowl, refreshed the Jets’ memory about what a great playmaker he’s capable of being.
Cruz was first noticed as a rookie last season, when he burned the Jets for three touchdowns and some spectacular, highlight reel catches in the Giants’ preseason win during the first professional football game ever at the current stadium which both New York teams now call home.
This time, Cruz caught Manning’s pass at the Giants’ 11-yard line before planting his foot and losing one of his critics – cornerback Antonio Cromartie (3 tackles, 1 PD) – to break back out toward the right and up the sideline on a 99-yard touchdown pass.
It was the longest pass play in Giant history and the longest defensive play allowed in Jet history, but more importantly, it gave the Giants their first lead – one they wouldn’t relinquish – 10-7, with 2:12 left in the half.
The play also accounted for 16 more yards than the Giants had on their previous 25 plays combined, to start the game.
The Giants appeared to extend their lead three plays later, when rookie wide receiver Jeremy Kerley (5 catches, 36 yards) was ruled to have fumbled a ball that was picked up and returned 29 yards for an apparent touchdown by cornerback Aaron Ross (3 tackles, 1 PD).
Replays were inconclusive, although certain angles showed that Kerley’s right elbow might have landed on the cleat of safety Antrel Rolle (7 tackles) rather than on the turf, before Kerley fumbled, after being dragged down by Rolle.
Nevertheless, the call was reversed and the Jets were able to move 55 yards to the Giants’ 19-yard line, but defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, another young Giant in addition to Cruz who is likely to make the Pro Bowl, sacked Sanchez for seven yards on third down, giving him a team-leading 15½ sacks for the season.
Giants’ head coach Tom Coughlin then iced kicker Nick Folk with a time out, and Folk responded by missing a 44-yard kick wide left as the half ended.
Neither team could do much offensively for most of the third quarter as the Giants punted three times in a row, and the Jets punted four straight times, making it eight consecutive punts for them since their first-quarter touchdown.
Before the Jets’ last punt of the period, cornerback Corey Webster (7 tackles, 2 PD) appeared to have created a turnover, but a pass that was clearly caught by wide receiver Santonio Holmes (4 catches, 50 yards) and was popped loose by the hand of Webster and was mistakenly ruled an incomplete pass.
But, the Giants then went 81 yards in just four plays as Manning found Cruz for a 36-yard gain up the right side, and the Giants’ backfield took the ball into the end zone from there.
Running back Brandon Jacobs (7 carries, 42 yards) ran 28 yards to the left on the next play, to post just the third run of at least 20 yards this season for the team with the league’s worst rushing attack, but which slightly outgained the Jets’ running game, 115-105.
Jacobs’ compliment, running back Ahmad Bradshaw (15 carries, 54 yards, 2 TD) scored on the next play, running 14 yards up the middle, to push the Giants’ lead to 17-7, with 13 seconds left in the quarter.
Three plays later, the Giants did get a turnover, as Sanchez, under pressure from defensive end Justin Tuck (4 tackles, 1 sack, 2 PDs) was looking for Kerley, who stopped on his route. Sanchez ended up throwing over the middle right to safety Kenny Phillips (1 tackle, 1 INT, 1 PD), who returned the ball 31 yards to the Jets’ 14-yard line to set up a Tynes 36-yard field goal that increased the Giants’ lead to 20-7, with 13:18 left in the game.
The Jets then answered with their longest drive of the game (13 plays, 73 yards) but only to lose the ball after center Nick Mangold made a bad snap against his leg, leading to a fumble recovery in the end zone by rookie linebacker Jacquian Williams (5 tackles, 1 PD, 1 FR) for a touchback.
Manning gave the ball right back on the next play though, as he was intercepted by linebacker David Harris (4 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 PD), who caught a ball off of Nick’s hands and returned it 20 yards to the Giants’ 11-yard line.
The Giants’ only turnover of the game proved costly just four plays later, as Sanchez took advantage of a third-down holding penalty on Rolle to get his sixth rushing touchdown of the season, on a run from a yard out, to pull the Jets to within 20-14, with 7:17 remaining.
Each team then went three-and-out before the Giants punted again, pinning the Jets at their own 1-yard line.
Defensive tackle Chris Canty (3 tackles, 1 sack) then sacked Sanchez in the end zone on the next play, as Sanchez completed the ball to offensive lineman D’Brickashaw Ferguson in desperation, but not until after it was ruled that Sanchez’s forward progress was stopped. Canty was awarded with a safety to extend the Giants’ lead to 22-14, with 2:13 left.
Folk then attempted the almost never seen onside free kick, which went out of bounds at the Jets’ 19-yard line.
Bradshaw scampered into the end zone on the next play to close the scoring and make the Giants the Kings of New York, even if they won despite being on the short end of some key statistics.
The Jets had twice as many first downs (22-11), ran 34 more plays (89-54), and controlled the ball for over 13 minutes more (36:06 – 23:54) than the Giants, and Manning had by far, a season low in completions while Sanchez set career highs for both attempts and completions.
Thanks largely to Cruz’s touchdown however, it was Manning who got more out of his completions, nearly doubling Sanchez in yards per attempt (8.3 to 4.4).
In addition to being a season saver, the Giants’ win might also be seen as a victory for class over arrogance, and in some ways, like the big brothers keeping the little brothers in their place.
Ryan placed great importance on the game, not only for his teams’ playoff hopes, but because he desperately wants his team to eventually be the main team in New York. For both reasons, he admitted earlier in the week, “I have to win this game,” while at other times, he fired unprovoked verbal shots at the Giants, including the idea that the venue for Saturday’s contest would eventually be known as JetLife Stadium.
Coughlin, simply responded with his motto, “Talk is cheap, play the game.”
Still, that didn’t stop the Jets (who with control of the entire stadium as the designated home team) from stooping to covering four logos commemorating the Giants’ Super Bowl appearances outside of the Giants’ normal home locker room, which the Giants used on Saturday (the Jets use their own home locker room in the stadium).
The logos were covered with black curtains, which were taken down Jacobs and Tynes, at the request of the Giants.
A Jets official restored the curtains and placed a security guard in from of them to prevent further tampering.
Yet, even after the win, Coughlin, who sustained a minor knee injury when Jets’ linebacker Aaron Maybin hit running back Danny Ware late, out of bounds, sending Ware careening into his head coach, humbly deflected a question about gaining city bragging rights, saying, “I am not going to get into all of that.”
Ryan, who seems to not believe half of his own bluster sometimes, but who is outspoken simply to take attention and pressure off of his team, admitted after the game about the Giants, “They were the better team today, and they’re the better team this year. Clearly, I was wrong.”
That didn’t stop Giants’ co-owner John Mara from candidly saying, “Given everything that was at stake, and all the noise that has been coming out of Florham Park [the Jets’ training facility in New Jersey], yeah, it means a little more.”
But, it will only continue to mean a lot if the Giants finish the regular season as well as they ended the game against their intra-city rival, as the clash for New York supremacy gives way to a win-or-go-home clash for the NFC East crown with Dallas next week.
That game has been flexed from its regularly scheduled start time of 1 pm ET to a Sunday Night Football national telecast on NBC, at 8:20 pm on January 1st.