After clinching their first losing season since 2004 last week, the New York Giants were expected by many to pack it in against the desperate Detroit Lions on the road.
But even when the Lions (7-8) scored 17 straight points to erase a 13-3 halftime deficit, the Giants (6-9) found enough pride to answer with the final 10 points and pull out a 23-20 overtime win at Ford Field that eliminated Detroit from playoff contention.
While New York moved to 6-3 following a 0-6 start, the Lions, who started 6-3, joined the Giants in missing the postseason with their third straight loss and fourth defeat in five games.
Although New York has an NFL-low 43 points off of opponents’ turnovers this season, the Giants turned three Detroit miscues into 17 of their first 20 points.
The biggest time they capitalized on a Lions turnover was with momentum completely on Detroit’s side, late in the fourth quarter, when safety Will Hill (nine tackles, four solo; one pass deflection, one interception one touchdown) caught a slightly errant 3rd-and-7 pass from quarterback Matthew Stafford (25-for-42, 222 yards, two interceptions), after it was tipped by tight end Joseph Fauria (three catches, 43 yards).
Hill, who was arrested and released on Friday night in New Jersey, on a warrant related to a child support matter, brought the ball back 38 yards for his first career touchdown, to tie the game at 20-apiece, with 5:06 left in regulation.
Running back Andre Brown (16 carries, 40 yards, one fumble) later fumbled — despite replays indicating otherwise — in Lions’ territory on the opening possession of overtime. But a gutty fourth-down conversion on New York’s next drive set up a game-winning 45-yard field goal by kicker Josh Brown, with 7:32 remaining.
Following scores on three of four first-half drives, the Giants’ offense — just as it has for much of the season — sputtered in the second half, giving up a safety, ending one drive with a pick and punting on five occasions (four times, after three-and-outs), while amassing a total of just 53 second-half yards, 45 of which came on New York’s final two trips of the half.
Because of that offensive ineptitude, it seemed that prior to Hill’s interception, New York was headed for what would have been its sixth loss in eight road games this season, even if the Giants were to get the ball back down by just a touchdown, with enough time left in the final period.
Earlier, however, New York’s offense (even without leading receiver Victor Cruz, who was out following knee surgery) was clicking. The Giants’ first drive went 69 yards on 15 plays and ended with a 41-yard field goal by brown that put New York up, 3-0.
Detroit responded on the ensuing possession, with a 12-play, 63-yard drive, to tie the game, 3-3, on a 37-yard field goal from kicker David Akers, early in the second quarter.
Two Giants possessions later — after defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka (six tackles, four solo; two sacks, one pass deflection) forced a fumble by running back Reggie Bush (12 carries, 34 yards), that was recovered by safety Antrel Rolle (seven tackles, six solo) — New York went 49 yards on nine plays to lead, 10-3, on a 20-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Eli Manning (23-for-42, 256 yards, one touchdown, one interception) to wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan (six catches, game-high 80 yards), who hauled in his first NFL score on the play.
Jernigan’s ability to step up with Cruz out and the upcoming offseason contract status of top receiver Hakeem Nicks (four catches, 52 yards) in doubt, provided a glimpse of hope for bolstering some depth at the Giants’ wide receiver position next year.
Defensive end Justin Tuck (two tackles, one pass deflection) — another player whom New York will have to make a key offseason contract decision on, but who has played down the stretch of the season as if he wants to remain a Giant — picked off Stafford on the Lions’ next drive
That led to 52-yard field goal by Brown, to extend the Giants’ lead to 13-3, nine seconds before halftime.
However, as New York’s offense went into hibernation, Detroit’s awoke with a pair of touchdown drives.
Running back Joique Bell (20 carries, 91 yards; 10 reception, 63 yards) capped an eight-play, 30-yard trip with a one-yard touchdown run to bring the Lions to within 13-10 on their first possession of the third quarter.
Later, after the Giants were pinned deep in their own end, offensive tackle Will Beatty appeared to be held while trying to free himself and block, but no flag was called as Manning was sacked in the end zone for safety that trimmed New York’s edge to just 13-12, with 1:01 to go in the period.
Taking over after a free kick, Detroit moved 63 yards in nine plays and took its first lead, 20-13, on a two-yard touchdown run by running back Theo Riddick (two carries, eight yards) and a two-point conversion on a pass from Stafford to Fauria, with 11:50 left in the fourth quarter.
On the Giants’ second drive of overtime, following a Lions’ three-and-out in extra time, Manning took New York from its own 28-yard line to the Detroit 45 with the help of a 26-yard completion to wide receiver Reuben Randle (four catches, 40 yards).
Then, facing a 2nd-and-20 after a holding penalty by Beatty, Manning completed a seven-yard pass to tight end Brandon Myers (four catches, 53 yards) and connected to Randle for another six yards, but the Giants still faced a 4th-and-7 from the Lions’ 42-yard line, still very early in overtime.
Without hesitating, head coach Tom Coughlin sent his offense back onto the field rather than trying to pin Detroit deep with a punt. His gamble paid off as Manning completed a third straight pass, this time, to Jernigan, who made a sliding reception of 15 yards to the Lions’ 27-yard line. That was all the positioning that Brown needed to end Detroit’s season.
Having won their final road contest of the season, the Giants will try to snap a two-game home losing streak in their season finale next Sunday at MetLife Stadium, against the Washington Redskins, who after winning their last seven games to finish 10-6 and beat New York out for the NFC East title last year, will limp into the Meadowlands at an extremely disappointing 3-12.