This time, there was no cruise-control blowout win, no dominant defensive effort in front of the home fans. This time, it came down to a fourth quarter, and it came down to an injury-plagued rookie.
Just when you thought that the Giants were finally going to return to earth on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, down three against the injury-riddled Atlanta Falcons, there was Odell Beckham Jr., finally healthy after months of hamstring woes, running toward the end zone and fighting off corner Robert Alford with 10:02 left, on third-and-3 from the Falcon 15.
Eli Manning dropped back and lofted a pass to his newest receiver, who outleaped Alford, reached high, and plucked the ball, the go-ahead touchdown in an eventual 30-20 win.
“I just saw it go up,” Beckham said. “I was just thinking in my head, ‘There’s no way I’m going to let this one hit the ground.’
“To be out this long and have to deal with the adversity I’ve had . . . It’s just great to get that under your belt,” he added. “That feeling is something that I can’t even describe.”
Leave it to everyone else to describe that, right? Because Beckham had finally arrived, and with that, the Giants’ new-look offense finally seemed complete. On Sunday afternoon, with Beckham providing the exclamation point, the Giants rallied from a 20-10 third-quarter deficit, outscoring the NFL’s second-highest-scoring offense.
The victory improved Big Blue to 3-2, the first time they’ve climbed above .500 since the end of the 2012 season. It was their third straight game with at least 30 points.
“We’re starting to make some plays and do some good things,” said Manning, who had his “shakiest” game in three weeks and still tossed two TD passes. “And we’re staying patient when things don’t go well. We’ve had good plays, we’ve had things going better so we can stay patient and not get all uptight and worry.”
That patience and newfound confidence was on display on Sunday afternoon, when everything seemed set to go so horribly wrong. The Giants sleepwalked their way into a 13-10 first-half deficit, showing little fight or intensity and making “some blunders” according to coach Tom Coughlin.
“Two different halves, as far as I’m concerned,” Coughlin said. “The first half I did not like at all and we did not think we played well.”
Things only got worse two minutes into the third quarter. It started with Quintin Demps picking off Falcons QB Matt Ryan, returning it to the Atlanta 44, then fumbling it back over to the Falcons. The Giants somehow held fast, but three minutes later, the team had even more concern: RB Rashad Jennings, their most consistent weapon, had sprained his knee.
When Antone Smith caught Matt Ryan’s swing pass, faked Antrel Rolle out of his cleats and sped 74 yards for a TD to put Atlanta ahead 20-10, the life seemed to drain from MetLife.
“It was like, ‘Damn,’ ” said Demps. “This isn’t good.”
Except the Giants dug themselves from this hole, behind “attitude,” as Jason Pierre-Paul called it, and behind an offense that suddenly seems ready to weather any storm.
Somehow, they didn’t miss Jennings, not with Andre Williams stepping in for him and fighting for 65 yards, including a hard-charging 3-yard TD run that closed the gap to 20-17 and capped a nine-play, 81-yard drive.
And after the Giants forced a three-and-out, Manning got the ball back and marched the team 64 yards on 11 plays, capping the drive with that go-ahead TD to Beckham, making the score 24-20. “He did a great job making the play,” said Manning.
The Giants are counting on much more of that, which is why GM Jerry Reese passed on so many offensive linemen to grab Beckham with the 12th overall pick in the draft, and why Coughlin took the time to visit the rookie in the locker room, shaking his hand one more time after the game. Beckham made just four catches for 44 yards, but his impact went far beyond that, his speed constantly putting pressure on an already-weak Atlanta secondary.
“I was impressed,” said Coughlin. “The athleticism was obvious to everybody, and his speed will have to be reckoned with.”
Added Manning: “I’m excited about what he can do to help out our offense.”
He’s already off to a good start.