RB Andre Brown had a career performance in his first game back.
The New York Giants returned from their Week 9 bye looking less than polished, but the effort put forth versus the Oakland Raiders on Sunday afternoon was enough to capture a 24-20 victory, the team's third of the season.
With boos raining down from the MetLife Stadium faithful at halftime and the Giants trailing by six late in the third quarter, it looked as if the fight for the 2013 season had finally been lost. A second-half surge, however, provided New York the necessary catalyst for a come-from-behind win.
What factors led to the Giants' Week 10 triumph?
Read on to find out.
QB Eli Manning got win No. 3 on Sunday.
The Giants have now won three games this season, which is still half the amount of games they've lost this seaspn.
More importantly, New York has not lost a game in a month. Their most recent loss—a 27-21 heart-breaker versus the Chicago Bears on Oct. 11—is so far in the rearview mirror that this team may actually believe it is a thoroughbred winner. No one would have thought that four weeks ago, when the Giants were sitting at 0-6, but wasn't that another lifetime ago?
OK, so the Giants haven't totally ditched the bad habits that plagued them through the first half of the season—we'll get into that later. The win over Oakland was just as ugly as the ones over Minnesota and Philadelphia, but teams don't gather their win totals and take them to a beauty pageant at the end of the season, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell doesn't play judge and name the team with the prettiest wins as the league champion.
Instead, teams take their wins to the playoffs, where "how" and "why" they got there no longer matters.
It's still too soon to discuss the Giants' playoff chances. The team still has a losing record, and that's not going to change for at least the next three weeks. The division, as weak as it may be, is notoriously tumultuous, and any of the other three teams in the NFC East can seize momentum at a moment's notice.
However, right now, the Giants are riding the NFC East's longest winning streak at three games. It still doesn't seem right to say they are the division's hottest team, but their run as the division's coldest team has clearly been put on pause.
Big Blue will look to keep it that way for the final seven games of the season.
With the team in desperate need of an impact playmaker at running back, Andre Brown delivered.
The 26-year-old back was activated from the short-term injured reserve this week, which he landed on after breaking his leg for the second time in a year during the preseason. Brown hadn't played in a regular season game since Week 12 of last season, when he first broke his leg in a win over the Green Bay Packers.
In his first game back, however, Brown set career highs for both carries and rushing yardage.
Since that Packers game last year, the Giants have lacked consistency at running back. Former first-round selection David Wilson has been a chronic disappointment, and the electric runner's recent placement on injured reserve put his potential breakout on hold yet again. Against the Raiders, Brown was able to fill the void in many fans' hearts that was created by Wilson.
By the game's conclusion, Brown had rushed 30 times for 115 yards, even crossing the goal-line once in the Giants' 24-20 victory. His six-point play provided the Giants' margin of victory, but his impact went beyond his contributions on the scoreboard. On a day in which Eli Manning's passing game struggled, Brown accounted for half of the team's entire offensive output, as he touched the ball on 31 of the 63 offensive plays that New York ran.
In essence, Brown was the heart of the Giants' offense on Sunday.
And when he wasn't on the field, cornerback Terrell Thomas took over where he left off. The NFC Defensive Player of the Week for Week 8 continued his unbelievable comeback from a third ACL surgery with another big performance against the Raiders.
Against the Eagles, Thomas seemed to be in on every tackle, collecting 10 before the game had ended. This week, as the nickel cornerback, Thomas did not register a single tackle, but he did make one monumental, tide-changing play.
With the Raiders driving late in the third and threatening to go up by 10 points, Thomas intercepted a Terrelle Pryor pass and returned it to the 5-yard line. From there, he let Brown take the reins, as the big back crashed into the end-zone and never looked back.
Some will surely argue that the Giants are winning, despite their play rather than because of their play.
Against Oakland, the Giants struggled in some areas, just as they did in wins versus the Vikings and Eagles. They have yet to put together a "complete" game, but lately, they've figured out how to succeed in spite of their shortcomings.
This week, the turnover monster reared its ugly head once again. It terrorized the Giants from the game's opening play, when Jerrel Jernigan fumbled the opening kickoff, allowing the Raiders to take a seven-point lead in the contest's infancy. The special teams demon continued to haunt New York, as punter Steve Weatherford shanked one punt and had another partially blocked.
Part of the reason behind Brown's tremendous 2013 debut was Peyton Hillis' first quarter fumble, which Oakland kicker Sebastian Janikowski converted into three more Raider points. And Manning, who had stopped the bleeding in the past two victories, threw his first interception since the Bears game. He now has 16 on the season—the 16th being a 43-yard pick-six by the Raiders' Tracy Porter.
It wasn't an outstanding effort. Once again, Manning completed less than 60 percent of his attempts, and not one Giants receiver had more than five catches or 50 yards. The O-line allowed three sacks of Manning in the first half, and the run-blocking couldn't spring the long run. Although Brown ran with great grit and determination, without a rush longer than 17 yards, his yards per carry average suffered (3.8).
New York did improve in several areas, such as red-zone scoring (2-of-3) and third-down efficiency (7-of-14). They also only had one penalty, for which they were charged a measly five yards of field position. Each of these aspects of the game have taken turns dooming the team in weeks past.
Right now, the Giants are just getting by. They're still learning how to win, and not even a bye week could help them find the solution to all of their woes. Eventually, to beat a good team, New York will need to excel in all aspects of the game at once.
In the meantime, they're simply surviving.
DE Mathias Kiwanuka had a strip-sack near the end of the game.
The defense has become the spine that holds this Giants team upright.
The change has been drastic, too. At one point, New York was three points shy of becoming the first team in NFL history to allow at least 30 points in six-straight games to start a season. Since the second half of the Bears game, however, the Giants defense has tightened up. Terrelle Pryor's one-yard sneak snapped a 10-quarter streak in which the Giants defense hadn't allowed a single touchdown.
Pryor's touchdown, by the way, capped off a whopping two-play, five-yard drive—the defense never had a chance.
In fact, 17 of the Raiders' 20 points were hardly the fault of the defense. The field goal relinquished after Hillis' fumble came on an Oakland drive which covered just six yards on four plays, and there was also nothing the defense could do to stop Porter from waltzing into the end zone after picking off Manning.
The only prolonged drive New York surrendered was a 14-play, 74-yard drive to start the second half. Both of the Raiders' successful third-down conversions came on that drive (2-of-12 on the afternoon), which actually ended with a goal-line stand and a Janikowski field goal attempt.
Pryor, who entered the game as a feared dual-threat quarterback, was held completely in check, passing for only 122 yards and adding just 19 more on the ground. The Giants tied their season-high with four sacks, including what amounted to a game-clinching strip sack by Mathias Kiwanuka. We've already discussed the magnitude of Terrell Thomas' game-altering interception in the third quarter.
Antrel Rolle, who led the team with 12 tackles, has emerged as the leader of the defense. He made a touchdown-saving tackle on Oakland's only long drive, and he even registered a sack on Pryor. Rolle is having his best season as a Giant, and the team would be smart to rally around his stellar play.
This team is built on its defense, and Rolle is the defender laying the bricks.