Giants vs. Lions: Takeaways from New York's 23-20 Win over Detroit
New York Giants fans haven't witnessed many close games this season, but Big Blue's brawl in Detroit took extra time to determine a winner.
With the score tied at 20 at the end of regulation, the Giants took the Lions to overtime and ultimately came out on top by a field goal.
The Giants are still guaranteed to finish with a losing record and in third place in the NFC East. Can anything be taken from this "meaningless" Week 16 win?
The Giants' overtime win over the Lions was their sixth of the season.
With one game left to play, the Giants can finish 7-9 at best and 6-10 at worst, depending of course on the outcome of their final outing with the Washington Redskins. A 7-9 record would be two wins shy of the regular-season mark New York sported before its most recent Super Bowl run; a 6-10 record would tie the Giants' lowest regular-season mark under head coach Tom Coughlin (2004).
The line between excellence and failure is sometimes paper-thin in the NFL. The Giants certainly are not a good team this season, but since the 0-6 start, New York has won six games and lost only three. If the Giants could have avoided utter disaster at the season's outset, they could have at least been in the hunt at this point in the season.
That's history now, though.
The 2013 season will be remembered as a failure. With the Giants' roster consisting mostly of Super Bowl winners, a losing record is absolutely intolerable. General manager Jerry Reese said so explicitly before the season began.
It is impressive how well the Giants have stuck together, despite beginning the campaign with an epic implosion. Many other teams would have packed it in weeks ago, but New York's leadership is strong enough to will out victories—even when they're deemed "meaningless."
This week, the Giants faced a desperate Lions squad on the road. Detroit, still in the playoff race, needed a win much more than the visitors playing for mere pride. Yet it was New York that emerged victorious, even after the team appeared to be squashed.
The "comeback" from 0-6 has been remarkable, but some of those involved must be held accountable for the Giants' overall failures in 2013.
The players and coaches stuck together well this year, but some are sure to fall by the wayside this offseason.
One Big Play
New York couldn't get anything done in the second half.
The offense, which was efficient in the first half, could hardly gain a yard. The defense, which was stalwart in the first half, allowed 15 points in the final two frames of regulation (two points came via safety). Even the special teams began to break down, as Detroit's Jeremy Ross got loose for a 50-yard punt return that altered the complexion of the game.
But all it takes to turn the tides is one big play.
With the Giants rolled over, all but tapped out, a single play changed the game in their favor. By the end of the fourth quarter, the Lions were dominating. Never before had a seven-point lead felt so comfortable.
That was until about five minutes remained in the final quarter, when Matthew Stafford threw an errant pass that slipped through his intended receiver's grasp and into the waiting arms of Giants safety Will Hill.
Hill, who was arrested on Friday for a child support issue, excelled on the field on Sunday. He racked up a team-leading 11 tackles on the afternoon, but his fourth-quarter interception was, by far, his biggest play of the day. He returned the pick 38 yards for a touchdown, tying up the game at 20 points apiece.
With the offense floundering, the defense happily accounted for the points needed to tie the game up.
The Giants played a solid first half, and several players put forth significant contributions. For example, defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka had a career game, making six tackles (four solo, two for a loss), two sacks, five QB hits and a pass defense. Wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan had a monster day in place of Victor Cruz; kicker Josh Brown hit a game-winner and a season-long 52-yarder.
Many individual players and individual plays led to the victory, but Hill's 38-yard interception return for a touchdown was undoubtedly the game's one biggest play.
Jernigan's big game has me curious.
With Cruz likely missing the remainder of the season after suffering a concussion and knee sprain, the Giants needed a replacement at the oft-utilized slot receiver position. Quarterback Eli Manning likes to find that target, particularly on crucial third downs.
Cruz has excelled in this role since stepping into it in 2011. He fell just two yards shy of a third consecutive 1,000-yard season, assuming he does not play against the Redskins in Week 17.
Apparently that's fine, though, since the Giants have success with just about anybody they plug into that role.
Jernigan finished the day as the team's leading receiver, hauling in six passes for 80 yards while also scoring the first touchdown of his three-year career. He was Manning's most targeted receiver, with 12 passes heading his way before the final Brown's game-ending kick sailed through the uprights. He converted a few big first downs, as well as a huge 4th-and-7 in overtime.
Remember, before Cruz, Steve Smith was an astonishing slot receiver. In 2009, Smith set the franchise record for receptions in a season with 107. He was an integral part of the 2007 Super Bowl run, and many believed the New York passing game was doomed when he left for the Philadelphia Eagles during 2011 free agency.
That move ultimately led to Cruz's emergence, and the rest is history. Smith never recovered fully from microfracture knee surgery and caught just 25 passes after leaving the Giants. Was it Smith's ability that took him to historic heights in 2009, or was he just thriving in a system designed to maximize his success?
The truth is probably somewhere in between, but Jernigan's step-in performance, in which he completely overshadowed more established receivers Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle, is really making me wonder...
Was Cruz really worth the terms of the contract he signed in the summer?
What a Joique
Lions running back Joique Bell was the most impressive player on the field on Sunday.
He carried the ball 20 times, piercing a usually stingy New York run defense for 91 yards and a touchdown. With Calvin Johnson limited by a knee injury, Bell also became the Lions' biggest receiving threat; he finished the game with 10 catches for 63 yards.
Even in a losing effort, Bell proved that he is the type of back who can do it all and take over a game. Against the Giants, he displayed incredible shiftiness while also packing a powerful punch. The Giants, mainly linebacker Jon Beason, were chasing Bell all over the field.
Perhaps the game was an early audition for Bell, an impending free agent.
The Giants' running back position has been one of the team's least stable in 2013, as everyone from David Wilson to Da'Rel Scott to Brandon Jacobs to Peyton Hillis to Michael Cox to Andre Brown has earned a start at some point this season. While Wilson is still viewed as the back of the future, a damper has been put on his explosive potential after two letdown seasons.
With Cox still unproven and Brown injury prone, the Giants could use some consistency in the form of an outside free agent. Brown, by the way, is no lock to return next season, as he is slated to become an unrestricted free agent next season.
Bell, a Wayne State product, has played with four teams (Colts, Eagles, Saints, Lions) since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2010. In this year's timeshare with Reggie Bush, Bell has less than 600 yards on less than 150 carries.
Maybe Bell's not a surefire model of consistency, but based on what I saw from him in Week 16, he's a player I wouldn't mind seeing the Giants take a chance on.
Bell could be the type of multithreat back the Giants haven't employed since Ahmad Bradshaw's departure.