Football is back—well, kinda. The New York Giants defeated the Buffalo Bills, 17-13, Sunday night in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio.
The event serves as both the culmination of Hall of Fame weekend and the official kickoff for the new season. This might be a meaningless exhibition game, but fans everywhere rejoiced at the sight of a non-CFL football game for the first time in months.
Both head coaches kept a few notable players on the bench for health reasons. Absent for the Bills was Scott Chandler and Leodis McKelvin, while first-round draft pick Odell Beckham Jr., Jon Beason, Robert Ayers and Mike Patterson were out for the Giants.
Tom Coughlin spoke about Beckham in the week leading up to the Hall of Fame Game, per ESPN.com's Dan Graziano. The former LSU Tiger remains out with a hamstring injury. Coughlin isn't mad at Beckham himself but rather the unpredictable recovery from the injury.
"He actually looks pretty good out there moving around," he said. "We just hope it's a real short period of time. We're not going to let him go if he's in danger of hurting himself. That's all there is to it. I can stand here and fight all I want. It's not going to matter."
Beckham's absence allowed other Giants receivers to step up, namely Corey Washington, whose 73-yard touchdown reception gave New York the four-point lead in the fourth quarter that it held for the remainder of the game.
Coming into Sunday, Bills fans were focusing on the performance of EJ Manuel. He came into the league as more of a project, so his struggles under center were to be expected in his rookie season. Although the preseason hasn't officially even begun yet, seeing some progression from a second-year quarterback is always nice.
Unfortunately for Buffalo, Manuel was far from convincing in the pocket. Doug Marrone removed him in the first quarter, but not before the former Florida State star went 2-of-7 for 19 yards. Most distressing was his inability to look off a receiver, which Bleacher Report's Matt Miller felt was a worrisome sign:
On the other hand, Giants fans will be happy to know that Eli Manning is already in midseason form. He finished 6-of-7 for 43 yards. Manning also fumbled on New York's second drive of the game. He was sacked by Kyle Williams and coughed up the ball, which was recovered by Keith Rivers.
Working with a short field, the Bills drew first blood, picking up a 30-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter.
Coughlin went to the ground for the Giants' next drive. Andre Williams and Rashad Jennings combined to carry the ball 10 times, helping New York go 80 yards in a little over seven minutes. Williams capped off the drive with a three-yard run into the end zone to give the G-Men a 7-3 lead with 49 seconds left in the first quarter.
The NCAA's leading rusher in 2013 was one of the more impressive performers in the exhibition game, finishing with 48 yards and the one touchdown on seven carries. Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News thinks Williams already looks to be a major bargain after falling to the fourth round of the 2014 draft:
B/R's Michael Schottey thinks that there's a certain trade-off with Williams, though, and his flaws could be exposed:
Jeff Tuel, who replaced Manuel at QB, led the Bills to their first touchdown on the next drive. He connected with Robert Woods on a 4th-and-goal from two yards out, giving Buffalo a 10-7 lead with nine minutes in the half. The drive was particularly impressive because it came against the Giants starting defense:
The touchdown reception from Woods was the highlight of a solid game from the second-year receiver. He caught four passes for 49 yards and the TD. Woods wasn't explosive, but he looked every bit the dependable pass-catcher many thought he could be coming out of Southern Cal.
Sal Capaccio of WGR 550 in Buffalo thinks Woods can be one of those receivers who'll fall just below the best wide receivers in the league but be very good for a number of years:
NFL.com's Elliot Harrison pondered whether the 22-year-old could eclipse 1,000 yards receiving this year:
After Giants kicker Brandon McManus tied the game, 10-10, with 4:58 in the second quarter, Tuel nearly led the Bills on another scoring drive. Buffalo got as close as the New York 8-yard line before he was intercepted by Cooper Taylor in the end zone.
That was the last action of the first half, as Ryan Nassib took a knee to head into halftime.
With both head coaches inserting more and more second- and third-stringers, neither team was able to get into a groove offensively.
Carpenter broke the deadlock with a little over four minutes left in the third quarter with a 51-yard field goal to give the Bills a 13-10 lead.
The Giants responded in the fourth quarter with the 73-yard pass-and-catch from Nassib to Washington, giving New York a 17-13 lead with 13:18 to go in the game.
The former Syracuse star didn't see the field at all last year as Manning's understudy, so the Hall of Fame Game was a chance for Nassib to make some kind of impression on the coaches and fans.
He ended up 7-of-12 for 139 yards and a touchdown. Vacchiano thought Nassib looked equal parts good and bad:
Dave Lozo of B/R hopes that Nassib might be able to pull a Tom Brady at some point down the line:
Washington's TD reception was the last major action of the game, with both teams content to watch the clock wind down.
The Bills' second game of the preseason is slated for Friday night at 7:30 p.m. ET on the road against the Carolina Panthers. It will be interesting to see whether Manuel learns from the Hall of Fame Game and goes through his progressions. Again, it's still very, very early, but the earlier he figures out how to read the field, the better.
New York takes on the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. ET. Coughlin will be encouraged by his team's win, especially the success of the ground game without David Wilson. Williams and Peyton Hillis both ran the ball well, and the more the running backs eat up yards, the more pressure is taken off Manning and the passing game.
Both of these teams have work to do—especially the Bills—if they're to make the playoffs. The Hall of Fame Game was a nice warm-up for what's to come. The coaches worked some of the kinks out of the playbook, while they also discovered some players who may step up come the regular season.