New York entered its preseason Week 3 contest in need of a sign of life from its offense and starters under center.
That goes for the Giants and Jets, rivals that battled to the bitter end in a 35-24 victory for the former at MetLife Stadium Friday night.
For the Giants, Eli Manning's horrific, 27-interception campaign from last season has bled into this preseason in a major way. He entered Friday 7-of-16 passing for 49 yards and a turnover in 11 series of work.
To his credit, Manning took a beating against the Jets in a full half of work and threw for 139 yards and a touchdown, never mind the fact most of it came on the final drive of the first half, as illustrated by Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News:
Eli Manning was 7 of 10 for 89 yards on that drive. He is now 12 of 21 for 139 yards overall.— Ralph Vacchiano (@RVacchianoNYDN) August 23, 2014
But again, that porous line was back in horrific form, too:
Predictably, Eli Manning runs for his life on the next play, Muhammad Wilkerson strips the ball from his hands on the run.— Ralph Vacchiano (@RVacchianoNYDN) August 23, 2014
In tandem with an elite Jets defensive line led by Muhammad Wilkerson, who tallied one of two sacks on Manning on the night, the poor line play was a volatile combination . The 15-yard touchdown pass to Rueben Randle becomes that much more impressive given the circumstances.
Funnily enough, as bad as Manning was, it is not enough to incite a quarterback competition with second-year player Ryan Nassib, who went 8-of-12 for 103 yards and three touchdowns.
Geno Smith is another story entirely.
The other quarterback under the intense heat of the New York spotlight, the sophomore signal-caller had himself a solid outing, all things considered, and posted a 9-of-14 mark for 137 yards and a touchdown. That line would have been even better but for a few dropped passes in the end zone and other letdowns by those around him. Vacchiano's colleague, Manish Mehta, provided a good example:
Geno Smith's ~25-yard completion to Kerley on third down wiped out by Brian Winter's holding penalty. Jets ultimately forced to punt #nyj— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) August 23, 2014
One pass that didn't get dropped was a one-yard score by rookie tight end Jace Amaro, who had some demons of his own to exorcise after a rocky training camp. He will have to parlay that momentum into more playing time if the Jets are to improve offensively in 2014.
While Smith did not do anything to lose the job, he might not be the lock most presumed after Friday's events.
At the start of the second half, the Jets' first-team offense trotted back on the field, sans Smith—who took a seat on the bench in favor of Michael Vick. ESPN's Rich Cimini put it best:
This is a surprise: Vick in the game with starting OL. Rex Ryan had said he wanted Geno Smith to start the second half. #nyj— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) August 23, 2014
All Vick did in his brief stint with the first-stringers was complete four of his five attempts for 35 yards and a score, the six points achieved on a two-yard pass to free-agent acquisition Eric Decker.
As NFL.com's Dan Hanzus points out, Jets fans may want to get comfortable with the connection:
Michael Vick-to-Eric Decker for the score. Something tells me we'll see that again before the season is through.— Dan Hanzus (@DanHanzus) August 23, 2014
Vick's lone blemish in his brief time under center came on a botched handoff to Chris Johnson, which the Giants were able to recover.
Speaking of Johnson, he was one of two running backs in new homes on display Friday. The man known as CJ2K, who gained at least 1,000 yards in each of his six seasons NFL seasons with the Tennessee Titans, once again looked great in his first preseason with the Jets, finishing with 42 yards on nine carries and 35 receiving yards on two receptions against the Giants.
The other back was the Giants' Rashad Jennings, who was recently hit with a wealth of expectations after David Wilson's retirement. No matter, though. The four-year veteran, as he did in stops in Jacksonville and Oakland, played in his usual understated, workmanlike manner and gained 67 yards on 13 carries.
Jennings is an upgrade in a number of areas, although one underappreciated aspect deserves note, as Art Stapleton of The Record highlights:
Best part of that drive was Rashad Jennings in pass protection, something Giants did not get, you know, at all last season from RBs. #NYG— Art Stapleton (@art_stapleton) August 23, 2014
Believe it or not, arguably the most overrated rivalry in sports did crown a winner Friday. As if to fan the flames of the feud, Jets backup quarterback Matt Sims busted out a Victor Cruz-esque salsa dance after tossing a touchdown to Greg Salas late.
Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports penned a short review:
Matt Simms just salsa'd after a TD. Not sure why but it was pretty good form.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) August 23, 2014
The good vibes were short lived, though, as a pair of Giants rookies took the outcome of the game into their hands.
Running back Andre Williams, who rumbled for 49 yards on 11 carries, scored with about six minutes left. Corey Washington—Mr. Big Play himself this preseason for the Giants—then hauled in Nassib's third touchdown of the night to effectively end things.
NFL.com's Twitter account effectively illustrates why the former Division II star has seemingly wrapped up a roster spot:
Corey Washington making strong bid for preseason MVP! 3 game winners, 1 game-clinching TD. #PreseasonMVPRace— NFL: AroundTheLeague (@NFL_ATL) August 23, 2014
As a showcase between two franchises in search of some semblance of potency on offense, the game itself was an exercise in patience as both sides failed to convert on better than 50 percent of their third-down opportunities or crack six yards per play.
For the Giants, the lifeless offense, save for one drive to end the first half, has to be a bitter pill for a fading regime that may very well have its jobs on the line this season. Days before Friday's contest, coach Tom Coughlin was plain as day in how he felt about Manning's unit, per Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News:
Asked Coughlin if there's a worry that O may be work in progress in September: "I don’t know that there’s any way to put it but that." uh-oh— Ebenezer Samuel (@ebenezersamuel) August 17, 2014
Rex Ryan and his staff are in a similar boat, although the volatile combination of Smith and Vick—because rotating quarterbacks have worked so well for Ryan in the past—might be the final leak before the craft sinks.
Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo has to somehow find a way to better get Manning and the talent around him to gel within a week. On the other hand, Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has a new, encouraging cast of skill-position players that includes Decker and CJ2K but a potential question mark under center.
If Friday's contest was any indication, both New York squads still need more than a week of polish.
Statistics courtesy of ESPN.