By Curt Macysyn
After starting the season with six straight losses, it was apparent that Giants head coach Tom Coughlin thought his squad could and would turn things around. Turns out that the veteran coach knew what he was talking about, as his team has thrived off four straight wins to thrust them into the NFC East mix. This week’s victory, a 27-13 win over the Green Bay Packers, may have been New York’s most complete effort of the season.
The recipe for winning football in the NFL is simple, your best players have to produce, and the bigger the game, the more these players have to contribute. Going against the Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers this week, presented a different challenge of sorts for the G-men. Could New York dominate a foe in a game that they were expected to win?
The Giants jumped ahead early when quarterback Eli Manning hit Rueben Randle with a 26-yard touchdown toss for a 7-0 lead. After being held scoreless for the first four games of the season, Randle has six touchdown catches in the last six games and has become Manning’s red zone target of late. It was poetic justice because Randle put the Giants in great field position with a 32-yard punt return down to the Packers 42-yard line.
A 40-yard Josh Brown field goal early in the second quarter put New York ahead 10-0, before the Packers responded with two field goals of their own to draw to 10-6 at halftime. Packers kicker Mason Crosby hit a 57-yard field goal as time expired in the first half – it would be the longest field goal against the Giants in team history.
A golden opportunity for the G-men to widen their lead evaporated when Eli Manning threw his league-leading 17th interception of the season. It appeared that the Giants QB and receiver Louis Murphy were not on the same page deep in Packers territory, and Packers cornerback Tramon Williams ended the Giants threat at the 15-yard line with 3:28 left in the half.
The Packers tried to start quickly in the second half, but Giants linebacker Jon Beason intercepted Scott Tolzien to end the early threat. Tolzien, starting his first game in the NFL, was 24-34 for 339 yards, but he also had three costly interceptions. Josh Brown booted a 28-yard field goal after the Beason interception to give New York a 13-6 lead.
That lead was widened to 20-6 later in the third quarter when Brandon Jacobs powered in from one yard out and pushed the Giants lead to 20-6 heading into the final period. The drive was started when M.D. Jennings could only gain six yards on a fourth and seven when the Packers were in punt formation.
Green Bay inched closer when running back Eddie Lacy bulled his way into the end zone from four yards out and cut the Packers deficit to 20-13 early in the fourth. But just as the Packers gained confidence, Jason Pierre-Paul announced his return to Pro Bowl form with an athletic interception of Tolzien and went untouched 24 yards to salt the game away. When time expired on the Giants fourth straight win, New York moved out of the NFC East basement and directly into the middle of the NFC playoff picture.
Offense Grade: C+
Perhaps overlooked in the victory, was the fact that Eli Manning was 24-34 (71.4 completion percentage) for 279 yards. Manning has developed great chemistry with Rueben Randle, so the fact that Hakeem Nicks still has zero touchdown catches this season means less than one would expect at this point in the season. Manning’s interception looked like it may have been a poor decision by Louis Murphy and otherwise the Giants QB was careful and accurate with the football.
In the first half, it appeared that Nicks began to pout as Manning spread the ball to tight end Brandon Myers and always-reliable Victor Cruz. Despite extra defensive attention, Cruz had eight catches for 110 yards and continues to be the go-to outlet for Manning. Manning used that extra attention against the Packers as he hit Nicks for a 35-yard completion in the third quarter.
Halfback Andre Brown ran hard against a quick Packers front and had only 66 yards on the ground. Brown also had three catches out of the backfield, but did drop a couple of passes as well.
The offensive line did struggle with the speed of the Packers pass rush and gave up four sacks on the afternoon. In addition, New York’s three penalties on the day were by offensive linemen Justin Pugh, Kevin Boothe and Will Beatty.
Defense Grade: B
Most importantly, perhaps, New York won the turnover battle three to one. Jon Beason’s interception snuffed out a potential Packers scoring drive early in the second half, and Jason Pierre-Paul’s pick six was the tonic that the Giants needed at just the right moment. Antrel Rolle then snatched an ill-advised Scott Tolzien pass to cement the victory late in the fourth quarter.
Packers running back Eddie Lacy found tough sledding against a suddenly revitalized Giants front four, the rookie from Alabama had a paltry 27 yards on 14 carries. He was able to bull his way into the end zone from four yards out, which represented the high point of his afternoon.
The secondary gave up several big plays with long completions to Jarrett Boykin (52 yards), James Jones (45 yards), Jordy Nelson (29 yards) and Brandon Bostick (26 yards). Nelson had eight catches for 117 yards on the afternoon, but New York did not give up a touchdown pass.
Special Teams Grade: A
Rueben Randle ran north-south on a 32-yard punt return that set up the Giants first touchdown. Randle has improved on returns each week, and it would not be surprising to see him break one in the last six games.
Embattled punter Steve Weatherford punted five times for a 53.0 yard average, including one punt inside the 20-yard line. Weatherford had one punt go for a touchback that should have been downed inside the 10-yard line with a better effort by Ryan Mundy.
Josh Brown made two field goal attempts and all three extra points. He is now 15 for 17 (88 percent) on field goal attempts this season. And there were no hiccups on the kickoff and punt teams this week.
Michael Cox took over for Jerrel Jernigan on kickoff returns and averaged a pedestrian 17.5 yards per return.
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Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past two seasons for Examiner.com. Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Curt has followed and covered the New York Metropolitan sports scene for 35 years. He attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, NJ and is a graduate of Rutgers University, New Brunswick. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.