This win wasn’t pretty to say the least. I’m sure Head Coach Joe Judge and a lot of the Giants roster were hoping for a much easier game over the Joe Burrow-less Cincinnati Bengals. But, a win is a win, and the 19-17 victory the team eked out against a backup quarterback may not have come with as much comfort as expected, but it was still enough to improve the Giants record to 4-7.
1. First Place, but does it matter?- The victory came with a couple major storylines, but the focus of many seemed to be that the Giants are now in first place of the NFC East. The excitement that many expected from Giants players was not felt, in fact the Giants thoughts on being perched on top of the division was summed up most emphatically by Logan Ryan who bluntly said “who cares.”
That is the representation of the culture Judge has implemented early in his Giants tenure. Judge made it known that the team is focused on the challenges ahead, not on their ranking in the division.
“If we start looking past what we have to do to get ready, this conversation [about first place in the NFC East] is going to be something in the past,” Judge said in his press conference after the game. “So we’ve got to make sure we take care of what we have to take care of, just put one day on top of the other and have a chance next Sunday, which is going to be a great challenge for us to even be in the conversation of what you guys are trying to talk about.”
The Giants are on top of the NFC East virtue of a tiebreaker over the Washington Football Team, but can find themselves back in second place Monday Night if the Eagles beat the Seattle Seahawks, who the Giants play next Sunday.
2. The exploits of Colt McCoy- McCoy is a veteran and a quarterback Joe Judge says “gives the defense headaches” running the scout team offense every week.
McCoy’s Giants debut in relief of an injured Daniel Jones was far from pretty, his first two passes were a screen to Wayne Gallman that lost nine yards, which was followed up by a pass that was lucky to not be intercepted. The Giants left that drive unscathed and actually extended their lead on a field goal.
McCoy was unable to run out the clock on his ensuing drive after Jones left the game with a hamstring injury, but to no fault of his own, he completed a first-down rollout pass to Wayne Gallman that should have iced the game, but was called back due to a holding penalty on right tackle Cameron Fleming.
The 34-year-old backup showed he’s reliable after shaking off his obvious rust, but hopefully will not be needed in future games.
Jones has an MRI scheduled for Monday and ESPN reported that the injury was “pretty bad.” Both Judge and Jones were very non-committal about the second-year quarterback suiting up next Sunday, although we should know much more in the coming days. If the Giants do need to turn to a backup, there are very few more seasoned and respected across the NFL than Colt McCoy.
3. Unsung Heroes Step Up Again- For the second time in this article Logan Ryan embodies the sentiments of this Giants team.
“We’re a bunch of underdogs, a bunch of guys who were written off in their career,” Ryan said, describing his team after Sunday’s win. “That’s what Joe [Judge] wants; he wants guys with a chip on their shoulders, he wants guys who are tough, and we’re building a culture here where if you work in practice day in and day out, you’ll get an opportunity.”
Ryan, a veteran who was brought in on a one-year deal after multiple injuries hampered the Giants secondary, has established himself as a fan favorite and a vocal leader on a defense that was in need of an identity.
Ryan once again made a huge play for the Giants yesterday, forcing and recovering a fumble in the fourth quarter. Ryan was aided in the turnover by rookie Niko Lalos, who was making his NFL debut after being elevated from the practice squad earlier that day. Lalos’ name was celebrated earlier that day when he made an interception late in the third quarter off of a tip from rookie fourth-round pick Darnay Holmes.
The Giants were able to squeeze out this win off of crucial contributions from rookie sixth-round pick Cam Brown, who made a game saving tackle late in the fourth quarter on a punt return from Alex Erickson, who seemed destined to give the Bengals the lead as the game clock ticked towards its final minute.
The play after Brown’s game saving tackle outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard, who was signed by the Giants just over a month ago from the Jaguars practice squad, beat the Bengals offensive line, forcing a game clinching strip-sack which was recovered by Leonard Williams, and secured the Giants escape from Cincinnati.
Wayne Gallman once again paced the Giants rushing attack, earning for 94 hard-fought yards and a touchdown, proving his ability to make yards after contact and as a skilled north-south runner on multiple occasions. Gallman has shown since Devonta Freeman’s injury that he is capable of being a starting running back in the NFL, after being an afterthought in the Giants offense through his first three-and-a-half seasons on the team.
The biggest “unsung hero” might be Graham Gano. Gano has arguably been the best kicker in the NFL this season, executing 25 of 26 field goals to perfection, after making four field goals on four attempts on Sunday. Gano has also been perfect on extra points this season, even being rewarded with a three-year contract extension. Gano’s tenure as a Giant has been as productive as can be and the kicker seems excited to make his stay in New York a little more permanent.
“I mean, it’s such a blessing for my family and me. Since day one being here, it just feels like a home with the Giants, it’s just awesome,” Gano said. “I’m just so excited to be here and happy to be playing football again. About a little over a year ago, I wasn’t sure if I was going to play football again after having the surgery on my femur, so it’s just a true blessing to be able to play the game I love and I love being up here and playing with this team.”
4. Special Teams Struggles- Joe Judge served as the Patriots Special Teams Coordinator before coming to the Giants to serve as head coach. So, seeing his team give up a kickoff return for a touchdown in the first quarter, then nearly give up a punt return for a touchdown as they tried to close out the game late in the fourth quarter sparked natural curiosity.
But, in peak Joe Judge fashion, the first year head coach admitted to reporters that the special teams play was not up to par and vowed to not only address the issue, but fix it.
“It wasn’t good enough today. We’re not going to be able to compete these next five weeks if we don’t raise our level of play,” Judge said. “We’ve had a lot of progress made in that phase. But it doesn’t matter what happened before any specific game. It just matters what you do in that game execution-wise. We’ve got to play better, coach better; we’ve got to do a better job all around in that phase of the game. It has to be a strength for us. We have to make sure we get back to work this week to improve.”
Judge also complimented Erickson and kick returner Brandon Wilson, calling them “elite players.”
Gano took the blame on the kickoff return for a touchdown.
I felt like I hit it well, it’s just I didn’t hit it where it’s supposed to go. At the end of the day, if I’m on the field, they expect me to execute. I’m a professional and with that, I’ve got to take the blame whenever I don’t do well,” Gano said. “That was all on me and our guys have been doing a fantastic job all season long with kickoff coverage. I’ve just got to put them in a good position to be successful.”
Special Teams can be a killer and derail momentum against any game, against the Bengals the Giants are lucky it didn’t cost them the game.
The Giants will be traveling west to face the Seattle Seahawks, as they look to continue their winning streak next Sunday Dec. 6 at 4:05 p.m.