Pilots are fond of saying that any landing you can walk away from is a good one.
The Giants had one of those at MetLife Stadium Thursday night. It wasn't a graceful approach and they bounced on the runway before skidding to a stop, but they survived -- and were thrilled to do so.
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"I'm happy to win," Tom Coughlin said with the first grin he has flashed this season. "That's the bottom line."
The Giants beat Washington, 32-21, for their first victory of the season. It snapped a two-game losing streak to start the year and catapulted them back into the mix of a division race that features no clear favorite. Dallas is 2-0 but without its quarterback and best receiver for two months, Washington is 1-2 and the Eagles are 0-2.
More importantly, it ended the Giants' streak of blowing double-digit leads late in games. Just this past Sunday they became the first team in NFL history to open a season with back-to-back losses in which they led by at least 10 points in the fourth quarter. They went into Thursday night's fourth quarter up 18-6.
"Our whole deal was it's the fourth quarter, we're going to take it up another notch, take it to another level," Coughlin said. "Spend all the gas in the tank in the fourth quarter trying to get a win."
They did that, even if they were on vapors. "We finished with a win, but we still didn't finish on a good note," defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said of giving up two TDs in that fourth quarter and very nearly allowing a third that could have drastically altered the outcome. "It's nice to have the win, but we have to realize we have the ability to be a heck of a football team if we would just learn how to finish."
It was Jenkins who gathered the defense in that fourth quarter and passionately relayed those thoughts. "I just wanted to get after it and stay on top of everybody," he said. "We have a big opportunity with this football team. We have to realize it and take advantage of it."
The Giants spent a good portion of the short week talking about how one play could turn their season around, and it didn't take long for them to find a candidate. Rashad Jennings blocked a punt through the end zone just 2:13 into the game to give the Giants a 2-0 lead. "That little noise," Jennings said of the smack when he made contact with the ball, "you know that's going to change the game."
Prince Amukamara intercepted Kirk Cousins on the next Washington drive to set up a 1-yard TD run by Andre Williams that produced a 9-0 lead.
With the Giants ahead 18-6, Eli Manning hit Odell Beckham Jr. early in the fourth quarter on a 30-yard post to cap an eight-play, 73-yard drive set up by Uani 'Unga's diving interception on a pass tipped by Devon Kennard. That made it 25-6, but with the Giants' recent history, it was anything but a comfortable lead.
Washington seemed poised to put a lump in the throat of all Giants fans when rookie running back Matt Jones took a handoff around the left side on fourth-and-1 from the 7 and nearly reached the end zone, but a low tackle by Amukamara and a high hit by Trevin Wade forced a fumble at the 2. The ball bounced into the end zone and out of bounds for a touchback with 9:32 left, prompting a huge exhale.
Washington did score a late touchdown and two-point conversion with 3:40 left. Shane Vereen recovered an onside kick after Rueben Randle muffed the play, and Randle then made a juggling catch of a 41-yard TD pass from Manning on third-and-9 to give the Giants a 32-14 lead with 3:21 to go.
Rashad Ross returned the kickoff 101 yards for a Washington score, but a second onside kick attempt went out of bounds. Although the Giants went three-and-out, Washington had no timeouts left and the game ended on an incomplete Hail Mary and a long run on the final snap.
Coughlin said he hopes the taste of victory will propel the Giants forward. They have 10 days to soak up the win, and when they return to the field in Buffalo next week, there is a good chance they will have Victor Cruz back with them. After a bleak start, things are looking up.
"I'm not saying our games were anything to write home about, but in truth we could have won two games coming into this one," Coughlin said. "The reinforcement, the confidence that comes from pushing the thing through to a win, I'm hoping that helps in the locker room."