Giants' no-name defense comes up with big game in Seattle
There is no Lawrence Taylor. Or Michael Strahan. Or Harry Carson. Or Carl Banks. Or Jessie Armstead.
And if you want to go back several generations, there’s no Sam Huff or Emlen Tunnell or Andy Robustelli.
No Bill Belichick, either.
No one on the Giants’ defense of today approaches the stature of these iconic names in franchise history. But on a football field across the continent, against an excellent quarterback who plays for a Super Bowl-caliber team, this defense passed a test that challenged its resolve and resourcefulness in the biggest win of Joe Judge’s first season as head coach.
The Giants conquered Russell Wilson’s Seattle Seahawks, 17-12, for their fourth straight win and, perhaps more important, their first victory against a team with a winning record.
The Giants get better and better every week in some fashion, and they can thank the defense for carrying them in a mammoth upset that improved their chances of winning the NFC East title. At 5-7, they have fully recovered from an 0-5 start and look as if they can play with just about every team in the league.
First-year defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, schooled in the art of defense by Belichick during their time together with the Patriots, called a masterpiece in solving Wilson. The Giants held the Seahawks’ potent offense to a field goal in the first half.
Leonard Williams, who continues to have a renaissance season after a mostly disappointing career with the Jets, had 2.5 sacks. There was another sack by rookie linebacker Tae Crowder, one of several promising young players brought in by general manager Dave Gettleman. And a second-half interception by rookie Darnay Holmes. And a fumble recovery by undrafted free agent Niko Lalos.
In the final seconds, the Giants survived a desperation fourth-down heave by Wilson, who tried to hit DK Metcalf but was rejected as four Giants defenders surrounded the receiver, securing the team’s biggest upset in years.
It was a statement win for a team that looks and feels like a playoff team and just might get there, even if their winless stretch at the start might leave them with a losing record in January.
And if they do get to the postseason, they can thank their defense, which was as good as that of just about any other NFL team on Sunday.
Safety Jabrill Peppers could feel something different about this one as he walked onto the field at newly named Lumen Field. "We knew if we played our brand of football," Peppers said, "we could shock a lot of people."
They did just that, consistently confusing Wilson and pressuring the quarterback at just about every turn. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the Seahawks scored their only touchdown, thus avoiding the ignominy of being the first Seattle team since 2009 that didn’t score a TD in a home game.
Williams had his best game in a Giants uniform, getting to Wilson for two sacks, having a hand in another and applying relentless pressure throughout. His third-down sack of Wilson on the Seahawks’ final drive set up that fourth-and-18 pass that was denied.
"That feeling of celebrating with the guys on the positive side, coming out here to the West Coast, that felt amazing," Williams said. "It felt better that we [defense] helped to get that win. I feel like we played some hard-nosed football."
Williams credited Graham for coming up with a brilliant plan for stopping Wilson, who was mentioned as a runaway MVP candidate earlier in the season but has struggled in spots since then.
"We always joke around how Pat is a computer," Williams said. "He’s a genius when it comes to scheming guys and understanding who he has and who he has to go against."
It was a signature win for Judge, who was 1-7 just over a month ago.
"These guys work hard, Pat has a good plan, and they’re very detailed in their approach," Judge said. "Our players have gotten more comfortable in the scheme. You’ve got to be able to play guys like Russell Wilson and stop him. That’s easier said than done. This guy has seen a lot of coverages in the course of his career.
"[The Giants’] level of play is rising. It’s more trusting that the process is going to pay off on the field."
They have trusted the process, and the results have followed.
"As the season goes on," Peppers said, "teams either ascend or descend. We wanted to be a team that ascends."
Four straight wins is the latest proof that they’re one of those teams. Thanks in large part to a defense that may not be big on names but is big on results — none bigger than this one.