MIAMI GARDENS, Fla.
Sometimes plays that turn out to win games are planned days in advance. Even weeks.
Sometimes, like Monday night’s deciding play in the Giants’ 31-24 win over the Dolphins, it’s a matter of hours.
Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. were back at the team hotel late Monday afternoon watching videotape together and realized there was a play that might work against the Dolphins — even though the Giants hadn’t even practiced it during the week.
“Maybe 4 or 5 o’clock, we were just watching film,” Beckham said after the game. “It’s something we hadn’t practiced, we did completely on the fly, and were able to connect at a crucial time.”
The Giants and Dolphins were locked in a 24-24 tie in the fourth quarter, and the Giants took over at their own 4-yard line. Rashad Jennings ran 12 yards to give the team some breathing room, and Manning felt the time was right.
He had noticed during his videotape study, especially in the hours leading up to the game, that the Dolphins often liked to play what’s called “quarters.” It’s a zone scheme in which four defensive backs each are responsible for a quarter of the field. The Dolphins don’t run a lot of that formation, but Manning felt they might use it in this situation.
The call was for Beckham, who lined up to the left of the formation, to run a slant toward the middle of the field, which would draw one of the safeties in. But rather than throw the ball there, Manning had Beckham do a double move and race upfield after he made his cut toward the middle.
The play worked perfectly. Safety Reshad Jones bit on the fake, Beckham raced upfield and caught Manning’s pass at the Giants’ 45. He ran into the end zone untouched for what proved to be the winning score.
“We talked about it today that might come up,” Manning said. “They might want to play some quarters, because they had done some of that. Sure enough, we had it called. I alerted the guys to it, we got the coverage we wanted. I was thinking it was going to be a big play. Thought we had a chance, but I didn’t think it would be that open.”
It turned into one of the biggest plays of the season from the Giants’ two best players.
Manning and Beckham were positively brilliant in helping the Giants break a three-game losing streak and keep pace with Washington and Philadelphia for first place in the NFC East. It’s a quirky race, with all three teams at 6-7. But with three games to go, anything is possible, and the Giants are hopeful of winning out and capturing the division title.
Not an easy task, considering they next face the unbeaten Panthers at home and are on the road against the Vikings before finishing the season at home against the Eagles.
If they are to pull off the unlikely feat, Manning and Beckham no doubt will be at the center of the action — just as they were against the Dolphins.
Manning was 27-for-31 for 337 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions, good for a near-perfect rating of 151.5 (perfect is 158.3). He set a franchise record for the highest single-game completion percentage (87 percent).
“Just felt like guys were getting open quickly,” Manning said. “We talked about it all week, getting the plays, how we can play fast, how we can get the ball snapped and know where guys are going to be and have great timing.”
His timing with Beckham was impeccable, and not just on the winning touchdown. Manning hit Beckham with a 6-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter to draw the Giants into a 24-24 tie. The play initially was ruled an incompletion, but that call was overturned on replay.
“I felt like I got both feet in,” Beckham said. “I would have felt terrible if I didn’t and called for the challenge. But I felt like I got in.”
He did, by a matter of inches.
And so the Giants survive another week in a division that might not be decided until the very end.
“It was a must-win game,” said Beckham, who needed two bags of intravenous fluid at halftime because of the heat and humidity. “The rest of them are playoff games for us.”
If they get to the real playoffs, rest assured that Beckham and Manning will play the lead roles in the journey.