ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- J.T. Thomas broke the huddle and went to the left of the formation, carefully eyeing the Bills' backfield to try to get a read on what they might run on a potentially game-changing fourth-down play.
The Giants led 16-3 early in the fourth quarter, but the Bills had driven to the 9 and were in good position to make it a one-score game. After three straight stops by the Giants' ever-improving defense, the Bills decided to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
"What I got was four strong," Thomas said, referring to the tipoff the Bills were giving based on how they lined up. "We're going to get four guys going in the direction with a play-action pass. We expect something quick to the flat."
And that's exactly what they got.
Tyrod Taylor took the snap, dropped back quickly and hit running back Karlos Williams on a swing pass to his right. Wide receiver Percy Harvin and fullback Jerome Felton cleared out space ahead of Williams, momentarily leaving him wide open. But Thomas held his ground and found himself facing Williams one-on-one. The linebacker raced toward the right sideline and knocked him out of bounds for no gain.
It was the conclusion to a momentous series for the defense, a turning point in the Giants' 24-10 win Sunday. It also was a chance for this oft-maligned unit to take a bow for a job well done and to fortify its "us against the world" mentality.
A Giants defense that entered the season with huge question marks, especially the one about how it would fare without its best player, had answered the call for a game-saving challenge.
"Like any of the other guys across the NFL, you look forward to being able to stand up on fourth down on the goal line," Thomas said. "It's definitely a dream come true, a tight moment. That was huge for us."
It may have saved the game, and certainly went a long way toward giving the Giants a second straight win to emerge from an 0-2 start with plenty of hope.
The Bills were coming off a 41-14 rout of the Dolphins on the road, but the Giants' defense was in command most of the game. It was the latest evidence that they can survive -- at least for the time being -- without injured Jason Pierre-Paul.
"I still keep forgetting that we won't have JPP, and whenever he comes back, he's going to make our defense that much better," cornerback Prince Amukamara said.
Will he make it back? "I would hope so," Amukamara said. "I pray every night that he will."
This has turned into a latter-day "No-Name Defense" that features Thomas, linebacker Devon Kennard, end Kerry Wynn and a bunch of other unrecognizable faces. And while we won't dare put them in a league with the famed "No-Name Defense" of the Dolphins' legendary teams of the early 1970s, this really is a plucky group of eager young players mixed in with a handful of savvy veterans.
"That's the mark of a great team. It's the unusual suspects," linebacker Jon Beason said. "That's the way you want to play. To see [Thomas] go out there and make that play. Before that, it was Landon Collins, Kerry Wynn.''
And no renowned playmaker in the group.
"It's been done before, you know? The 'No-Name Defense,' '' Beason said. "We got some journeymen, guys who have been around, guys who have made a lot of plays in this league. We're just buying into a mentality and guys are doing it collectively."
Defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins thinks the absence of a star actually helps. "It really makes people focus on their job," he said. "Everybody knows that we're a team defense.''
If this defense is considered little more than a motley collection of unheralded players, then so be it.
"We have the mindset that it's us against the world and we're jelling together," said Kennard, who had an interception. "We believe in each other."
And for one glorious afternoon and one memorable goal-line stand, that's all that really mattered, because the players on this defense really don't care what you think about them. On this day, all they cared about was the final outcome.