There is less than a minute to go in regulation, with the Giants clinging to a 23-16 lead over the Raiders, and MetLife Stadium is filled with an energy we haven’t seen much of lately.
Not for a team whose post-Super Bowl XLVI performance has been littered with disappointment and dejection, a team that has made the playoffs once since that improbable 2011 run, a team that has not lived up to its once-glorious past.
But here they are, facing a last-minute drive by the Raiders, who are within striking distance of the tying score — or perhaps even the winning score, if the visitors score a touchdown and succeed on the two-point conversion.
As Derek Carr walks out of the huddle and heads to the line of scrimmage with 44 seconds to play, the crowd is standing, screaming its support in a way that hasn’t been heard from a Giants crowd in far too long.
It’s second-and-10 from the 13, and as Carr surveys the defense, the frenzied crowd makes it almost impossible for him to be heard barking out signals.
He takes the snap, drops back to pass, and sees tight end Darren Waller open in the end zone. But as Carr is ready to deliver the ball to Waller, Giants rookie linebacker Quincy Roche finds a way to beat Raiders tackle Colton Miller to the outside and swats the ball out of Carr’s hands. Leonard Williams falls on the ball and cradles it to his chest, securing a 23-16 victory and a rare chance for Giants fans so bereft of joy to celebrate the moment.
"All the defenses that have been here throughout the years for this franchise," tight end Evan Engram said, invoking memories of the hallmarks of the great Giants teams of the past. "For our defense to show up, I think they really fed off [the crowd’s] energy. Last drive, the crowd was into it. It felt good to play good football for them and dig out a win, a big win for us."
To be clear, the Giants aren’t that much closer to getting back into playoff contention than when the afternoon began. They’re still 3-6 and barely afloat, with only a prayer of catching the Cowboys for the NFC East title.
Even though Dallas was a no-show in a horrid 30-16 home loss to the Broncos, it’s folly for Gians fans to start looking too far ahead. Especially with the Giants’ next game in Tampa on a Monday night coming off a bye week.
But moments like Roche’s game-saving sack/forced fumble have been few and far between, so it’s OK to celebrate this victory on its own. Especially after the Giants' 20-17 loss in Kansas City last Monday night, when they came oh so close to vanquishing the two-time defending AFC champions. And after a week in which they were forced to go into virtual practice mode because of a flurry of positive COVID-19 tests, almost all of which turned out to be false positives.
"I’m proud of the way the team responded to a lot of things," coach Joe Judge said. "Short week, traveling, the deals we had with the COVID stuff, coming in and out of the building. Good, well-earned team victory."
That’s exactly what it was. A well-earned win featuring continued good work from a defense that finally appears to be rounding into form after a mostly miserable first six games and a resilient offense that ground down a talented Raiders defense.
Keep in mind, however, that the Raiders had their own internal issues, including last week’s fatal drunk-driving accident involving wide receiver Henry Ruggs III, who was clocked at 156 mph and tested at more than twice the legal limit. The Raiders already were dealing with continued fallout from coach Jon Gruden’s resignation last month after emails involving racist, homophobic, and misogynistic language surfaced in connection with an investigation into workplace misconduct with the Washington Football Team.
But give credit where credit is due. The Giants played a resilient game after a challenging week, and they deserved to win.
"We know when we play our best, we’re a good team, too," Judge said. "We’ve done a good job as a team of sticking together."
That they have. Despite an 0-3 start that worsened to 1-5, the Giants have shown no internal fractures, and Judge has managed to keep his team engaged despite the poor record. They have won two of their last three games heading into the bye, and despite the daunting task of facing the defending Super Bowl champs in a Monday night road game after the week off, there are several winnable games down the stretch.
There also is a rematch against the Cowboys at MetLife Stadium, a chance to atone for that 44-20 annihilation in Dallas in which the Giants saw Saquon Barkley, Daniel Jones and Kenny Golladay go down with injuries in the first half.
They relied on a conservative yet sensible formula to hold off the Raiders, who came into the game at 5-2 off back-to-back victories under interim coach Rich Bisaccia: Run the football, play good defense and don’t take too many chances in the passing game.
The net result: a 99-yard rushing game from backup running back Devontae Booker; Daniel Jones' 15-for-20 performance, including a beautifully thrown 30-yard touchdown pass to Engram, and a defense that featured a pair of interceptions by Xavier McKinney, including a pick-6.
And, of course, the game-saving turnover forced by Roche to finish it off.
Let’s not mistake this team for the Bill Parcells/Lawrence Taylor Giants or the Michael Strahan version or the Tom Coughlin/Eli Manning two-time Super Bowl champion edition. Far from it.
But for one afternoon, the home team put together a worthy effort. And for that, a fan base that hasn’t had much to appreciate during the last decade can be thankful.