The Giants wanted their game on Sunday to feel as if it were being played in the mid- to late-1980s. They retrofitted MetLife Stadium with the decor of its predecessor here in the swamp, right down to the details of a faux light bulb game clock and a helmet painted at midfield. They showed some purposely grainy graphics on the otherwise high-def scoreboards and blasted some embarrassing oldies from the sound system. They even dressed the team in throwback uniforms that included jerseys with red trim and those not-quite-matching navy blue helmets.
But the time machine would have misfired without adding the final piece to the homage. The Giants’ defense needed to play up to their look.
It wasn’t enough to just go trick-or-treating as the dominant units that brought championships and pride to the organization in an era that predates just about all of their births. These current players needed to live up to their costumes to make the illusion work.
It wasn’t a sure thing thanks to some foibles and sloppy ballhandling, several instances of it beyond the defense’s control, but eventually this 2023 Giants group provided the 1.21 gigawatts needed to convincingly turn the clocks backward and power the team to a much-needed 14-7 victory over the Commanders.
They knew their ’fits were on point.
“Looked good, ain’t gonna lie,” safety Xavier McKinney said of the threads.
They also knew afterward that they had earned the right to wear them, playing in a physical, aggressive style that recalled the days of yore when Lawrence Taylor, Carl Banks, Harry Carson and others bludgeoned opponents into submission and carried the team to victories.
“I think they would have been impressed,” defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence said of his revered predecessors.
The numbers were overwhelming, even if some of it was due more to Washington’s ineptitude than their own scheming and snarling.
A team that came into the game with a league-low five total sacks more than matched that number with a half-dozen, two of them from Lawrence, who won nearly every one-on-one matchup with former Giants center Nick Gates, and 1 1⁄2 from Kayvon Thibodeaux, who leads the team with 5 1⁄2. They held Washington to 46 net yards in the first half. The only points they allowed came on a cheap 21-yard drive in the third quarter after Sterling Shepard muffed a punt deep in Giants territory. Leonard Williams tossed in a blocked field goal to make sure the Commanders didn’t reach double digits.
When it came time to close out the game, something the offense was unable to do after Saquon Barkley fumbled at the Washington 8 with 7:46 left, they did that, too.
The Commanders drove to the doorstep of the Giants’ end zone in the final minute, but on third-and-5 from the 7, Sam Howell was unable to hit Terry McLaurin, who was covered by rookie cornerback Deontae Banks. On fourth-and-5, the Giants sent the house with a blitz that forced Howell to rush his throw to Jahan Dotson. The receiver juggled the ball near the sideline and safety Jason Pinnock broke it up.
Pinnock said he addressed the defensive huddle before one of those final plays and asked all of them: “Who’s gonna be that guy? It’s gotta be somebody.”
Turned out to be him.
“You know what time it is,” Pinnock said. “You have to stay poised, read your keys, and that’s what we did.”
This was the second straight strong defensive performance by the Giants, who have allowed 21 points in that span after averaging 30.4 allowed in the first five.
It’s way too soon to say this victory saved the Giants’ year. They’re still only 2-5, and Washington isn’t exactly a signature win. But it certainly made the coming weeks more enticing.
“Our confidence is continuing to build,” Bobby Okereke said. “We’re doing a great job stopping the run, limiting explosive plays and getting sacks, getting home. Everybody is energized and feeding off each other’s success . . . They say the last thing that shows is a profit. We’re starting to see results from our hard work and we’ll keep building on that.”
Next week will be another challenge and a chance to rumble with a defense that has quite a bit of confidence. On Sunday, the Giants will host the Jets. No one was ready to start chirping the way their stadium-mates have been doing for much of this season, but the Giants are very much aware that the fight for New York supremacy almost certainly will be decided by the two defenses, if for no other reason than neither offense is good for much of anything these days.
Asked how the Giants stack up against the Jets, Okereke pursed his lips in brief thought.
“Pretty good,” he said. “We know we have to compete against the opposing team’s offense and their defense. They have a pretty dominant front four, but we have a dominant front four as well.”
Said Banks: “We’ll be ready for them.”
They’ll have a week to see how they can match up against the Jets. On Sunday, as they walked out of their decorated home stadium, they were enjoying how they matched up against the Giants. The Giants of the past, that is.