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Defense makes sure game doesn't slip away

Antrel Rolle celebrates a sack in the fourth

Antrel Rolle celebrates a sack in the fourth quarter of a game against the Oakland Raiders. (Nov. 10, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Giants had held opposing offenses scoreless for nine straight quarters, but that streak ended 53 seconds into Sunday's game against Oakland at MetLife Stadium. What could the defense do after the Giants fumbled the opening kickoff and the Raiders returned it to the 5-yard line to set up a 1-yard scoring run by quarterback Terrelle Pryor?

It went like that the entire first half. All 17 Raiders points were the result of turnovers, including a pick-6 by cornerback Tracy Porter for a three-point halftime lead.

"Things weren't pretty at times, but we never broke," safety Antrel Rolle said. "We always stayed together and we played with extreme effort."

When the Giants needed it most, their resurgent defense produced a third-quarter goal-line stand that held the Raiders to a field goal after they had a first down at the 1-yard line. Then a 65-yard interception return by cornerback Terrell Thomas set up the go-ahead touchdown in the Giants' 24-20 victory.

"Huge" was the operative word to describe what it meant when Rolle tackled running back Rashad Jennings for no gain on first down at the 1. A surprise second-down pass wasn't close, and then a 5-yard penalty and another incomplete pass left the Raiders with fourth down at the 6. They had to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski and a 20-14 lead.

Rolle admitted he was in the wrong place at the right time to tackle Jennings. "I was supposed to run with the motion and cover the guy that has extended motion," Rolle said. "I kind of put myself at the 'mike' [middle] linebacker at that point. I put myself in a bad situation. There was nothing else left for me to do but make the play. When all else fails, see ball and go get ball. That's my mentality."

On the other hand, sometimes you play like you practice, and on the Raiders' next series, that's why Thomas was positioned to pick off Pryor's pass and return it 65 yards to the 5.

"I made the same play in practice," Thomas said. "I was waiting for it all game. They were giving me two-by-two slants, but they hadn't run it all game. When they motioned, I kind of knew it was coming, so I stayed inside and I jumped it."

It looked as if Thomas might score when he cut to the middle of the field to evade Pryor's tackle, but that slowed him enough to get caught from behind. No matter. Two plays later, running back Andre Brown's 1-yard touchdown run produced a 21-20 Giants lead.

That cheered Thomas, who is coming back this season after his third knee surgery, because Brown was playing his first game since suffering a broken leg in training camp. "I was happy to make a great play," Thomas said, "and Andre finished it off for us."

Thomas, who was named NFC defensive player of the week after the Giants' previous win in Philadelphia, is an inspiration for the Giants' defense. "That's two games in a row Terrell has definitely had the play of the game, a game-changing play," Rolle said. "His heart is the size of Texas, and that's something that we need."

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