D.J. Fluker walked into the Giants’ locker room at MetLife Stadium around 10:30 Sunday morning and could feel the difference. There had been hints of it all week, in meetings and practices, but it wasn’t until game day that the starting right guard really noticed the change.
“Guys were already stretching, getting amped up,” he said. “Music playing. Guys hyping. You want to see that. That’s passion for the game.”
It was something he hadn’t seen or felt for a while.
“When 13 was here and playing, it was kind of like that,” he said of the early part of the season, when Odell Beckham Jr. provided the heartbeat for the team. “But with this group of guys, it was something different. It was a different energy. That’s what we needed.”
Turned out he was right. A week after one of the most lackluster efforts in recent Giants history, after which even Ben McAdoo was forced to concede that the players had come up short on maximum effort and pointed it out to them, the Giants found an inner spark that had been absent for most of the season.
They’re still not a very good team, as shown by the offensive execution throughout most of the game, but they were able to find enough fight in them to beat the Chiefs, 12-9, in overtime. It was only their second win in 10 games and their first at home since last December, and it came way too late to salvage the season. But for the first time in a while, after back-to-back humiliating defeats, it was good to see the Giants play hard.
“You have to make a decision what you want to do,” linebacker and defensive captain Jonathan Casillas said. “Are you gonna fight and muster up everything to be detailed? I think that’s what we haven’t been doing in weeks prior. We haven’t been really hungry to real ly master the details and real ly give that extra effort. I think we saw that today from everybody on the field. There were people scratching and clawing and doing everything they can.”
Last week, McAdoo said he had to look at the tape before judging the Giants’ performance. This week, such pause for reflection was unnecessary.
“I know we played hard,” he said. “I could see that we played hard from where I was standing. We played inspired football today.”
The game featured plenty of redemption narratives.
First there was Janoris Jenkins, who was suspended two weeks ago after blowing off a practice and then vilified for giving what looked like a halfhearted effort in San Francisco. He came up with a key interception with 2:07 left in regulation that set up a field goal for a 9-6 lead. A subsequent interception by Jenkins was nullified by a pass-interference penalty against him.
“I thought Janoris Jenkins played his tail off,” McAdoo said. “He was all over the field.”
While Jenkins was roughed up in public, the Giants insisted that they never were concerned about him. “We know he’s a competitor,” Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. “We know as long as he’s out there on that field, we’ve got a great chance to win. He definitely responded well. That’s what we get out of him all the time. We’re not worried about him.”
Another bounce-back was by Aldrick Rosas, the first-year kicker who had been shaky for the past month and even missed a wind-blown extra-point attempt in the second quarter. He kicked a 26-yard field goal with 1:38 left in regulation for that 9-6 lead and made a 23-yarder with 1:54 left in overtime for the win.
And then there was the defense, chagrined by its previous two outings but a dominant unit Sunday.
“We have faith in one another,” said safety Landon Collins, who also had a fourth-quarter interception. “We had the mindset of going to get this win. We had to make every play count. We knew there was going to be adversity, knew they were going to make plays. So we had to make sure that we just made one more play than them.”
That one play, it seemed, came in overtime. Facing an all-out blitz on fourth-and-5 from the Chiefs’ 36, Eli Manning lofted a pass down the left sideline for Roger Lewis Jr. The second-year receiver was pulled down by cornerback Phillip Gaines (who was flagged for pass interference) but made a sliding catch to bring the ball to the 2. A play after Manning took a knee to center the ball, Rosas kicked the game-winner.
And for the first time since Week 6, the Giants celebrated.
“It feels good,” Manning said of his 35th game-winning drive. “The great part about football is having a great week of preparation and then going out on Sunday and finding ways to win games and celebrating with your teammates and feeling good about the work and the preparation and dedication and doing everything the right way and earning that win.”
And then coming into a locker room that was pulsing even more than the one Fluker entered before the game.
“Everybody had the fire lit in their eyes,” Fluker said. “We came here as a group and said we were going to go in there and play hard. Every team meeting we had this week, that’s what we did. We had that mindset. And it happened.”