TAMPA, Fla. — It wasn’t the opposing defense that nearly ruined Daniel Jones’ first NFL start, it was his own.
The much-maligned Giants unit allowed the Bucs to score on all six of their first-half possessions. Starting cornerback Janoris Jenkins was getting torched by Mike Evans, captain and defensive signal caller Alec Ogletree was sidelined with a hamstring injury and the Giants trailed by 18 points at halftime.
That’s when things changed. For the better.
“Honestly, I think it just got to the point where everyone was just fed up with the way we were playing,” rookie linebacker Ryan Connelly said. “We knew we were better than what we were showing out on the field and it reached a breaking point and we decided that was enough.”
They held the Bucs to three points in the second half, enough for Jones to lead them to a 32-31 win.
Connelly took over the signal-calling and had a fourth-quarter interception as the Giants forced four punts, had the takeaway and caught a break with a missed field goal in the last 30 minutes.
One of the key plays was a third-and-3 late. Jameis Winston hit tight end Cameron Brate with a short pass and safety Michael Thomas came up and made the tackle short of the sticks. Had the Bucs converted, they likely could have run out the clock. Instead, they punted to the Giants with 3:16 left.
“As soon as they motioned it over, every single DB on the field knew what they were trying to do,” Thomas said of the screen behind three Bucs blockers. “Everybody stayed on their man and I was able to get through the traffic and bring him down.”
It wasn’t all great plays in the second half, though. Jenkins was scorched by Evans for a 44-yard gain to set up the potential winning field goal.
It was the exclamation point on a rough day for the cornerback.
“I was like ‘[expletive],’ to be honest,” Jenkins said. “He beat me off the line. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
When the field goal went wide? “I felt relief,” he said. “He made a lot of plays but we still came out with the win.”
Now the Giants have to build off their big second half.
“We just came out at halftime saying, let’s compete,” rookie Dexter Lawrence said. “Just play hungry and angry . . . Nobody was down . . . We all just came together and said, ‘Let’s be men. Let’s go work. Let’s fight.’ ”