There were cheers at the end of the first quarter, an ovation at halftime and a “Let’s go Giants!” chant early in the fourth. There even were lusty boos for Giants slayer DeSean Jackson when he went back to field a punt in the final minute, a mixture of derision and dyspepsia for sure, but a noticeable reaction nonetheless.
MetLife Stadium certainly enjoyed its first Giants home win of the season on Sunday.
And why not? They came up a 38-35 winner over the Bucs, recording four interceptions (three off starter and former resident Ryan Fitzpatrick, including one returned for a touchdown, to chase him from the game) and using a balanced and consistent offense to score more points than the Giants had in victory since a 45-14 win over Washington in September 2014.
Former Giant Jason Pierre-Paul said last week that he planned to “bring the house down” upon his return to New Jersey. Instead, for the first time in recent memory, the house was rocking with excitement.
That the Giants’ 31-14 lead early in the fourth quarter was reduced to 31-28 caused some anxiety, but it ultimately added to the thrill (and kept most of the 75,863 fans from fleeing the stadium early).
“It felt good to allow them to have fun and take pride in us,” tight end Evan Engram said. “Today was an especially good win for the city … The atmosphere was crazy. It was great.”
It also was a long time coming.
“We’re thrilled,” Pat Shurmur said of giving the home crowd something worth cheering about for the first time in his tenure as coach of the Giants. “It’s too damn late in the year for that to be the first one here at home, but that’s the way it is.”
That some of the fan favorites on the team contributed heavily to the win helped the celebratory mood. Saquon Barkley gained 142 yards on 27 carries and scored three touchdowns. Eli Manning was almost perfect, completing 17 of 18 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns, to Barkley and to Odell Beckham Jr.
The Giants earned consecutive victories for the first time since their playoff run in December 2016 and improved their record to 3-7. What’s more, it gave them something that seemed ridiculous just a few weeks ago: hope in the division. The NFC East seems up for grabs with the first-place Redskins losing their starting quarterback to a gruesome injury on Sunday and the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles smoked by the Saints. While the Giants remain a long shot to make a run at it, they still have a pulse.
It wasn’t Barkley’s best overall game of the year statistically, but it was his strongest effort out of the backfield. The coaches challenged the rookie to be more disciplined on his carries, and he responded. He gave the Giants a 14-0 lead with a 6-yard touchdown reception and a 5-yard run, leaping over a pile of blockers and would-be tacklers before lunging for the goal line. He helped seal the win with a 2-yard touchdown run that made it 38-28 with 3:52 remaining in the game.
“You take that as a challenge,” Barkley said of the coaching. “You take it personally. You know that they brought you in here for a reason and you have to get better. That’s how I take it. The same way that I took it was to still stay who I am. I hadn’t really changed anything today besides my pace. I just got a feel for the running game and the offensive line, and I think I found a pace that I liked. They challenged me to do that and I did that today.”
He also earned his first NFL home victory. For 37 of the 53 Giants on the active roster, this was their first home win at MetLife Stadium and first time celebrating in their locker room.
“I think there is some excitement going around,” Manning said. “It’s a good feeling to have in the locker room, and you see some growth. You see the improvement.”
And for the first time since last year’s regular-season finale, the home crowd saw it too.