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Grading the Giants: Defense answers call to hold lead in victory

Giants defensive end Niko Lalos (57) celebrates an

Giants defensive end Niko Lalos (57) celebrates an interception with teammates during the second half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020, in Cincinnati.  Credit: AP/Bryan Woolston


The way the Giants came out on their first drive (9 plays, 76 yards, capped by a 1-yard TD run by Wayne Gallman) it looked as if they would be unstoppable all game. That turned out to be their only touchdown of the afternoon. They gained a season-high 386 yards and controlled the ball for 37:26, their best time of possession since 2013, but had just 19 points to show for it. Daniel Jones was playing terrific before he got hurt. As for Colt McCoy, it would have been nice if he could have chewed up a bit more of the final 2:30 after the Giants got the ball back ahead 19-17, but he did what you need a backup QB to do in the situation he found himself in. He didn’t lose the game. By the way, with WR Golden Tate throwing an incomplete pass, this was the first Giants game in which three different players threw a pass since 2007 when Eli Manning, Jared Lorenzen and Anthony Wright all had attempts against the Packers.


With Jones on the sideline it was up to the defense to hold the lead. They did with three huge takeaways in the second half. The first half wasn’t too shabby either. The Bengals had just 66 yards in the first two quarters. They finished with 155 total offensive yards, the fewest allowed by a Giants defense since they held the Bears to 110 in 2010. Cincinnati’s 11 first downs were the fewest by a Giants opponent since Washington had 10 in 2017 (and since one Bengals first down came on a fake punt against the special teams unit, we can wink and say that they really tied that mark). The Giants kept the Bengals out of the end zone for most of the game, and even the touchdown they allowed with 2:33 left was the result of a dubious pass interference call against Darnay Holmes. Jabrill Peppers was flying all around the field at safety, Logan Ryan had a key forced fumble he recovered, and practice squad elevation Niko Lalas had an interception. His only previous interception was on Nov. 9, 2019, when he picked off a pass against Princeton and returned it 22 yards for a Dartmouth touchdown . . . in Yankee Stadium.


What happened? After a season of stellar coverage, everything fell apart for the Giants. It began with a 103-yard touchdown return in the first quarter on which Brandon Wilson was nearly untouched (kicker Graham Gano was the only one who got a hand on him) and ended with a scary 29-yard punt return by Alex Erickson that might have been a go-ahead touchdown had Cam Brown not been able to trip him up at the 50. The Giants also allowed the Bengals to convert on the aforementioned fake punt. The brain freezes were not limited to the coverage. Jabrill Peppers made two bad decisions to let punts hit the ground and be downed deep in Giants territory. The one saving grace: Graham Gano’s four field goals, though even he was not without blame. He said his kickoff down the middle of the field helped contribute to the 103-yard touchdown return.


There were a few glaring mistakes that the Giants had been avoiding, the special teams coverage woes not being the least of them. There were also a number of uncharacteristic penalties by the offensive line (maybe Marc Colombo always told them not to hold or jump offsides and Dave DeGuglielmo forgot to mention it?). If Matt Peart were active and not on reserve/COVID-19 this week he might have permanently replaced Cam Fleming at right tackle. And late in the game the Giants had some poor clock management with Colt McCoy and Wayne Gallman both going out of bounds at points when the Giants needed time to keep moving. As promised, Joe Judge used a rotation at left guard with Shane Lemieux starting and Will Hernandez seeing a handful of snaps. Oh, and if it turns out that Daniel Jones suffered further damage to his hamstring after he was allowed to return to the game briefly, that could become the costliest coaching decision of the year for Judge and his staff. We’ll have to wait to see how that one plays out.

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