There were a few times during Sunday’s game when Keenan Robinson looked up at one of the many video boards at MetLife Stadium and saw what just about everyone in the league was expecting. It was the score from the Cowboys-Browns game, which was being played while the Giants faced the Eagles. All three NFC East teams with a game this weekend — Washington had a bye — were playing at the exact same time, creating a sense of potential motion in the standings.
Well, not at the top. The first-place Cowboys handled their business easily. “It looked like they beat them pretty bad,” Robinson said.
But for the two teams that entered Sunday’s contest in a tie for second place, given the likely result in Cleveland, this game was about much more than just a victory. It was about keeping pace. It was about not falling three games behind the Cowboys.
“We’re just trying to win the division,” Odell Beckham Jr. said. “Dallas, they’re playing at a high, high level. You have to keep winning.”
Both teams had to. The Giants did.
The 28-23 win was their most significant since the victory over the Cowboys in the opener, and their first over Philadelphia since 2013. It also was their third straight, improving their record to 5-3. The Eagles (4-4) lost for the fourth time in five games and are 0-3 in the division.
It wasn’t a statement game. It wasn’t a win that let the world know the Giants are playoff contenders or showed that their offense is functioning at full throttle. But it was a win, and exactly what the Giants were desperate for.
“Definitely, definitely a big win in the division,” said Eli Manning, who threw four touchdown passes. “Philadelphia, they’ve kind of the last few years had our number. We’ve played close games but haven’t been able to win those close games. To kind of pull it off today and get that win was nice.”
For the third time in a row, they did it with a lead of a touchdown or less and their defense on the field in the final minutes.
“We weren’t scoreboard-watching, we weren’t back on our heels. We just kept on pushing and fighting,” Robinson said. “We knew that if the defense was going to get an opportunity to win the game, we were going to rise up and stand up. That’s what we did.”
It was more of a challenge than the Giants would have liked. On third-and-4, with a chance to run out the clock if they got a first down, the Giants elected to pass from their 29. Manning’s throw was batted at the line of scrimmage by Connor Barwin and intercepted by Jordan Hicks at the Giants’ 34 with 1:48 remaining.
Rookie quarterback Carson Wentz hit Nelson Agholor for a 17-yard reception to get to the 17, but Wentz then threw four straight incompletions to end the threat.
Trevin Wade, playing in place of benched first-round pick Eli Apple, said he knew he was going to have to defend the fourth-and-10 pass to Jordan Matthews in the end zone with 1:28 remaining.
“I think everybody knew what it was going to be,” he said. “That’s their favorite route and Matthews is their guy.”
Plus, many teams see Wade as the weak link in the secondary. Wade acknowledged that. He knew the pass was coming his way. “That’s what I was waiting for,” he said.
The ball was slightly overthrown, but Wade covered the route well enough to allow Manning to take a knee for the victory.
In the early part of the game, it was the defense that set up the first two Giants touchdowns. Landon Collins, who had two interceptions in the last Giants game two weeks ago, started this contest by picking off Wentz on the Eagles’ second play. That set up a 26-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Beckham. Three plays later, Andrew Adams picked off Wentz to set up a 30-yard touchdown pass to Roger Lewis Jr. That made it 14-0 after just 5:17.
The Giants added another touchdown in the second quarter on a 1-yard fade to Beckham to go ahead 21-10, a score they held at the half thanks to a pair of fourth-down stops in field-goal range and a blocked field-goal attempt with just over a minute remaining (Jason Pierre-Paul blocked it and Janoris Jenkins recovered).
Kenjon Barner’s 3-yard touchdown run and Manning’s 32-yard touchdown pass to Sterling Shepard on the first two possessions of the third quarter made it 28-17, and Caleb Sturgis kicked a pair of fourth-quarter field goals to move the Eagles within five. It was not enough.
“I think this was more of a game of who’s going to come up with a stop,” Beckham said, admiring his defense. “We did that.”
A few times, it turned out. Enough to keep the Giants in step with those Cowboys.
After the game, Ben McAdoo was asked to assess the rivalry with the Eagles and rank his first win over them since joining the Giants in 2014.
“That question is a little too dramatic for me right now,” he said. “We won in the division and we’ll take it.”
The Giants are winning the down-to-the-wire games this season that got away from them last year. Their five wins have been by a total of 20 points:
Week 1 Giants 20, Cowboys 19
Week 2 Giants 16, Saints 13
Week 6 Giants 27, Ravens 23
Week 7 Giants 17, Rams 10
Week 9 Giants 28, Eagles 23