JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Giants talk a lot about bringing opponents to the “deep end” to finish them off at the end of games, a mentality and rallying cry that has helped them win multiple times this season with second-half comebacks and some huge stops on defense. The theory is they have the fortitude to swim where others can’t.
But there is a danger to spending too much time in such treacherous waters.
The Giants realized that on Sunday. They were nearly pulled under by the Jaguars but escaped with a 23-17 victory that left them gurgling, gasping and straining to keep their heads above the water line right up until the very last moment.
“Good to get a win,” Brian Daboll said. “Made it tougher than we needed to, but it’s good to be 6-1.”
That the Giants could be nitpicky about many of the things they did wrong in a victory served as a testament to just how far they have come. A month or so ago, this was an organization so hungry for wins that they would take them in any fashion at all. Now they have evolved to the point that there can be disappointment over missed opportunities and botched plays even if they don’t cost them games.
After a game full of dropped passes and missed tackles, the Giants began stacking their blunders in the final minute.
The Jaguars should have had about 20 seconds left to try to drive the field for a potential go-ahead touchdown after Graham Gano kicked a 34-yard field goal, but a review showed Saquon Barkley ran out of bounds to stop the clock with 1:07 remaining on third down.
“I’ve got to be way better in situational football there, not even putting us in that situation, giving Jacksonville another opportunity with that much time on the clock,” Barkley said of trying to hit the brakes but tumbling over the sideline.
That set up a nerve-wracking final drive that featured a huge would-be sack by Dexter Lawrence negated by a defensive hold in the secondary against Adoree’ Jackson, a would-be interception by Fabian Moreau negated by a hands-to-the-face penalty against Dane Belton, and a fourth-and-15 conversion by the Jaguars that actually went for 43 yards once the roughing-the-passer penalty against Leonard Williams was tacked onto it.
That put the Jaguars at the Giants’ 17 with 16 seconds left. Trevor Lawrence threw two incompletions to set up the game’s final play. He hit Christian Kirk at the 1 before a phalanx of Giants tacklers arrived to keep him from crossing the goal line; Moreau was the first to make contact on the stop.
“We had to keep him out of the end zone,” safety Xavier McKinney said. “He was in the air when he caught it, I think, so it was harder when he caught the ball and the offensive line started coming in and trying to push the pile forward. That’s what made it a little difficult. But he’s a lighter body, smaller guy, so it was easy to be able to keep him out.”
"Easy'' is hardly the word anyone would use for Sunday’s win. It was the fourth time the Giants came back for a fourth-quarter victory and the fifth time they won when trailing in the second half.
The drama also overshadowed what became one of the best games of Daniel Jones' career. He overcame several dropped passes — including one by Marcus Johnson on a fourth-down play near the goal line — and a relatively lackluster performance by Barkley to carry the Giants to their fourth straight win.
Jones ran for a career-high 107 yards, the first Giants quarterback to crack the century mark since Frank Filchock did it in 1946. He scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 1-yard sneak with 5:31 remaining, giving the Giants a 20-17 lead. Jones also completed 19 of 30 passes for 202 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown pass to Darius Slayton to cap the opening drive of the game.
“He’s really been consistent since we’ve had him in all these games,” Daboll said of Jones. “Makes the right decision, throws to the right guy. He’s operating our offense the way we need him to operate our offense.”
Barkley wound up with 110 rushing yards on 24 carries but had only 18 at halftime and 38 after three quarters.
“I was running soft, thinking about the wrong things,” Barkley said of his slow start. “I’ve got to do a better job hitting the hole. But I’ll find a way to get on fire a little bit, closer to the end of the game. I’ve got to do a better job starting out faster.”
Ultimately, the Giants left TIAA Field with their first win in Jacksonville and tied for the most wins in the NFL (the 6-0 Eagles have a bye). And they still may be underdogs when they visit the Seahawks next week.
“I don’t care what people around the league do,” linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux said in an expletive-flecked rant of the lack of respect shown to the Giants. “The only people that matter are the people in this room.”
McKinney echoed that sentiment. “It’s the same thing every week,” he said when questioned about outside perceptions of the Giants. “I really don’t care. We don’t care as a team. The only thing we can do is keep focusing on what we can do and keep getting better.”
Maybe keep going deeper, too. “[Monday] is not going to feel like a win,” linebacker Jaylen Smith said, laughing, dreading the critical film review session that awaited the team in New Jersey.
On Sunday, though, they stayed afloat just long enough to make it back to shore.