Just as Giants coach Tom Coughlin said during a week of hype, talk is cheap. You have to play the game.
The 12th all-time regular-season meeting between the New York metro-area rivals had the playoff hopes of both teams riding on it. The Giants (8-7) control their own destiny heading to the final week of the regular season, needing only a home win over Dallas next Sunday night to win the NFC East title and the playoff berth that comes with it. The Jets (8-7) need a victory at Miami coupled with three losses by their wild-card rivals to gain a playoff berth.
At times, the excitement of a true backyard brawl gave way to the monotony of watching two flawed teams flail away in the attempt to escape the mire of mediocrity. But the memory of the game-breaking 99-yard touchdown pass from Giants quarterback Eli Manning to Victor Cruz just before halftime -- the longest play of any kind in the club's history -- will live forever in the lore associated with the rivalry.
Statistically, Manning looked less than elite, completing only 9 of 27 passes for 225 yards, but he hit the big ones when it counted. Cruz was the only Giants receiver with more than one catch, grabbing three for 164 yards.
Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez threw a career-high 59 times, completing 30 for 258 yards and a touchdown, but he also had two interceptions, was sacked five times and fumbled into the end zone from the Giants' 1-yard line in the fourth quarter. The Jets went only 4-for-21 on third-down conversions.
"They were definitely the better team this year,'' Ryan said of the Giants. Referring to his pregame boast that the Jets were better, Ryan added, "Clearly, I was wrong. I will take the responsibility. It's on my shoulders, and it should be.''
After emphasizing all week that actions speak louder than words, Coughlin praised his team's work ethic in practice and how it was reflected on the field. Offered a chance to stake his own claim to bragging rights as the New York area's best team, Coughlin declined.
"I am not going to get into all of that,'' he said. "We won the game.''
Some of Coughlin's players weren't quite so circumspect.
Brandon Jacobs exchanged insults with Ryan on the field immediately after the game. Defensive end Justin Tuck, who had a sack, a tackle for a loss and two passes defensed, admitted to a great sense of satisfaction about making the Jets eat Ryan's words.
"We talked a little bit ourselves; we're not that innocent,'' Tuck said of his teammates in blue. "The thing we did is we came out and backed it up.''
Ryan initiated much of the trash talk, and he delivered a figurative slap in the face before kickoff, naming former Giant Plaxico Burress as the Jets' sole captain and then deferring after winning the toss.
The strategy looked good when the Giants went three-and-out and the Jets drove for the game's first score on a 5-yard pass to wide-open tight end Josh Baker for a 7-0 lead. But those were the only points the Jets could manage in the first half despite controlling the ball for 19:06.
The Giants' offense started slowly against the Jets' pressure, but Manning didn't hesitate to test Jets All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, who was the target of some disparaging pregame remarks by Giants wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Cruz.
Manning hit a 20-yard slant to Nicks against Revis and then a 29-yard seam route to Cruz against Antonio Cromartie to get a first down at the Jets' 2-yard line. But Revis broke up a third-down slant to Nicks, forcing the Giants to settle for a 21-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes to make it 7-3.
Near the end of the second quarter, the Jets downed a punt at the Giants' 1-yard line. After two incompletions, Manning spotted Cruz in the right slot against struggling second-year corner Kyle Wilson, whose deep help was coming from beleaguered safety Eric Smith. Talk about hitting the exacta.
Manning hit Cruz going up the seam and turning out. Wilson missed the tackle, Cruz sidestepped Cromartie -- who whiffed on his tackle -- and the wide receiver took off down the right sideline.
As Cruz sped downfield, Smith was late coming over and too slow to catch up. Cruz eluded his diving attempt at a shoestring tackle at the Giants' 47 and was gone as the Giants took a 10-7 lead with 2:12 left in the half.
"They hit big plays at opportune times,'' Wilson said. "There was a miscommunication on who was supposed to be lined up where. I anticipated [Cruz] coming back inside, but I've still got to make that tackle.''
Manning said the play was designed just to get the first down, but Cruz turned it into the play of the game. "A huge play,'' Manning said. "If we punt there, the Jets would've gotten field position, a chance to score before halftime and take a pretty big lead. Obviously, that flip-flopped everything.''
On the final play of the half, Jets kicker Nick Folk was wide right on a 44-yard field-goal attempt, and the Jets' struggles continued into the third quarter as they persisted in throwing the ball.
The Giants didn't do much of anything on offense either until late in the third, when Manning fired another Cruz missile over Wilson's head for a 36-yard gain to the Jets' 42. Then Jacobs broke a 28-yard end sweep to the 14.
From there, Ahmad Bradshaw took a handoff up the middle and lowered the boom on Jets safety Brodney Pool, running over him for the touchdown and a 17-7 lead. Pool suffered a head injury on the play and did not return.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, the Jets finally allowed Sanchez to throw deep down the middle, but Jeremy Kerley cut his route short and the pass sailed into the hands of Giants safety Kenny Phillips, who returned it 31 yards to the Jets' 14. That set up a 36-yard field goal by Tynes for a 20-7 lead.
"We felt very disrespected,'' Phillips said of the Jets' trash talk. "They were saying we can't do this and we can't do that, but I think we proved we are capable of playing great ball.''
The Jets responded by driving to the Giants' 1-yard line, but Sanchez fumbled a snap into the end zone for a touchback. The Giants gave it right back when a pass deflected off Nicks' hands and was picked off by linebacker David Harris, who returned it 20 yards to the Giants' 11. After a replay review wiped out a fumble by Sanchez for the second time in just over two minutes, the quarterback scored on a naked bootleg from the 1. That cut the Giants' lead to 20-14 with 7:17 to play.
The Jets got the ball back at midfield with 5:39 left but did nothing with it. The next time they got the ball was at their 8-yard line, and Sanchez was sacked in the end zone by Chris Canty for a safety and a 22-14 Giants lead.
Folk's onside free kick was knocked out of bounds by the Giants at the Jets' 19. On the next play, Bradshaw went the distance, leaving the Jets' fading playoff hopes hanging on the ropes.
When all was said and done, it was obvious that all the trash talk had a major impact. "It raised it up a million notches,'' Revis said. "It really did. Everybody knew what was at stake. It was a must-win for them and a must-win for us, and they came out on top.''