DENVER — Even the people the Giants were supposed to be leaning on for support were starting to disappear.
Rookie tight end Evan Engram said he was getting texts and messages from his close friends telling him that they hoped for the best for him, that they had his back, but, come on, pal, it ain’t happening.
“They didn’t believe we were going to win,” Engram said with a smile. “As football fans, they thought we had no shot.”
Add them to the list of folks whom the Giants stuck it to on Sunday night.
They came to Denver with a depleted offense, an underperforming defense and a head coach who seemed to be losing control of the locker room, only to leave with a convincing 23-10 win over the Broncos.
It was a game Ben McAdoo framed as an us-against-the-world situation for his team, which came in as a 12-point underdog. He challenged his players to step up and prove that they still are a good team despite all the dire circumstances.
The Giants responded with their best performance of the season, slamming the brakes on their five-game losing streak before it could match the 0-6 start of 2013 and righting the course, at least for a brief moment of triumph.
The Giants still are 1-5, still are in last place in the NFC East and still are a colossal disappointment, considering they had championship aspirations.
But they won.
“For this team to get that feeling was huge,” said Justin Pugh, the left guard who moved to right tackle and made linebacker Von Miller a non-factor. “From start to finish, this team was just 53 guys out there against everybody. It was just a bunch of dudes scratching and clawing, gritty and grimy. Anything we had to do to get a win. And I’m just happy as hell we got it.”
This was how it was drawn up in the offseason, what the Giants’ year was supposed to look like, relying on a steady offense and a blanketing defense. Some, naturally, will ask: What took so long?
For the first time this season, though, there is a glimmer of positivity. And McAdoo now has a triumphant response to those who believed that he had lost the locker room.
Said cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who had a pick-6, a forced fumble and a tackle on the goal line on fourth-and-inches: “We believe in Coach Mac.”
McAdoo executed what might be the defining decision of his tenure with this team, ceding the play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan. The result was significant, and it came against the NFL’s top defense.
“I thought the team needed me, the whole locker room needed me this week,” McAdoo said. “I was able to give all of myself to the men in that locker room.”
The Giants led 20-3 midway through the fourth quarter when the Broncos (3-2) made one last push at a comeback. After a 37-yard pass-interference penalty against Jenkins, the Giants kept them out of the end zone on four successive plays.
On third-and-goal from the 5, cornerback Ross Cockrell made a tackle on Bennie Fowler III just inches from the end zone. Then, on fourth-and-goal from inside the 1, Jason Pierre-Paul and Jenkins made initial contact on C.J. Anderson before Landon Collins and Damon Harrison pushed him backward for the turnover on downs.
The Broncos added a touchdown with 4:07 left to make it 20-10, but Roger Lewis Jr. fielded the onside kick and Aldrick Rosas kicked a 40-yard field goal, his third of the game, in the final minute.
Earlier, Jenkins stepped in front of a pass from Trevor Siemian to Fowler on third-and-10 for an interception. He returned it 43 yards for the Giants’ first defensive TD of the season with 48 seconds left in the first half for a shocking 17-3 lead.
The play capped a half in which the Giants looked about as confident and competent on offense as they had all season despite the loss of their top three wide receivers to injury. The Giants worked around that situation by attempting only 19 passes all game and only six to their wide receivers. Those six accounted for two completions and 22 yards.
Orleans Darkwa ran for a career-high 117 yards on 21 carries and Engram had five catches for 82 yards, including a 5-yard TD.
His friends may have jumped ship on the Giants, but maybe they at least kept him active on their fantasy teams.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be a real pretty football game, but that’s our style,” McAdoo said. “That’s how we feel like we have to win: physically, heavy-handed with a lot of messes on the field. And I liked it.”
For the first time this season, the Giants gave everyone something to like.