The Giants offense left more questions than answers Monday night in the nation’s capital. Among the chief concerns, there were red-zone deficiencies.
Against the Saints — the NFL’s 30th-ranked defense entering today’s action — the Giants answered those questions .. at least for now .. with a 52-point outburst.
David Wilson starred in the role of hero Sunday afternoon, as a special teams ace and in his largest role at tailback so far this year.
The first-rounder out of Virginia Tech rushed 13 times for a season-best 100 yards and his second and third career rushing touchdowns. He did that while conquering the Saints’ kickoff squads, slicing them up for 227 yards, a Giants franchise record.
Altogether, Wilson accounted for 337 all-purpose yards, also a Giants franchise record. He was the first Giant to find the end zone on a rushing and return score since — you guessed it — 1948.
Though Wilson certainly does deserve a lot of credit for what he did offensively filling in for Ahmad Bradshaw, who battled injury for part of the first half, let’s temper expectations for the rookie who was facing the Saints’ spongy defense.
Anyhow, Wilson was not the only thing I liked this afternoon.
Welcome back to the show, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, who for the first time this season were both clicking on the same field at the same time.
Cruz led the way with eight receptions for 121 yards and a touchdown, while Nicks followed up with four grabs for 67 yards and a touchdown. Together, Cruz and Nicks are one of the most formidable receiver tandems in the NFL, and though Nicks is not 100 percent healthy, his increased role in recent weeks and the success he enjoyed today were positive signs going forward.
Eli Manning, who threw for four of the Giants’ six offensive touchdowns, seemed to correct the red zone issues I spoke of earlier. Last week, New York found the end zone just once.
Manning made a number of great throws, but there were many questionable ones as well.
Manning did throw two picks, and that number probably should be even higher given some of the throws he forced into coverage throughout the game. Manning did not lose the game for New York — OBVIOUSLY — but in a tighter game, those suspect throws could be difference-makers.
On the positive side, he targeted eight different receivers and threw touchdowns to his big four — Cruz, Nicks, Martellus Bennett and Domenik Hixon.
Bennett, who hauled in five passes for 82 yards against Washington Monday, caught five again and was the main culprit on third-downs and scoring drives. Hixon, who was returning from injury, totaled three receptions as the team’s third wide receiver.
WHAT’S AHEAD: A trip to the ATL is next, where the Falcons will be angry after their putrid performance against the lowly Panthers, not to mention their track record of failure when it comes to the G-Men.
The Falcons have a pair of talented safeties; Thomas DeCoud, in my view, is one of the most underrated safeties in the league. There’s also pass-rush aficionado John Abraham, who will likely be a thorn in Manning’s side all game.
Atlanta will be the fourth quality opponent the Giants will have faced since returning from the bye week. The Giants impressed today and against the Packers, and they were stopped in the tracks a week ago in Washington.
How they fare against a top-level NFC foe like the Falcons will be a telling sign of just where this team is.
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Technically, this drive began in the third. And it began with a bang — a 60-yard return from Wilson, in which he smashed a Giants team record (with 287 total return yards) as he set up his offense at the New Orleans 25-yard line.
And as the quarter came to an end, Big Blue was inside the Saints’ 15.
The Giants seem to want to run the ball — play keepaway, as they did for most of Monday night’s game — as the Saints offense has shown signs of life.
Just kidding. On the next play, it’s salsa time, as Manning finds Cruz on a B-line up the middle.
Giants back up, 42-27. Begs the question of New York Salsa Kings — Cruz or JR Smith?
A second Drew Brees interception — courtesy of Stevie Brown — again shifts momentum to the side of the Giants and again puts them in scoring range at the Saints’ 22 with just under 12 minutes to go in the game.
Clearly, this is the time to kill clock. But the Saints are well-prepared.
On third-down, Manning is again suspect in his read and nearly turns it back over to the Saints. No play is made; Giants settle for a field goal. Giants up 45-27 in this shootout.
Another Giants takeaway — this time a Stevie Brown interception on the Saints’ first play of the half — sets up the Giants offense inside New Orleans territory .. yet again.
Wilson lines up behind Manning to begin the drive, by the way. And on the first third-down situation of the second half, it’s Nicks — now lined up on the right side of the field — who converts to give New York a 1st-and-goal.
On 1st-and-goal, Wilson scores his second career rushing touchdown on a burst right up the gut. It’s his second score of the day (including the kickoff return) and 14 points off turnovers.
Giants 28, Saints 13.
Up by 15 early in the third quarter, the Giants look create even more separation. And they did so with the 1-2 punch of Nicks and Cruz, which finally appears to be in tune.
The Giants ran the ball with Wilson on their first two first-down situations. Manning found Nicks, who beat Robinson, 23 yards down the field. Then, he completed back-to-back passes to Cruz, including a critical third-down conversion.
The Giants broke the tendency, when on first-down Manning connected with Nicks on a fade into the end zone. Giants way out ahead, 35-13.
The lead now cut to 15 midway through the third quarter, and suddenly it’s a ball game again. Also, it’s now Bradshaw at running back for the G-Men.
Third-down does not appear to be an obstacle any longer, as Manning connected with Cruz for a 35-yard pickup to move the chains.
Takeaways, however, still seem to linger.
Manning, who threw an interception in the first quarter, threw No. 2 to safety Isa Abdul-Quddus, who played collegiately at Fordham.
Another splendid Wilson run-back gives the Giants excellent field position. This is going the complete opposite way than it did Monday night — bizzaro world?
Different game, but another recurrence of the Giants’ red-zone woes.
Bradshaw — on his second carry since returning from the sidelines — goes nowhere. On 2nd-down, Manning finds Bennett, but for a loss.
And on third-and-12, Manning’s pass to Nicks is broken up by Patrick Robinson. In sticking with the theme from Monday, Lawrence Tynes botches what was a makeable field goal.
Score remains 14-10, NY.
After the Saints settle for a 25-yard field goal, the Giants get the ball back with 1:52 to go to in the opening half. They begin their drive with all three timeouts in their back-pocket.
Bennett, who hauled in 5 passes for 82 yards, including a touchdown, against Washington, caught 3 — what should have been 4 — critical passes. The fourth — a 16-yard catch and run — was negated by a Bradshaw hold.
Off-setting penalties negated a long play down the sidelines by Nicks, but Manning bounced back with a 35-yard to completion to Cruz. Nicks, who is being shadowed by Robinson, is having difficulty getting passed Robinson, while Cruz is better able to take advantage of his match-up with Greet.
On 1st-and-goal, Manning tried the back-shoulder throw to Nicks. But despite contact between Nicks and Robinson, no flags were thrown.
On 2nd-and-goal, Manning finds Domenik Hixon on a fade into the Northeast corner of the red zone. And Hixon, in his return from injury, lifts the Giants to a 21-13 lead at the half.
If the Giants were looking to jumpstart the offense, David Wilson’s 44-yard kick return was a good first step. If they wanted to ease the mind of the coaches by starting their drive with a penalty, it was not a good first step.
Despite gaining a good chunk of yardage back with a pass to Victor Cruz, on third-down Eli Manning nearly delivered an interception to Jabari Greer. The pass break-up brings up fourth-down and a punt.
I guess there are such things as re-dos in football, as Marques Colston’s fumble gives the Giants offense possession in superlative field position at the Saints’ 45.
After five plays, the offense found itself in its second third-down situation. Last time in this situation (sit, for short), Manning nearly threw a pick. This time, he did!
Albert Mack jumped the out route and returned Manning’s pass 73 yards into the end zone, giving the Saints a 7-0 lead. Welp.
OK. Giants dodged a bullet there. They get to avoid another offensive possession thanks to Wilson’s 97-yard return touchdown. Close call, guys.
Upon Jed Collin’s fumble, the Giants offense gets rolling. Manning completed three passes, including a short one over the middle to tight end Martellus Bennett for the score. 14,7 Giants.
The Giants finally took advantage of their good field position. They have now matched their touchdown total from Monday night, but seem to have found their stride as a unit … early on, at least.
A busy first quarter for the Giants offense. With 2 minutes to go in the quarter, a Bradshaw-less Giants regain possession, though nothing transpires.
On the opening play, the Giants are called for offensive pass interference. On second-down, Manning’s pass was tipped and incomplete. And on third, Manning is nearly crushed after throwing the ball away. Three and out.