By Ernie Palladino
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You get the idea that nothing is ever going to be pretty in this Giants season.
Even when facing a totally beatable team like the Oakland Raiders, with their gimpy rookie quarterback Terrelle Pryor, it’s a tough go. And were it not for a defense that has started to play close to its former high level, the Giants might have been talking about a lost season Sunday night.
Instead, they were breathing as easy as a 3-6 team can after a 24-20 escape job.
Were it not for a third-quarter goal line stand — sort of — that forced the Raiders to settle for a field goal after 14 plays and more than eight minutes worth of drive, they would have lost. And they still might have picked up that seventh setback had it not been for Terrell Thomas’ 65-yard interception return to the Oakland 5 right after that drive.
Andre Brown’s touchdown off that possession gave the Giants a 21-20 lead. And Josh Brown pushed it to 24-20 with his fourth-quarter field goal off their own failed penetration to the Raiders’ 2.
It’s what came before those points that made this so ugly. Eli Manning threw yet another pick-six, his third of the season. Special teams let down again on the opening kickoff when Jerrel Jernigan fumbled it away, leading to a Raiders’ touchdown two plays later.
And there was Peyton Hillis’ fumbled pass reception recovered on the 21 that turned into a field goal. In fact, the only points the Raiders didn’t score off turnovers came on Sebastian Janikowski’s 24-yard field goal at the end of that long third-quarter drive.
But there is where the Giants’ defense turned beautiful, at least for one play. On first-and-goal from the 1, Jacquian Williams and Jason Pierre-Paul converged on Rashad Jennings in the middle to stop him in his tracks. The hole was there, and Jennings was all set to make one cut and put the Raiders up by 10. But the two Giants, one young enough for speed, the other slowly returning to health after back surgery, plugged the hole.
The rest of that drive was all on the Raiders. Pryor threw incomplete to the back of the end zone, and then Khalif Barnes jumped prematurely to knock the ball back five yards.
And then Jon Beason chased Pryor out of the pocket, forcing a lame, incomplete throw that brought on Janikowski.
A touchdown there would have had the Giants singing a different tune; more dirge than Hosanna.
“We always talk about, give us a yard,” Justin Tuck said afterward. “It’s our job to make sure they don’t score. Today we kind of had some opportunities to prevent some scores and did a good job of it.”
The defense rose up again in the closing minutes as Mathias Kiwanuka strip-sacked Pryor. Cullen Jenkins covered it, Brown ran five times for 20 tough yards two first downs, and Manning knelt in victory, and probably a little in prayer.
The lamentations may still come. There are still seven games to go, and this, as has been proved since the season’s outset, is not a great Giants team defensively, and absolutely horrible offensively. And that’s even with Brown’s 115 yards on 30 carries in his 2013 debut after breaking his leg in the preseason.
For now, the Giants pulled an escape act. Such is life at MetLife Stadium in 2013. Struggle against a bad team and win. Take your chances against the good ones.
Only one thing is for certain. It will not get pretty.
Then again, division races aren’t decided on looks and personality. Wins are all that count.
And right now, thanks to the varied weaknesses of the NFC East, these ugly men in blue are still in it.
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