By Curt Macysyn
All’s well that ends well. The New York Football Giants won their third game in a row, as Big Blue welcomed back running back Andre Brown and rode another stellar defensive effort to a 24-20 victory over the Oakland Raiders in a raucous MetLife Stadium.
Brown, who came off of the injured reserve list earlier this week, carried the ball 30 times for 115 yards and one touchdown. But the sold out crowd at the Meadowlands must have had deja vu when Jerrel Jernigan fumbled the opening kickoff right into the hands of Andre Holmes, who returned it 22 yards down to the Giants five-yard line. Two plays later, Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor lunged over from one yard out to give Oakland a 7-0 lead.
The Giants drew even when their special teams came up with a big play, courtesy of two rookies. Damontre Moore pierced the line of scrimmage and blocked the Raiders Marquette King’s punt at the 38-yard line, and Cooper Taylor scooped up the ball in stride at the 21-yard line and returned it for a touchdown to tie the game at 7-7. Another Giants turnover, this time a Peyton Hillis fumble, handed another short field to the Raiders. Hillis lost the ball after catching a short dump off pass from Eli Manning, and Lamarr Houston recovered at the Giants 20-yard line. Fortunately, this time the Giants defense stiffened, so Oakland had to settle for a Sebastian Janikowski 33-yard field goal and a 10-7 lead after the first quarter.
The second quarter was the best of times and the worst of times for Giants quarterback Eli Manning. First, Manning hit Rueben Randle with a five-yard touchdown strike that concluded an 11-play, 90-yard drive. Andre Brown had five rushes for 27 yards on the drive, and New York took the lead 14-10. Later in the quarter, Manning locked onto Victor Cruz, and Raiders cornerback Tracy Porter stepped in front of Cruz to intercept Manning’s pass. Porter went untouched into the end zone from 43 yards out, and the Raiders went ahead 17-10 before halftime.
Earlier this season, the Manning interception would have deflated the Giants, but New York hung around, although Big Blue dodged a bullet when a long Raiders drive at the start of the second half stalled on New York’s six-yard line. Janikowski, who was nursing sore ribs, nailed his second field goal of the day and extend the Raiders lead to 20-14. But those were the last points that the Raiders would get, as Terrell Thomas thwarted a Raiders drive with an interception of Pryor at the Giants 30-yard line. Thomas returned the ball down to the Raiders five-yard line, where Andre Brown carried the ball in from a yard out to put New York in front 21-20.
Josh Brown booted a 23-yard field goal with eight minutes left in the fourth to extend the Giants lead to 24-20. Andre Brown broke the Raiders back, while carrying the Giants on his back as New York’s work horse ran out the clock on any thoughts of an Oakland comeback.
Offense Grade: B
Certainly Andre Brown’s effort (30 carries, 115 yards, 1 td) deserves an A+, as he showed no rust coming off of the injured list. Overall, the Giants rushed the ball 38 times for 133 yards, compared to 22 passing attempts for 140 yards. It was a return to Giants football. Brown’s comeback energized the offensive line, as the run blocking was as good as it has been all year. Manning hit Rueben Randle with a nice fade pattern for a touchdown, and Hakeem Nicks was targeted four times and caught four passes, which was certainly a positive.
Manning’s pick six by Tracy Porter could have been a back breaker, but New York’s defense stiffened when it needed to. Peyton Hillis also had a costly fumble that resulted in a field goal by the Raiders in the second quarter. With three turnovers in the game, New York avoided a massacre thanks to a Raiders offense – led by Terrelle Pryor – that is not incredibly potent.
Defense Grade: B
On the plus side, the Giants sacked Terrelle Pryor four times in the game, including Jason Pierre-Paul’s second sack of the season. Terrell Thomas’ third quarter interception and 65-yard return was the turning point of the game, and the Giants received a bit of serendipity when Thomas was ruled down on the five-yard line.
Antrel Rolle played an inspired game with 12 tackles and a quarterback sack, and the veteran safety has backed up his bold statements for the past several weeks. Defensive lineman Mathias Kiwanuka’s sack of Pryor in the fourth quarter caused a fumble that Cullen Jenkins recovered for the G-men. Kiwanuka has been invaluable for the Giants this season, as he spells Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul.
Overall, the Giants defense did not put up gaudy statistics in the game, but they constantly harassed Pryor in and out of the pocket. Pryor came into the game as Oakland’s leading rusher, but he was rarely able to get to the edge as New York’s defense was able to successfully string plays out along the line of scrimmage. Rashad Jennings ran hard and had 88 yards on the ground, but the Giants obviously were not going to let Pryor beat them.
Special Teams Grade: D
Damontre Moore is a beast. His ability to block punts is an asset that will be exploited in the future. Rookie Cooper Taylor showed great ball skills scooping up the blocked punt and returning it for his first NFL touchdown. Josh Brown hit three extra points and nailed his only field goal attempt. That sums up the special teams positives.
Jerrel Jernigan has been given ample opportunity to produce in the offense and on special teams. Poor ball security caused his fumble on the opening kickoff, and his ill-timed turnover put the G-men on their heels right out of the gate. Perhaps, rookie Michael Cox will be given an opportunity on kick returns next week.
Rueben Randle continues to run east-west on punt returns, instead of running north-south. Randle does not possess another gear which would allow him to get to the edge, so he needs to simplify his return strategy, although his 10-yard return average was good.
The kickoff return team allowed Taiwan Jones to return two kicks for 77 yards. Jones was able to break containment on both returns, which could have been costly to the Giants.
Punter Steve Weatherford suffered through a sub-par game with four punts for a 30.3 yard average. Weatherford was credited for a seven-yard punt that was partially blocked by the Raiders in the fourth quarter which could have been a game changer. Weatherford has been wildly inconsistent this year.
For more Giants news and updates, visit Giants Central.
Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past two seasons for Examiner.com. Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Curt has followed and covered the New York Metropolitan sports scene for 35 years. He attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, NJ and is a graduate of Rutgers University, New Brunswick. His work can be found on Examiner.com.