By Steve Silverman
It is December and the Giants are starting to play good football.
They have won three of their last four games, and even though two of those victories came against the dregs of the NFL in 49ers and Bucs, there was nothing cheap about a victory over the resurgent Bears. While the Giants made some key mistakes that sent the game to overtime, they were the more prepared team at both the start of the game and the extra session.
Chicago has built a decent lead in the NFC North, and on Sunday they appeared to be taking the Giants lightly. They sat No. 1 quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with a shoulder injury, but Trubisky was on the field at MetLife Stadium throwing the ball and testing his shoulder before the game. He did not look overly encumbered.
If this had been a playoff game, it would have been all hands on deck, but the Bears decided to give their quarterback another week of rest since they were “only” playing the Giants.
That’s a level of arrogance that no emerging team should have. Rookie head coach Matt Nagy has gotten excellent grades for turning this team around and leading them to some eye-opening performances, but when you take it that far by deeming an opponent unworthy of fielding your best team, it opens things up to many questions.
Of course, nobody on the Bears said anything disparaging about the Giants, but their actions spoke louder than any of their words.
While the Bears were taking it easy, the Giants shed their tentative ways and came out with an aggressiveness that hasn’t been seen in a very long time. Alec Ogletree picked off a pass on the second play from scrimmage and took it to the house to give the home team an early advantage.
It’s hard to tell who was more stunned by that development – the Giants or the Bears. While the Giants have been off to much better starts against the Niners, Bucs and Eagles, this was simply a statement that told the visitors they were in for a battle.
The Bears have gotten off to sharp starts under Nagy, but backup quarterback Chase Daniel is not as athletic or effective as Trubisky, and the Giants seemed to realize that after they had a chance to study the game tape of the Bears’ Thanksgiving Day victory over the Lions.
That’s how good teams prepare for games. They don’t just watch video of their opponents for the exercise of it. They play the role of detective when observing to find areas that can be exploited or avoided. Once they do that, it’s up to the players to execute.
That’s what Ogletree did, as he added a second interception. The Giants had other contributors, including Eli Manning, who threw for 170 yards and a touchdown, and did just enough to put a little fear in the Bears.
Saquon Barkley showed off all of his skills with his 125-yard effort that included a 29-yard run on the first play of overtime that helped set up Aldrick Rosas’s game-winning field goal. Barkley had a number of huge plays that left the Bears’ defense with their tongues wagging and their jock straps somewhere in the middle of the MetLife parking lot.
Odell Beckham did his job too, as he caught a TD pass and also threw one that helped give the Giants control of the game. On the flip side, he helped make the game exciting when he failed to make a move for Chicago’s onside kick, and the Bears’ recovery led to the tying touchdown.
But that mistake was not a fatal flaw, because Janoris Jenkins knocked away a last-ditch pass by Daniel that clinched the game in the extra session.
The Giants are suddenly playing respectable football after two bad months to start the season. There has been improvement, particularly by the offensive line and a defense that must have gotten tired of hearing all the criticism.
There will be no postseason rewards this season, but the Giants are learning quite a bit about themselves right now, and they may have some legitimate areas of strength that they can count on when they start preparing for the 2019 season.
It must continue next week when the Giants go to Washington to take on the vulnerable Redskins.