Backup Ryan Nassib threw three touchdowns in the second half and the Giants went on to defeat the Jets in the annual MetLife Bowl, 35-24. The Giants improved to 4-0 this preseason with a game remaining against New England.
>> WATCH HIGHLIGHTS FROM GIANTS VS. JETS
“That last drive in the first half was very welcomed, obviously,” coach Tom Coughlin said. “It put the score at 10-7, but it also gave us the idea that we could move the ball; we were in a two-minute mode. Eli made some great plays. Rueben Randle hooked up for the touchdown, which was obviously a good thing.”
“We converted, guys ran good routes, we got completions, checked to a few plays and won on some third downs,” Manning said. “We finally got into a pretty good rhythm and everything just worked instead of always having something go wrong or a penalty or a sack or something to back us up and keep us from sustaining drives. We were able to stay out of harm’s way and make some plays.”
The starters had made too few of them in the first three games, when they accounted for only two touchdowns and made punter Steve Weatherford one of the busiest players on the team. The unit has been subjected to persistent criticism in the media, and Coughlin challenged his first team to do more.
They responded with their best all-around performance of the summer. The running game was strong with Rashad Jennings rushing for 67 yards on 13 carries. “I thought we ran the ball pretty good early in the ballgame,” Coughlin said. Manning’s protection was better. But the true highlight was the two-minute drive at the end the half, which could be the catalyst the team has needed as it targets the regular-season opener in Detroit on Sept. 8.
Manning’s seven completions on the drive included three to Jerrel Jernigan – who needed a personal boost as much as the team – three to Victor Cruz and the score to Randle.
>> INSTANT ANALYSIS: GIANTS 35, JETS 24
“Yes, it is definitely a sign of progress,” Manning said. “I thought there were some good things. We still have to get better. There are still too many mistakes and too many times we are having a penalty or a sack or something that just keeps us instead of going forward, we were going backward on some plays and you get bad down and distance.”
The Giants did get a huge break on the drive after Manning threw an ill-advised pass to Cruz that was intercepted by cornerback Kyle Wilson. But all turnovers are subject to review and when replay official Bob McGrath looked at the play, it was evident that Wilson had stepped out of bounds and caught the ball without re-establishing himself on the field. That is illegal, so the play was ruled an incomplete pass.
Asked what he would do with another chance at that play, Manning said, “Just throw it away. Not force anything there if there is nothing there. Just throw it out of bounds and go onto the next play.”
Jennings gained seven yards and Manning’s pass for Cruz fell incomplete, setting up a third-and-three at the Jets’ 36. Manning flipped a short pass that Cruz turned into an 18-yard gain. Three plays later – and immediately after Brandon Mosley’s false start penalty – Manning hit Randle for the much-needed score that seemed to energize the entire team.
Cruz said the drive was exactly how the two-minute offense is supposed to operate in coordinator Ben McAdoo’s scheme.
“I think it’s supposed to be plays that move the ball down the field efficiently in a smart way,” Cruz said, “a mixture of runs and pass, in order to keep the defense off balance, and I think we did that.”
To those who had criticized the offense, it seemed the proverbial monkey had been shed from the collective back of the offensive unit. But Manning wasn’t buying it.
“No, (I’m) not concerned at this point,” Manning said. “I know we have to keep working and keep getting better. It is not where it needs to be, but I thought there was progress in today’s game. We are going to keep working. It’ll be better and better as things go on and hopefully it will be better next week and better for that opening game. We should be in a better situation. It is not going to be complete at that point. We are going have to continue to make improvements throughout the season.”
But now they have a foundation to build on.