Now 6-3 on the 2016 season, Ben McAdoo’s New York Giants seem to finally have figured out this winning the close game thing.
The New York Giants victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night was largely important for several reasons.
For starters, New York keeps pace with Dallas in the NFC East, and kept hold of the top wild card spot in the NFC.
But the grind-it-out, come from behind, 21-20 victory in prime-time also solidified what is perhaps the biggest difference between the 2015 Giants and the 2016 Giants.
This team can win the close one. This team can stop teams in the fourth quarter, and hold onto victory.
Last season, blowing fourth quarter leads was all too common. The Giants blew a whopping five 4th quarter leads in the 2016 season, each one as demoralizing as the last.
Against the Cowboys, the Giants had a 98.9% chance to win when up ten in the fourth quarter. They had a 97.6% chance to beat the Falcons, 96.4% against the Saints, and 99.4% against the Jets. They were up by ten points in all of those games, and lost all of them.
To summarize, blowing fourth quarter leads was the story of the season, and ultimately played a key role in the firing of head coach Tom Coughlin and the $100 million spending spree this summer on defensive players.
The crazy thing is, it’s worked: despite a -8 turnover differential, and a -2 point differential for the entire season (the Giants have been outscored by two points this season through eight games), they are 6-3, and in with a great chance at a Wild Card berth, and an outside shot at the NFC East title.
New York’s win margins this year have been paper thin: they beat Dallas by 1, New Orleans by 3, Baltimore by 4, Los Angeles by 7, Philadelphia by 5, and Cincinnati by 1. In all of those games, the defense had key fourth quarter stands to preserve victories– in particular, Baltimore and Philadelphia were right on the doorstep of the end zone before the Giants defense held firm and stopped them from scoring the go ahead touchdown.
They denied the Cowboys a chance to get in field goal range in the final minute of regulation. They shut down the explosive Bengals offense, only up a point in the closing minutes, and ran out the clock.
Has New York been convincing this year? Not really. The Giants have not put together a complete game, and have been unable to blow out any opponent– again, their largest margin of victory was seven points.
What is important, however, is how they’ve been able to finish games. Despite an underperforming offense, Eli Manning and company have been able to put together the key drive late in games. On Monday Night, needing a touchdown to take the lead, Eli strung together an impressive drive, and converted a fourth and goal, tossing a strike to rookie Sterling Sheppard. A year ago, I’m not sure Eli makes that throw.
I’m almost certain that a year ago, the Giants defense is not smothering Andy Dalton on third and fourth down to ice the game. Olivier Vernon‘s emphatic sack– only his third as a Giant– could be a defining moment in New York’s season.
Special teams could be an issue. Eli is still turning the ball over. The running game, despite finally showing up against the Bengals, remains a glaring weakness. The pass rush can still improve. Key players, such as Victor Cruz and Justin Pugh, remain injured. Dallas has won eight straight and is pulling away with the division. The Giants still have allowed more points than they have scored, and they still have committed eight more turnovers than they have forced.
Yet, despite all of this, their newfound ability to win the close game, and stop opposing offenses (and good ones, at that) in the fourth quarter has Giants fans and players beginning to believe. Sure, it hasn’t been convincing. But at 6-3, do the Giants really care all that much?
Not too sure they do.
With two games upcoming against the struggling Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns, New York are presented with a brilliant opportunity to win a couple of games in a comfortable manner.
But even if those come down to the fourth quarter, the Giants defense has the confidence and the swagger to close it out and seal the victory.
And that, above all else, is why this Giants team is different than last years.