There had been 31 NFL games to ever take place in London heading into the weekend. Giants at Packers — the 32nd — commenced Sunday at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
And it was the first-ever London NFL game where each team entered with a winning record. That’s right. An absurd tidbit of information — and an absurd game ensued, with the Giants winning a 27-22 thriller to improve to 4-1.
It didn’t look great in the first quarter, however.
The Packers and star quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the league’s two-time reigning MVP, went to work early on a shorthanded Giants defense. Wink Martindale’s unit was without starting cornerback Aaron Robinson and defensive lineman Leonard Williams, and Green Bay took advantage.
An early 46-yard field goal from placekicker Mason Crosby on the opening possession was followed by a six-play, 60-yard scoring drive and a four-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to receiver Allen Lazard. The score was set up by a 33-yard defensive pass interference penalty by safety Xavier McKinney on Packers tight end Robert Tonyan. Following a Crosby extra point, the Packers were quickly up 10-0 in the opening frame.
The Giants got on the board right before the end of the quarter though. After two first downs and a holding penalty by rookie tight end Daniel Bellinger, the Giants failed to reach the end zone but were in position for a 48-yard Graham Gano field goal to cut the Packer lead to 10-3.
Rodgers is still Rodgers, though. Despite a weak receiving unit, and no more Davante Adams in Green Bay, the future Hall of Famer can still cook.
The 38-year-old led a 13-play, 75-yard drive that included five first downs, a wide-open touchdown pass to tight end Marcedes Lewis at the goal line, and an absolutely cooked Giants secondary. Green Bay took a 17-3 lead midway through the second quarter.
Daniel Jones, in pain from an ankle injury, responded. The Giants started from their own 14-yard line after a short Gary Brightwell kick return. But a 40-yard Saquon Barkley run and two first-down catches by Darius Slayton set the Giants up for a double-reverse touchdown run by Bellinger. With 1:15 remaining in the half, Gano’s extra point made it 17-10 in favor of Green Bay.
While the Giants’ defense then allowed Rodgers into New York territory on the following drive, two incomplete passes and a great third-down tackle-for-loss by safety Julian Love held the Packers to a field goal. The Giants entered the locker room down 20-10.
Scoring in the third quarter was bleak except for a 37-yarder from Gano on the opening possession following an 11-play, 56-yard drive that lasted just over seven minutes.
But then, possibly the Giants’ best drive of the season ensued. Starting at the end of the third quarter and into the fourth, Jones and Co. went 91 yards on 15 plays, keeping Rodgers off the field for over eight minutes. Without Barkley (who left with a shoulder injury before returning later) for much of the drive, Jones was 7-for-8 and Gary Brightwell capped things off with a two-yard touchdown run. Gano’s ensuing PAT tied the score at 20.
This incredibly well-coached team wasn’t done. After a three-and-out stand, Jones led another great drive that ended with a two-yard touchdown run for Barkley out of the Wildcat formation. Big Blue took a 27-20 lead with 6:08 left in regulation.
Giants fans weren’t relaxing just yet. Not even close. Because as we said earlier, Rodgers is still Rodgers.
And the all-time great went to work, completing passes to Tonyan, Lazard, and receivers Randall Cobb, and Romeo Doubs to move to the Giants’ 15-yard line at the two-minute warning.
After two inside handoffs to Aaron Jones, the Packers were set up with a 3rd-and-2 at the Giants’ six-yard line, in obvious four-down territory. A third-down pass was then deflected at the line. The fourth-down pass: same thing. McKinney came on the blitz and knocked the ball away on the biggest play of the game.
The Giants took over deep in their own territory with a minute left and proceeded to take three kneel-downs. Green Bay took its last two timeouts on the first two plays.
Then on 4th-and-14, punter Jamie Gillan smartly took a safety to punt from the 20-yard line.
Down 27-22, Rodgers had one last potential trick in his bag: the infamous ability to execute a Hail Mary. But he couldn’t escape the Giants’ pass rush and was strip-sacked by outside linebacker Oshane Ximines. Green Bay fell on the ball but the game was over.
The Giants have won their second straight and are now 4-1. Just like we all drew it up.
Some thoughts on the win:
Okay, Slay. The Giants finally got wide receiver Darius Slayton involved. Well, they didn’t really have much of a choice. With various injuries throughout the receiving corps, the Giants needed to see what they can get out of the fourth-year receiver.
He answered the call.
Slayton led the team with six catches for 79 yards and showed he can at least produce within this offense if guys like Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, and Wan’Dale Robinson aren’t going to stay healthy.
If the injury woes continue, expect Slayton to keep finding a role because Richie James and David Sills certainly can’t do it all.
Statement game. Safety Julian Love exited last week’s win over Chicago with a concussion but recovered in time for Sunday’s game. And he didn’t disappoint, making a statement for this defense.
Love finished with six total tackles and asserted his presence in the run-defending department.
In a banged-up secondary that seemingly deals with injuries each and every week (starting cornerback Adoree’ Jackson suffered knee and neck injuries Sunday), Love needs to bring his best effort weekly. In the long run, that could also show general manager Joe Schoen he’ll be worth retaining on a new contract. Love is set to be a free agent for the first time next offseason.
Rodger that. So it’s clear the Giants’ defense had its biggest test of the year thus far. In case you didn’t know, Aaron Rodgers is a better quarterback than Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill, Carolina’s Baker Mayfield, Dallas’ Cooper Rush, and Chicago’s Justin Fields.
And thanks to injuries (and Rodgers’ sheer talent), the secondary looked gassed on numerous occasions.
Coming into the day, the Giants were ranked eighth in the NFL with 191.3 passing yards allowed per game. But on Sunday, the unit allowed Rodgers to throw for 222 yards and two touchdowns on 25-of-39 passing.
Despite the victory and late-game surge, this unit must right the wrongs before facing Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, another one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks, next Sunday.
Daniel the franchise? The Giants still need to figure out whether Daniel Jones will be the team’s franchise quarterback after this season.
While the odds have been stacked against him from the start, the fourth-year passer surely made an argument for himself Sunday. In one of the best games of his career, Jones completed 21 of 27 throws for 217 yards and racked up 37 rushing yards on 10 carries. But most importantly, he engineered five scoring drives in a game when the Giants needed to keep up with a Rodgers-led Packers offense.
An incredible day for Jones, indeed.
Daboll’s difference. Joe Judge’s Giants would’ve lost by three possessions to that Packers team.
Not the case with Brian Daboll.
The rookie head coach has matched the number of wins the Giants had all of last year. With various injuries across the roster and hardly any receivers to work with, Daboll has put Jones in a position to succeed. More importantly, he’s found ways to win games despite the lack of talent at his disposal.
The energy around this organization has changed for the better. A complete 180 from the Dave Gettleman-Joe Judge era.
After failed experiments with three straight head coaches, the Giants have their guy.