EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ — A beautiful mid-October day for football — not too hot, not too windy at MetLife Stadium.
And the 4-1 Giants took the field against star quarterback Lamar Jackson and the 3-2 Ravens. Following two straight wins (over the Bears and Packers) in Weeks 4 and 5, head coach Brian Daboll’s crew needed to strap in for its biggest test of the year.
And while it wasn’t pretty, great coaching prevailed once again for these Giants, who improved to 5-1 with a 24-20 victory.
Those who bet the over weren’t exactly thrilled through the first quarter. There were only three possessions during the opening frame, none of which resulted in points. Both teams punted once while Ravens placekicker Justin Tucker missed a 56-yard attempt — his first miss of the year — toward the end of the quarter.
The Giants and Ravens entered the second deadlocked at zero, with the two teams having combined for only 116 total yards (94 from the Ravens, 22 from the Giants).
Then, Baltimore found a spark. Early in the second quarter, Jackson led an eight-play, 89-yard drive that encompassed four first downs and a 30-yard touchdown run for Kenyan Drake. The Giants’ defense was left flatfooted, Jackson was three-for-four for 39 yards on the drive, and Tucker’s extra point made it 7-0 Ravens.
The Giants needed a quick response to keep up with the powerful Ravens offense, and put together a productive drive following a Gary Brightwell kickoff return to New York’s 47-yard line.
Big Blue picked up a trio of first downs to enter the red zone, with passes to receiver Darius Slayton, running back Matt Breida, and receiver Wan’Dale Robinson. Then, on a third down from Baltimore’s five-yard line, Jones hit Robinson coming to the left side, and the rookie had a clear lane to the end zone for his first career score. After missing four straight games with a knee injury, Robinson came up big, and Graham Gano’s ensuing extra point tied the score at seven apiece with 3:31 remaining in the first half.
But the Ravens wouldn’t go away before the two teams entered the locker room. After getting the ball back, Baltimore converted three first downs, including a 31-yard run for Drake and two 16-yard passes to tight end Mark Andrews. But the Giants’ secondary prevailed, forcing three straight incompletions deep in its own territory. Baltimore settled for three by way of a 34-yard field goal from Tucker to take a 10-7 lead at halftime.
New York started the second half with the ball but two bad throws from Jones led to a punt. Then, one of the worst drives of the season for Wink Martindale’s defense ensued. The Ravens took over at their own 31-yard line and converted first downs on four straight plays to reach New York’s five-yard line. The secondary didn’t break, though — after three straight incompletions (including a near-pick from cornerback Fabian Moreau in the end zone), the Ravens settled for a 23-yard Tucker field goal. Baltimore thus extended its lead to 13-7 near the midway point of the third quarter.
Saquon Barkley came alive and had a full workload on the following drive. The fifth-year Giants back carried the ball seven times for 39 yards on the drive and also caught a pass for another four yards. The Giants set themselves up with a first-and-goal at the Ravens’ 10-yard line, but an incomplete pass and sack led to Big Blue settling for another Gano field goal. The 34-yard boot cut the Ravens’ lead to 13-10, a mark that held up entering the final frame.
It wasn’t long until Jackson and Co. went right back at this Martindale defense, however. After taking over at their own 25-yard line following a touchback on the kickoff, the Ravens converted four first downs and ran all over the Giants’ defense. Jackson took a zone-read keeper for 25 yards on the opening play of the drive before Drake added 27 yards on four carries to enter the red zone.
Then on a 2nd-and-8 from the Giants’ 12-yard line, Jackson hit Andrews on a fade to the back of the end zone over Moreau. The subsequent extra point put the Ravens up 20-10 with nearly 13 minutes to play.
If the Giants have ever needed a touchdown, it was on the following possession. Thankfully, the offense stumbled upon another spark. To top off a 12-play, 75-yard drive that included four first downs, Jones found one of his favorite targets — tight end Daniel Bellinger — off a play-action roll-out. The rookie was open in the end zone for an eight-yard score, his third touchdown of the year. With another successful Gano kick, the Giants were within three with 6:01 remaining in regulation.
The Ravens retained possession and needed a big score to put the game away. But on a 3rd-and-5 at their own 40 following an illegal formation penalty, a bad shotgun snap recovered by Jackson led to a desperation heave and the Giants’ first interception of the year. Julian Love picked off the pass and returned it to the Ravens’ 13-yard line.
After two plays, the Giants had a 3rd-and-3 from the Baltimore six-yard line. A pass to the end zone for Slayton was picked off but negated by a blatant Ravens pass interference. From there, all the Giants needed to do was punch it in from the one-yard line. Barkley got the job done with his fourth rushing touchdown of the year and the Giants took their first lead of the day at 1:43 left in regulation. Gano’s extra point made the score 24-20.
The Giants’ defense, which had struggled for much of the day, needed one more stop on what was their biggest possession of the season thus far.
First down from the Ravens’ 25: incompletion
Second down: a strip-sack for rookie outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux, with Leonard Williams making the recovery at the Ravens’ 13-yard line.
The Giants just needed to run the clock out for a third straight victory. Two consecutive run plays and a first down for Barkley forced the Ravens to use their remaining timeouts. Then, Jones proceeded to kneel on it twice, with the clock hitting triple-zero and New York improving to 5-1.
Some thoughts on the big Giants victory:
Welcome to the league. Wan’Dale Robinson hadn’t seen the field since the season opener due to a knee injury. He was finally back Sunday and proved he can provide this receiving corps with a spark if Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney aren’t going to stay healthy. Robinson caught Jones’ second-quarter touchdown pass (his first career touchdown) and finished with three catches for 37 yards.
If Golladay and/or Toney are going to remain out (we’ll see if an injured reserve placement is in order for either), Giants fans should expect more of Robinson, a second-round draft pick out of Kentucky.
Run defense improvements. The Giants’ defense entered this game with a huge task: stop a Lamar Jackson-led Ravens rushing attack that was seventh in the NFL coming into Week 5.
Martindale’s squad did not answer the call, even with defensive lineman Leonard Williams returning from injury after a three-game absence. The Ravens finished with a whopping 211 rushing yards on 25 carries (8.44 yards per carry).
If the Giants are going to limit the impact of Jaguars running backs James Robinson and Travis Etienne next Sunday, Martindale will need to right the wrongs in practice this coming week.