The Giants entered Sunday’s game coming off a bye, but from the start it looked as if they were still on vacation.
Judging by their tight 20-17 win, it appeared the Giants (5-2) were almost bored in facing a Dolphins (0-7) team starving for its first win. It wasn’t until the 5:58 mark of the fourth quarter that the Giants took their first lead of the game when Eli Manning found Victor Cruz for a 25-yard touchdown reception on 3rd-and-13. The young wideout broke a tackle and raced to the end zone, capping a six-play, 53-yard drive with his patented end zone salsa dance.
But up until that point, it was the Dolphins who were dancing around Big Blue. They sucked the life out of both the Giants and the home crowd with multiple methodical drives. Miami struck first when little-used running back Steve Slaton scampered in from the one-yard line for the quick 7-0 lead on the Dolphins’ second possession. Miami then set another watershed mark in their miserable season by scoring touchdowns on consecutive drives for the first time all season to take a shocking 14-3 lead midway through the second quarter. That score culminated a 12-play, 90-yard drive that gave the Giants’ faithful that all-too-familiar feeling of their team playing down to the competition.
New York snapped out of its funk by immediately responding on their ensuing drive when Manning hit Manningham on a seven-yard fade with eight seconds remaining in the first half to cut the deficit to 14-10. They showed their resiliency by marching 84 yards on 13 plays to close out the half.
Manning was near-flawless for the second-straight week as he went 31-of-45 for 349 yards and two touchdowns in rallying the Giants from an 11-point first-half deficit. It was the second game in a row in which the hot-and-cold Manning didn’t commit a turnover.
He said the key to his performance was to treat the Dolphins’ defense with the same amount of respect as an elite team.
“When we prepare I don’t look at the opposing team’s record. I look at their scheme, what they do and what other teams have done against them,” Manning offered, adding he doesn’t mind when the gameplan falls on his shoulders. “[The Dolphins] did a lot of good things defensively that gave us some problems. We didn’t run the ball real well and had to throw it a little bit more than we wanted to but we’re capable of doing that.”
Head coach Tom Coughlin said he’d rather have offensive balance, but will take the win. He added he’ll look at the game as glass half-filled because a win is a win in this parity-driven league.
“I’m happy for the win. Our objective was to come out of here 5-2 and we are,” Coughlin said, noting the play of Manning as the catalyst. “Eli made some big plays, obviously, as we threw the ball a lot today. He gave us big plays when we had to have them and we had no turnovers for the second consecutive game.”
The Giants allowed the Dolphins to stay around longer than they were supposed to, as they fizzled multiple times inside the red zone. Instead of punching it into the end zone, New York had to rely upon a steady diet of Lawrence Tynes field goals to keep themselves within striking distance.
The running game disappointed again, as neither Ahmad Bradshaw nor Brandon Jacobs could get it going. Bradshaw finished with 50 yards on 13 carries, while Jacobs looked every bit as rusty as a guy who hadn’t carried the football since Week 4. Jacobs, who has been nursing a bum knee, tallied only 10 yards on four carries and fumbled once although he quickly recovered it.
Coughlin said everyone is to blame for the lousy rushing attack, but added they won’t quit calling running plays.
“We didn’t rush the ball well and it’s not one guy’s fault,” Coughlin said. “If you get a rhythm going, a lot of good things happen and we didn’t have a lot of rhythm with it today. [But] we are going to need it.”
Tynes and punter Steve Weatherford were often the Giants’ best offensive weapons. Weatherford had four punts that averaged 46.8 yards, including a long of 55 yards. It was his final punt that pinned the Dolphins inside their 15 for their final drive — an ill-fated journey that ended with a Corey Webster interception of Moore to seal the win. It was Webster’s third pick in his last two games.
Despite the half-hearted defensive showing for most of the game, the Giants finally turned up the pressure on the final two Dolphins drives to show their superiority.
Coughlin said while the defense didn’t set the world on fire, he was pleased they stepped up when they did. He added that the final two defensive series is what the defense needs to look more like going forward.
“We cranked it up because we had to at that time of the game. We needed to be put in position to put some heat on the quarterback at the end and we finally did that,” said Coughlin. “You play long enough and you start to figure out the guy in front of you. We created some very long yardage situations that way.”
New York finished with five sacks, including the first career sack from second-year defensive tackle Linval Joseph. Mathias Kiwanuka, who has rotated between starting strongside linebacker and situational pass-rushing defensive end, had 1.5 sacks to lead the way. As a unit, five different Giants defenders bagged Moore.
What went right ...
1. Cruzin’ to victory
Eli Manning found Cruz for a 25-yard touchdown reception on 3rd-and-13, with 5:58 remaining, to give the Giants their first lead. Manning found Cruz on a slant as the young wideout broke a tackle and raced to the end zone, capping a six-play, 53-yard drive, and avoiding the embarrassment of becoming the Dolphins’ first victim of the season.
2. Still the Mann
Manning continued his efficient play as he went 31-of-45 for 349 yards and two touchdowns, while surpassing the 300-yard plateau for the third time in his last four games. The sometimes inconsistent Manning also didn’t commit a turnover for the second-straight game.
3. Marshall, Marshall, Marshall
The Dolphins came into the game winless, but they didn’t lack offensive weapons, including wideout Brandon Marshall. But it was the maligned Giants secondary that held its own in corralling the Pro Bowler. Marshall was held to four catches and 55 yards, while the remaining Dolphin receivers were also held in check, totaling 83 yards on just nine catches.
What went wrong ...
1. Same old story
Despite having what many note as the best front four in the league, Big Blue had its troubles stopping the run. Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore came into the game with 25 career rushing yards, yet had 31 in this game alone, including a rushing touchdown. Bush, a former first-round pick, also showed his wares by rushing for a game-high 103 yards. It was just the second time that Bush surpassed the 100-yard mark in his six-year career. Add in the fact that Big Blue allowed little-used Steve Slaton to reach the end zone and it showed why the Giants weren’t their usual menacing self against the run.
2. Maybe he should’ve stayed out
The Giants not only had trouble stopping the run, but they also couldn’t generate a running game either. Neither Ahmad Bradshaw nor Brandon Jacobs, who was reinserted into the lineup after missing time with a bum knee, could muster anything on the ground. Bradshaw finished with 50 yards on 13 carries, but 18 of those came on one run, while Jacobs was even more anemic with four carries for 10 yards.
3. Less is Moore
Moore was once again a thorn in the side of the Giants’ defense for most of the game. He went 13-of-22 for 138 yards and a late pick, to go along with his 31 rushing yards. As a member of the Panthers in 2009, Moore was the main catalyst in closing out the Giants’ season at the old Giants Stadium with a stellar performance. He wasn’t that spectacular on Sunday, but he was extremely effective. Moore was slippery against the pass rush, escaping sure Giants sacks at least three times, and led multiple long drives, including a 90-yarder in the second quarter.
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.