A strong first-half showing and a staunch defense down the stretch was enough for the New York Giants to pick up their first win of the 2018 season, a 27-22 triumph over the Houston Texans on Sunday afternoon to avoid an 0-3 start.
It was abundantly clear early on that the Giants’ tweaked offensive line was providing quarterback Eli Manning and rookie running back Saquon Barkley with protection and open lanes to create.
New head coach Pat Shurmur opted to bench struggling right tackle Ereck Flowers for Chad Wheeler and the difference was extreme.
With time in the pocket, Manning threw a pair of touchdowns while completing 25-of-29 passes for 297 yards. The average of 10.2 yards per completion was almost double the average Manning had in Week 2 against the Cowboys when constant pressure forced the veteran to settle for dink-and-dump screen passes.
Despite picking up a knee bruise on his first play from scrimmage, Barkley didn’t miss a beat as he was given ample space to perform, recording 82 yards and a score on 17 carries along with five receptions for 35 yards.
The Giants defense, whose success had been lost in the 0-2 start, frustrated Deshaun Watson and the Texans (0-3) offense for much of the game.
While the second-year quarterback passed for 385 yards, he was sacked three times and threw an interception. It was one of two turnovers the Giants forced on the day.
Even more promising for the Giants was their rushing defense which allowed just 59 yards on the ground after coming into the game ranked second-worst in the league.
After a Texans field goal opened the game, Barkley provided a swift answer for the Giants, weaving and darting his way to a 15-yard touchdown rush to give New York its first lead of the season with 4:10 left in the first quarter. It was Wheeler who provided a key block on the outside during the play’s development to open up a huge lane for Barkley to exploit.
They continued pouring it on in the first half, scoring on all four possessions in the first half. A pair of Aldrick Rosas field goals preceded a 16-yard touchdown reception by backup tight end Rhett Ellison, who was called into action when Evan Engram was forced to leave the game in the second quarter after picking up a knee injury.
The Giants’ 20 points in the first half alone marked the third time in the past 13 games that New York hit the 20-point mark.
In the meantime, New York’s defense had little issues with Houston’s attack. After a 67-yard opening drive, the Giants limited the Texans to just 11 yards before a two-minute drill yielded another field goal at the half to make it 20-6.
The second half saw the Giants offense stall, punting on their first three possessions of the third quarter which gave the Texans a golden opportunity to get back in the game even earlier.
But the Giants defense came up big on two separate occasions to force Houston turnovers.
Defensive end Kerry Wynn stripped the ball from Houston running back Lamar Miller on the Giants 33-yard-line in the third quarter before linebacker Alec Ogletree picked off Watson in the end zone on the second play of the fourth.
They finally took advantage of the stalling Giants with 7:37 left in the fourth when Watson hit Will Fuller with a six-yard pass. The ensuing two-point conversion failed, holding the Texans back by five at 20-15.
The Giants put the game away though on the ensuing drive as Manning directed a nine-play, 77-yard drive that ended with a seven-yard third-and-goal conversion to Sterling Shepard in the front of the end zone.
While Manning went 6-for-6 on the drive, it capped off Shepard’s big day behind Odell Beckham Jr.’s nine-catch, 109-yard day as New York’s No. 2 receiver caught six passes for 80 yards.