Giants under-equipped defense becomes dominant performance
Premature fireworks went off atop MetLife Stadium, but the Giants defense had yet to officially close out the win.
Somewhere in the middle of the side eight thrown in the final game, as the Chicago Bears went from sideline to sideline in desperation, the person responsible for lighting the fuse thought the game was over. The defense didn’t flinch, however, and there was no rest until rookie Dane Belton cradled the loose fly ball that ended a wild 20-12 win over the Bears.
« I thought, ‘Thank God it’s over,' » Belton said. « I was exhausted. »
The Giants recorded six sacks from mobile quarterback Justin Fields, held dynamic sophomore running back Khalil Herbert to 77 rushing yards and did not allow a touchdown for the first time in 14 games, stiffening during of three trips to the red zone. They forced two takeaways, with the future front pair combining on one and Belton’s fumble recovery representing the other.
“We knew we needed turnovers,” safety Xavier McKinney said. « We pointed it out and we did it. »
As the Bears drove and threatened to take a second quarter lead, Azeez Ojulari fired Fields as the quarterback’s empty hand moved forward. Most players on both sides reacted as if it was an incomplete pass, but Kayvon Thibodeaux rushed for the ball. Officials hunkered down and ruled it a fumble.
« I didn’t know it was a fumble, » Thibodeaux said. “Because he went forward, it’s usually not a fumble. But that’s instinct and that’s what we train: if a ball is on the ground, pick it up, and if it’s open, they’ll give it to us rather than leave it there and give it back to them .
Thibodeaux and Ojulari both missed the first two games and were quiet in their season debuts. In fact, the entire pass rush amounted to just two quarterback hits against the Cowboys. So seeing the rookie first-round pick and second-year second-round pick at quarterback was like a glimpse of the future for McKinney, who said, « that’s what I envision them doing. »
Ojulari added: « We just executed the play the coach called and greatness happened. »
The Giants played the second half without starters Julian Love (concussion) and Aaron Robinson (knee) in high school. Jihad Ward (knee) limped off and returned, Ojulari (calf) limped off on the penultimate play and Thibodeaux (back) appeared injured after the game, although neither expressed major concerns for the coming.
And yet, the health of the defense was in better shape than the offense, which lost two quarterbacks. So the defense had to buckle down because overtime would have been a major advantage for the Bears.
« I think that’s the biggest part of what we do here at the Giants: everybody’s ready to play, » Thibodeaux said. « We all know it’s going to take us all. »
The biggest save was a third and 2 tackles from Tae Crowder – who had 10 tackles and a sack – to force a punt with 3:15 remaining. This essentially forced the Bears to rely on the fullbacks for their final possession.
« There’s no practice, » Belton said. “There is no you-have-this-man, you-have-that. It’s almost like pee-wee football and those backyard games that you play. It’s just about trying to get the ball and get it over with.