It’s only customary to throw logic out the window, which may explain why the New York Giants are now in first place in the NFC East.
A 19-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals (2-8-1) catapulted the Giants to the top spot in the division despite their 4-7 record, which was saved by a Jabaal Sheard strip-sack and recovery by Leonard Williams in the final minute, saving Joe Judge’s side from a monumental collapse that saw them leading by nine with under four minutes remaining.
But even with the good, there comes an ounce of bad, which is customary in 2020, as starting quarterback Daniel Jones left the game in the third quarter after injuring his hamstring, forcing the Giants to see out their victory with veteran backup Colt McCoy at the helm.
While McCoy was very much a non-factor, the Giants defense was responsible for seeing out a third-straight victory that turned into a battle of the backup quarterbacks.
The Bengals began the rest of their 2020 season without stud rookie quarterback Joe Burrow on Sunday, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week against the Washington Football team.
In stepped journeyman quarterback Brandon Allen, who was held to just 136 yards with a touchdown and interception during his fourth career start and his first of 2020.
Sparked by a 53-yard connection from Jones to tight end Evan Engram, the Giants hung up a touchdown on their opening drive, which was capped off by a Wayne Gallman one-yard score on a 4th-&-Goal. It was Gallman’s sixth touchdown in the last five games.
Their lead lasted just nine seconds when Brandon Williams returned the ensuing kick-off 103 yards untouched — the longest play in franchise history — straight up the middle to tie things up in a flash.
The Giants dominated the offensive stat sheet, outgaining the Bengals 163-28 over the first 20 minutes of the afternoon, but couldn’t find a way to get ahead.
Engram ended a promising, methodical Giants drive that went 58 yards on 12 play deep into Bengals territory when he fumbled the ball away on the 15-yard-line following an 18-yard completion. Cincinnati nabbed three points off the turnover, taking the lead with 3:32 to go in the half.
New York managed to tie things up just before the break on the next drive as Graham Gano — fresh off the reserve/COVID list — hit his 21st-straight field goal this season with 21 seconds to go.
The tying kick was little consolation for a Giants team that outgained the Bengals 223-66 in the opening 30 minutes.
After forcing a Bengals punt to start the second half, the Giants took the lead with Gano’s 22nd-straight field goal with Engram playing a starring role yet again. His 44-yard reception down the left sideline put the Giants in scoring position but it came at a price, as Jones suffered a right leg injury just three plays later.
In stepped backup quarterback Colt McCoy, who lost nine yards and nearly had a pass intercepted to stymie the drive and force the kicking unit out to salvage things.
Jones was back on the field for the Giants’ next drive after forcing a Bengals punt but only lasted one pass attempt when he came up holding his hamstring following an incompletion to Engram.
With the Giants’ offense losing their general, their defense came up big after the Bengals successfully ran a fake punt to gain some momentum in their own territory. But linebacker Niko Lalos — a Dartmouth product who was elevated to the first-team on Sunday — came up with a diving interception to give the Giants possession in dangerous territory after Allen’s short pass was tipped.
With the McCoy-led offense doing little, the field position was good enough for another Gano field goal to put the Giants up six early in the fourth quarter.
The Giants defense continued coming up big, forcing a fumble from tight end Drew Sample that recovered by Logan Ryan to give New York possession on Cincinnati’s 19-yard-line with 4:12 remaining. McCoy could only take 14 seconds off the clock, but Gano’s fourth field goal of the day made it a two-possession game.
It was an imperative three points as the Bengals finally answered with a 72-yard drive in just 1:21, fueled by a roughing-the-passer and pass-interference penalty, to make it a two-point game with 2:33 to go.
The Giants looked as though they iced the game by picking up a first down just after the two-minute warning — a screen from McCoy to Wayne Gallman — but Fleming’s holding call left the door open for the Bengals, which swung wide after Alex Erickson’s 29-yard return brought it to midfield.
On the first play of the drive inside the final minute, though, the Giants defense saved the day, strip-sacking Allen to cement their spot atop the division.