EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Dexter Lawrence, Julian Love and the Giants’ defense didn’t let Xavier McKinney’s bye week injury set a negative tone to start the second half of their 2022 season.
Lawrence dominated the line of scrimmage. Love made two touchdown-saving tackles. And Wink Martindale’s defense forced two straight red-zone turnovers in Sunday’s fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium to defeat the Houston Texans, 24-16.
Two Daniel Jones touchdown passes and a Saquon Barkley rushing TD gave the Giants (7-2) their first season with more than six wins since 2016, with eight games to play.
Barkley carried the ball 35 times for 152 yards and the score, hours after national media had reported that the Giants and Barkley’s reps had discussed a contract extension but tabled talks until after the season.
A playoff berth is on rookie head coach Brian Daboll’s horizon, even if they make none of these victories look easy. The Giants offense went quiet late after a 14-point third quarter outburst, putting it on the defense to finish the game.
Texans QB Davis Mills (319 passing yards) drove the ball easily down the field the entire second half, but Martindale’s unit was opportunistic when it mattered most.
Leonard Williams punched the ball out from rookie Texans running back Dameon Pierce, and linebacker Jaylon Smith recovered the fumble at the Giants’ 11. Love had made a touchdown saving tackle on Texans tight end Jordan Akins’ 44-yard reception just prior.
Then on the next drive, Lawrence drew a holding penalty on Texans guard Kenyon Green to negate Mills’ TD pass to Brandin Cooks. And rookie safety Dane Belton — McKinney’s replacement for the foreseeable future — intercepted Mills in the end zone for a touchback on the next play.
Lawrence pressured Mills on the interception to Belton. Lawrence was a terror all game at defensive tackle. He recorded a sack, five tackles, five QB hits, a tackle for a loss, and a pass defended.
The Texans managed two late Kai Fairbain field goals, one after an Oshane Ximines forced fumble was overturned to an incomplete pass. But Graham Gano made a 49-yarder with 1:55 remaining for the Giants, as well.
After a slow first half, the Giants’ offense erupted for 14 points in the third quarter to take a 21-10 lead into the fourth. Daboll benched Kenny Golladay for the entire second half after two drops in the first.
Jones hit Darius Slayton for a 54-yard touchdown for a 14-3 lead with 12:33 to play in the third. Slayton broke a Jalen Pitre tackle and got a good block from tight end Tanner Hudson down the left sideline. Jones delivered a timely ball under pressure.
Mills answered with a 12-yard TD pass to Nico Collins. Mills had 61 passing yards on the drive, almost double his 35 for the entire first half. That slimmed the Giants’ lead to 14-10 at 8:06 of the third.
But the Giants responded. Jones hit newcomer Isaiah Hodgins for a 26-yard completion on third down deep into Houston territory. Then Barkley punched in a 2-yard TD run with 2:21 left in the third and a 21-10 lead.
That gave the home team some refreshing breathing room in a tight game.
The Giants had led 7-3 at half. But Sunday’s frustrating first half felt a lot like last season: a conservative offensive approach, costly mistakes, and plenty of boos from the crowd despite strong play from the defense.
Daboll used a formation with eight offensive linemen several times in the first half and seemed to have little faith in the passing game. The plan looked a lot like last year’s Giants offense that was trying to protect itself from mistakes rather than attack.
Golladay drew fans’ ire with two drops on his two first-half targets, including a brutal one with 1:37 remaining in the first half, running free and wide open across the field.
Punter Jamie Gillan struggled pinning the Texans deep, putting one kick into the end zone and landing another short at the Texans’ 26, prompting loud boos.
The Giants also committed four first-half penalties: three on offense and one on defense. O-lineman Jack Anderson’s false start on 4th and 1 on the Texans’ 36 at the start of the second quarter forced a punt when Daboll was prepared to go for it.
That offset a stellar first-half defense, allowing 86 net Texans offensive yards, including 66 rushing to Pierce. Houston only picked up first-half points when Daboll tried to give interior D-lineman Lawrence a breather on the Texans’ fourth drive.
Pierce promptly broke free for a 44-yard run, tackled by Love to save the touchdown. Fairbairn’s 38-yard field goal narrowed the Giants’ lead to 7-3 with 11:27 to play in the second quarter.
That was the Texans’ first positive drive of the day. The Giants defense had smothered Houston for a grand total of -3 yards on nine plays in the first quarter: three drives, all three-and-outs.
Jones had put the Giants ahead early with a 9-yard TD pass to tight end Lawrence Cager on their first possession, a 10-play, 68-yard drive that ate up more than five minutes.
It was a good thing Daboll’s team picked up those early points, too. Their conservative game plan, penalties and errors slowed their offense and the game to a crawl until their third quarter outburst — and a stout defense — secured the win.
Houston fell to 1-7-1 on the season. The Giants host the Detroit Lions (3-6) next week.