NASHVILLE - The football gods finally smiled upon the New York Giants.
A potential game-winning field goal by the Titans' Randy Bullock - a former Giant - sailed wide left, and the Giants exploded off the sideline in celebration as Brian Daboll won his first game as head coach in Sunday's 21-20 victory at Nissan Stadium.
The Giants have won their season opener for the first time since Ben McAdoo's first game as head coach, another one-point triumph in Dallas in 2016.
"This team is different," Giants safety captain Xavier McKinney told NorthJersey.com and USA TODAY Network in the locker room following the game. "We didn't panic. We weren't going to quit. If the win was there for the taking, we were going to fight like heck to take it."
Daboll showed he isn't afraid to be aggressive, opting for a two-point conversation that proved decisive in the final 66 seconds. The Giants responded despite an interception by Daniel Jones that ended the previous drive in the end zone. A long run by Barkley got them into striking distance, and Jones redeemed himself with a beautiful fake and touchdown strike from one yard out to Chris Myarick.
That's when Daboll showed a ton of confidence in his offense, bypassing a chance to tie the game with Graham Gano and instead going for a two-point conversion. Jones and Barkley made Daboll's decision stand up on a perfectly executed shovel pass, with Barkley fighting past two defenders and diving into the end zone for a 21-20 lead.
Daboll said he knew the Giants would go for two and the lead if they got in the end zone when they regained possession with 5:27 remaining. Barkley finished with 164 yards rushing and a touchdown on 18 carries. Jones completed 17-of-21 passes for 188 yards, two touchdowns and the interception.
"When you have Saquon Barkley playing like this," Jones said, "things have a chance to work out."
The Giants trailed 13-0 at halftime and did not have an offensive snap in Tennessee territory in the first half, and the only time they moved possession across midfield was on the final play when Daniel Jones found Richie James for 18 yards as time expired.
The Giants hit the field inside Nissan Stadium seeking to win their regular season opener for the first time since 2016, and they very much looked the part of a team still searching for answers in the first half, especially against an opponent that finished with the best regular season record in the AFC last season.
Keep reading for updates and observations from Giants-Titans, kickoff at 4:25 p.m.
Daniel Jones gifts one back to Titans with crushing INT
The Titans gifted the Giants with a muffed punt, but Daniel Jones reciprocated a few plays later.
It was a crushing end to a red zone drive that began at the Titans' 11 when Jones locked in on Saquon Barkley and appeared to throw a back shoulder fade, even though Barkley was well-covered by Amani Hooker. Hooker stood there in front of Barkley, refused to allow him to get back to make a play on the ball, and Hooker made an interception.
Television replays showed as if Daboll was yelling at Jones following the interception, but the coach insisted he was talking to the coaches in the booth through his headset. Daboll said he told Jones to make up for the turnover when the defense got him the ball back.
Titans see weakness and keep exploiting it
With or without Blake Martinez, the Giants are having an impossible time covering Titans running back Dontrell Hilliard out of the backfield. They lack speed at the position with Tae Crowder and Austin Calitro, and the Titans have now beaten both players for touchdowns to Hilliard, the second of which snapped a 13-13 tie late in the third quarter.
Martinez, who was released last week, does not offer much more in coverage, so his absence is not necessarily the issue. It's the fact that rookie Micah McFadden is still trying to get up to speed in order to increase his workload, while rookie Darrian Beavers was lost for the season in August with a torn ACL.
The Giants will likely try to solve some of this by playing a safety like Julian Love or Tony Jefferson in the box. But against a team that features Derrick Henry, that's a risk the Giants are not willing to take against the run.
Must have been a heck of a halftime speech
Sterling Shepard spent the last nine months rehabbing an Achilles injury he knew could threaten his career.
Fighting all the way back, Shepard made his impact felt in the third quarter and it was a stunning play that ultimately allowed the Giants to pull even on the scoreboard. Shepard, now a wily veteran and exceptional route runner, worked over Titans corner Kristian Fulton and broke into the open field.
Daniel Jones saw Shepard, and off his back foot, threw a strike for the completion, and Shepard went the rest of the way for 65-yard touchdown. Graham Gano kicked the extra point and the Giants were even at 13.
Vintage Saquon Barkley pumps life into Big Blue
Saquon Barkley was relatively quiet in the first half. He opened the Giants' opening series of the second half with a bang, and in turn breathed some life into the offense. Barkley's 68-yard jaunt around left end and up the sideline, racing away from Tennesee defenders before Titans All-Pro Kevin Byard, who was deep playing center field, knocked him out of bounds.
That run put Barkley over the century mark for the game, and then one play later, the Giants' running back split the crease created by solid blocks from left tackle Andrew Thomas and left guard Josh Ezeudu to reach the end zone.
The Giants botched the snap on the point-after touchdown, but they had to feel good with the way they responded coming out of what was a frustrating first half.
Jeffrey Simmons dominating the line of scrimmage
The Giants don't have an answer on the interior for Titans' star lineman Jeffrey Simmons, who blew past rookie left guard Josh Ezeudu in less than three seconds from the snap and sacked Jones, forcing a fumble that he recovered.
Later in the second quarter, Simmons drew a holding penalty on right guard Mark Glowinski, negating a decent gain by Barkley.
Wan'Dale Robinson (knee) out for the game
Things went for bad to worse in the middle of the second quarter when the Giants ruled rookie Wan'Dale Robinson out with a knee injury. Robinson made his first career catch for five yards and a first down in the opening quarter.
Kadarius Toney very quiet so far
Giants are sputtering offensively early in this one, as the Titans' aggressive front is giving them problems finding any rhythm. One big surprise: Kadarius Toney has played one snap in three series, while Richie James and Wan'Dale Robinson have been more involved. Robinson made the catch responsible for the Giants' only first down, and Daniel Jones is taking some hits as the game moves into the third quarter.
The Giants went three and out, opting to punt despite on a fourth-and-1, albeit in their own territory. Jamie Gillan bombed his kick 50 yards, but outkicked his coverage and the Titans got all but four of those yards back with a 46-yard return.
Then the defense was exposed on two passing plays: a wide open connection to Traylon Burks from Ryan Tannehill, and then back Dontrell Hilliard ran right past linebacker Austin Calitro for a touchdown. Rough start and a 7-0 hole.
Inactives are in
Kayvon Thibodeaux, Dane Belton and Azeez Ojulari will have to wait another week as the trio is among the Giants' inactives. Thibodeaux (knee) and Olulari (calf) were listed as doubtful, while Belton (collarbone) was questionable. Both Thibodeaux and Belton worked out before the game, so a Week 2 return could be in play. Ojulari's injury may linger a bit longer.
WR Darius Slayton, despite taking a pay cut to stay on the team earlier this week, is inactive.
The full list: RB Antonio Williams, OL Tyre Phillips, CB Justin Layne, Thibodeaux, Belton, Ojulari and Slayton
Big moment for Brian Daboll
A coaching journey that began 25 years ago as a volunteer assistant at William & Mary has reached a pinnacle of sorts for Daboll as he makes his debut as a head coach in the NFL on Sunday afternoon.
Daboll carries with him a binder with all the game plans from offense, defense and special teams in addition to reports prepared by Giants director of football data and innovation Ty Siam and offensive assistant/game manager Cade Knox.
"Two-minute situations, four-minute situations, officials, field conditions - no, I don’t turn it off, no," Daboll said. "I have this book, and if there’s something I have to kind of go back and refresh or grab somebody to talk on. I like to say, ‘The hay is in the barn here’ after a Friday practice for the players, but for myself, there’s just so many situations that I try to go over in my head over-and-over again. So, if it happens, I’m as ready as I can be."
Full circle scenario for Andrew Thomas
Andrew Thomas' NFL baptism by fire as a rookie began against the Steelers and specifically pass rusher Bud Dupree.
Two years later, the ascension of Thomas comes full circle Sunday when he lines up across from ... Bud Dupree.
Thomas has been watching plenty of video on Dupree, now considered the Titans' top weapon on the edge with Harold Landry having suffered a torn ACL last week. The Titans will use Dupree differently than the Steelers did, and Thomas not only sees a player that accelerated his learning curve - he's also seen the growth in his own game.
Kept an eye on Thomas against the Titans and his presence stabilized things for the Giants' offense with rookie Evan Neal on the other side and the combination of Ben Bredeson and rookie Josh Ezeudu in play at left guard.
The challenge of slowing down Derrick Henry
Wink Martindale offered up all the superlatives for Titans star running back Derrick Henry, and for good reason, comparing him to a modern day Jim Brown. We know the Giants are going to attack with pressure in Martindale's system, but that's counter to what the Titans want to do if they pound Henry. So much is going to be made about Blake Martinez's departure - this is the kind of game you'd want an oldish school two-down linebacker as part of your run defense.
But Martinez is gone, and the combo of Tae Crowder, Austin Calitro and rookie Micah McFadden logged key reps. Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari - both listed as doubtful - will not play Sunday, so Roche could have a larger than expected role in this week's game plan.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: NY Giants defeat Titans in season opener with thrilling comeback