That could have gone differently. That could have gone sideways. The Giants had 14 days to reflect on their last game, a disappointing performance in Seattle. During bye week, they had lost a significant portion of their emotional DNA when safety Xavier McKinney was involved in an ATV accident.
And the opponent… well, you’re not human if you don’t realize that he’s not very good.
All of those things could have been at play on a windy day at MetLife Stadium, the first day you had to admit that fall was finally here, that winter is definitely on deck. All of these things may have conspired to sabotage the Giants and hamper their arduous journey toward the playoffs. All of these things could have been like stepping on a hidden mousetrap.
None of that happened. The Giants started the game as efficiently as possible: three-and-outs on defense, touchdown on offense. The rest of the game might have been a sombre drudgery, and it might even have been difficult for the Giants to keep their home crowd the whole time since the other 1 o’clock TV game on the market was the exceptional Bills-Vikings game .
The Giants didn’t care. They took care of business. They beat the 1-7-1 Texans 24-16, they improved to 7-2, and they made sure proceedings remained low-key by going wire-to-wire for the first time all year.
“We did a lot of things well,” said Giants coach Brian Daboll. “The lads played hard, played physically, we had some timely turnovers. It was a good team win.”
Daboll had additional motivation as his youngest daughter Avery was celebrating her birthday and wished for a winning cue ball as a present.
“Talk about pressure,” he said.
The Giants’ motivation was just to play a perfect game, which they did. Daniel Jones achieved a career-high passer rating — 153.3 — and he did so by completing 13 of his 17 passes (two for touchdowns) and making 42 turns for the ball. 35 of those handovers went into the extremely reliable hands of Saquon Barkley, who worked his way up for 152 yards and a touchdown.
“It was fun,” Jones said of his afternoon. “To watch the guys in advance, they did a great job checking the line of scrimmage. We had a great plan and Saquon did a great job.”
Daboll blanched a little when someone offered the word “conservative” to describe the game plan he had put together for Houston.
“We tried to do what we thought we could do,” Daboll said. “Every week we do what we have to do for that game. If it’s 60 passes, it’s 60 passes. I wouldn’t put a label on it, we’re just doing our best to formulate a plan.”
The truth is, it was just what the Giants needed to do against a Texas team that mirrored their record in every way. The Giants were good enough to overpower them on the defensive side of the ball, strong enough to overpower them on offense. So why risk mistakes on both sides that would allow the Texans to stay in the game?
So if it was a vanilla plan… well, vanilla can be delicious too, right?
“We have a lot of players with chips on their shoulders,” said Giants defender Kayvon Thibodeaux. “We have a lot of players who like to play with their backs to the wall.”
They’re also an interesting mix of veterans who have seen nothing but failures with the Giants and newcomers who have known nothing but successes in the first nine games this season. But even when they taste success, they know how fragile it is.
This was the first game in which they were no longer behind at some point. And while there wasn’t a moment after Jones found Lawrence Cager for the touchdown that gave them a 7-0 lead that the Giants were in danger of losing, it ended in another one-point win — as did all six those who came before.
Cager, the ex-Jet, represents another element of the Giants that has become a source of real strength: guys who take opportunities when they’re given. Isaiah Hodgins, a new Buffalo pickup, was another (two catches, 41 yards), as was Dane Belton, who came on for McKinney, who picked up Houston quarterback Davis Mills — making it the Texans’ last legitimate hope for a miracle extinguished.
The giants? You don’t need miracles. They show up every week and compete against each other. Not every week deserves to be preserved by the history society. At 7-2, there’s no soul clad in blue to care. Not even a little bit.