Eli Manning saved the day. No, seriously.
The Giants’ first win in 50 calendar days didn’t come easy. The feisty Niners, led by overnight star Nick Mullens and ascendant running back Matt Breida, made sure of that. But when the final whistle blew Monday night in Santa Clara, it was the G-Men who came out on top, besting San Francisco by a narrow 27-23 margin.
For Manning, the finish line is in sight. In fact, many wondered if Monday night would be Eli’s final start as a Giant. As dominant as Saquon Barkley has been in the early going—and all signs point to him becoming a generational talent—most would agree the Giants made a mistake by not selecting a quarterback with the No. 2 pick in April’s draft. This year’s quarterback class was one of the strongest in recent memory. Five QBs—Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Lamar Jackson—were taken in the first round with all but Jackson going in the top 10.
Next year’s quarterback crop will feature the likes of Justin Herbert, Drew Lock, Daniel Jones and Will Grier. Aside from Herbert, who is no sure thing to even enter the draft (his brother will be an incoming freshman at Oregon next year), none of those players are slam dunks. So with New York’s season already a lost cause and Manning in rapid decline, why not give 2018 fourth-rounder Kyle Lauletta a chance to hold down the fort over the final month-plus?
While there’s still a good chance we’ll see Lauletta play out the stretch as New York’s inevitable rebuild looms closer, the rookie was a spectator on Monday night, watching in street clothes as a healthy scratch. Manning was far from perfect against the Niners, but with his job on the line, the veteran played with a renewed sense of urgency, connecting on 19-of-31 throws for 188 yards and a season-high three touchdowns. The two-time Super Bowl MVP saved his best for last, threading the needle to Sterling Shepard for a go-ahead, three-yard touchdown with 53 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. That dagger capped a nine-play, 75-yard-drive for the G-Men, who improved to 2-7 with Monday night’s victory. The Niners shot themselves in the foot with countless penalties, none bigger than Ahkello Witherspoon’s pass interference on Odell Beckham with 1:41 to play. That flag wiped the slate clean for the Giants, who had been facing second-and-20 from their own 49-yard-line.
Manning’s limitations were evident against the 49ers—his arm strength was sorely lacking at times, especially on a fourth-quarter throw to Beckham that could have easily gone for a long touchdown. But the 37-year-old was money when it counted, completing six-of-nine passes for 69 yards on New York’s final drive. Another clunker probably would have cost Manning his job—in fact, there were rumblings that Lauletta would have started Monday’s game if not for his reckless driving arrest during the bye week. But you have to hand it to the 15-year vet. With a demotion staring him in the face, Eli didn’t blink, delivering arguably his best game of 2018. Much has been made of Manning’s lack of protection this year but for once, the O line held its ground, allowing just one sack in the win.
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When the season began, the Giants probably had higher hopes for themselves than this, but after months of failure, the G-Men will take a win any way they can get it, even if it requires a late comeback against undrafted 23-year-old Nick Mullens. Speaking of Mullens, the Southern Mississippi alum (he shares an alma mater with Brett Favre) showed some encouraging signs in the loss to New York (27-for-39 for 250 yards) but also looked raw at times. He threw the first two interceptions of his career in Monday’s defeat, with both falling into the hands of Giants linebacker B.J. Goodson. The first pick occurred on a fluke deflection while the second was the result of a miscommunication with Marquise Goodwin. We knew not to expect a repeat of his stunning Week 9 performance (262 yards, three touchdowns versus Oakland), but Mullens will certainly have some rough edges to smooth out during San Francisco’s upcoming bye week.
Matt Breida showed well in the losing effort, pacing the Niners with 132 yards (101 rushing, 31 receiving) from scrimmage and a pair of touchdowns. Breida has battled a myriad of injuries this year but with 11 days to prepare for Week 10, the second-year Georgia Southern product looked spryer than he has in quite some time. With Raheem Mostert (arm) on injured reserve and fading veteran Alfred Morris providing little assistance on the ground (3.37 yards per carry), Breida could make a serious push for 1,000 yards rushing. George Kittle also had a superb game for San Francisco, rolling up nine catches for 83 yards with most of that production coming during the first half. Landon Collins has made a career of embarrassing his overmatched opponents, but on Monday night, Kittle gave the All-Pro safety a taste of his own medicine. Among tight ends, only Zach Ertz and Travis Kelce have contributed more receiving yards than Kittle this year.
The final seconds of Monday’s game were predictably chaotic as San Francisco mounted a late comeback bid. With no timeouts handy (rather than accept a 10-second runoff on Mike McGlinchey’s false start, the 49ers surrendered their third and final timeout), the Niners raced to the line of scrimmage following a 26-yard catch by Marquise Goodwin. After spiking it to stop the clock with a second to go, Mullens had a chance to be the hero but came up empty, sailing an errant pass out of the end zone against a heavy blitz.
While Monday wasn’t the most efficient game we’ve seen from Odell Beckham this year (just four catches for 73 yards on 11 targets), the 25-year-old still gave fantasy owners plenty to chew on with his two touchdowns. Monday marked OBJ’s first multi-touchdown performance since Week 3 of last season. Rookie sensation Saquon Barkley didn’t find much daylight as a ball-carrier against the Niners (3.3 yards per carry) but he still logged 100 yards from scrimmage, a threshold he’s reached in every game but one this year.
Monday spelled the end of New York’s disastrous five-game losing streak and with a winnable home game on tap against the struggling Buccaneers in Week 11, they could easily make it two straight. Whether that’s the right course of action is very much up for debate as the Giants would likely benefit most from losing as many games as possible, assuring a high selection in April’s draft.
Quick Hits: The Bills finally cut ties with Nathan Peterman on Monday, ending the quarterback’s disastrous two-year run in Western New York. Buffalo decided Peterman was expendable after he fell behind Matt Barkley on the team’s QB depth chart … The Buccaneers gave their special teams unit a facelift by replacing kicker Chandler Catanzaro with journeyman Cairo Santos. Catanzaro underwhelmed during his nine-game stint in Tampa, converting just 11-of-15 field goal tries (73.3 percent) while cashing in on 23 of his 27 extra points … Bucs coach Dirk Koetter confirmed that Ryan Fitzpatrick will remain the starter for Week 11 against the Giants. Fitzpatrick eclipsed 400 yards passing for the fourth time this season in Sunday’s loss to Washington but also committed three turnovers including two interceptions … The Saints have replaced Dez Bryant, who was lost to a season-ending Achilles tear last week, with veteran Brandon Marshall. New Orleans will be the seventh team Marshall has played for in 13 NFL seasons … Despite a miserable loss to the Bills in Week 10, the Jets aren’t planning to make a midseason coaching change. Todd Bowles and the slumping Jets have lost four straight since starting the year 3-3 … Sam Darnold has shed his walking boot, though the Jets remain unsure if he’ll be ready to face New England after the bye week. Josh McCown filled in for Darnold in Sunday’s humiliating loss to Buffalo … Ronald Darby will miss the remainder of 2018 with a torn ACL. The Eagles corner suffered his injury in Sunday night’s loss to Dallas … Deion Jones has been activated from injured reserve. The Pro Bowl linebacker hasn’t suited up since breaking his foot in Atlanta’s season opener … The Ravens remain noncommittal on Joe Flacco’s status for Week 11 against the Bengals. If Flacco is unable to play through his hip injury, former Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson would draw the start in his place … The Bengals kicked defensive coordinator Teryl Austin to the curb on Monday. Long-time head coach Marvin Lewis plans to take over as Cincinnati's defensive play-caller … The Bengals are reportedly considering a role for Hue Jackson, who has yet to resurface since being fired as the Browns’ head coach last month. Jackson has served on Marvin Lewis’ staff before, spending three years as Cincinnati’s wide receivers coach before returning for a stint as the team’s offensive coordinator … The Panthers threw in the towel on C.J. Anderson, cutting the 27-year-old after less than a full season in Carolina. With Anderson a goner, Cameron Artis-Payne will slide in as the primary backup for workhorse Christian McCaffrey … Sammy Watkins is expected to be ready for Monday night’s game against the Rams (his former team) in Mexico City. A foot injury sidelined Watkins in Week 10, though the Chiefs were likely erring on the side of caution with their star receiver … Seahawks coach Pete Carroll expects Chris Carson to be in uniform for Thursday night’s game against the Packers. Carson couldn’t go against the Rams on Sunday due to a hip injury … Cooper Kupp has been diagnosed with a season-ending ACL tear. With Kupp going under the knife, Robert Woods will likely occupy the slot with Brandin Cooks and Josh Reynolds working outside for the Rams … Denzel Perryman is headed for surgery on his injured hamstring. The Chargers linebacker is also dealing with an LCL injury in his left knee. The 25-year-old is looking at a 3-4 month recovery … Broncos coach Vance Joseph expects Royce Freeman to return in Week 11 after missing the last two games with a high-ankle sprain. Freeman’s imminent return will cut into Phillip Lindsay’s workload … A foot injury forced Julian Edelman’s early exit in Week 10, though the news on his injury is “positive,” according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The Patriots slot man will have the bye week to get healthy … When asked about the status of injured running back D’Onta Foreman, Texans coach Bill O’Brien said, “Let’s just see.” Foreman has been on the PUP list while rehabbing a torn Achilles he suffered late last season.