When things started to go stale for the Giants in the second half on Sunday, they turned to a couple of rookies to help the old guard lead New York to a victory almost two years in the making.
Rookies Andre Williams and Odell Beckham, Jr. each scored second-half touchdowns to spur the Giants to a 30-20 come-from-behind victory over the Atlanta Falcons at MetLife Stadium. With the victory, Big Blue is now over .500 at any point in the season for the first time since the 2012 season finale, when the Giants defeated Philadelphia to end the year at 9-7.
Williams, the rookie fourth-round selection out of Boston College, came in to replace Rashad Jennings, the league’s third-leading rusher going into Week 5, when Jennings suffered a knee sprain early in the third quarter. His three-yard touchdown run late not only cut the Falcons’ lead to 20-17, but set somewhat of a tone of what was to follow as he plowed through linebacker Paul Worrilow as they locked horns at the one-yard line. That play immediately followed Williams’ 11-yard jaunt to set up the Giants with goal to go on that drive.
Williams ended the day with 66 yards on 20 carries – and a vote of confidence from the offensive line blocking in front of him.
“You couldn’t tell the difference from the way [Andre] Williams was playing from [Rashad] Jennings,” said tackle Will Beatty, who helped lead the Giants to their third consecutive game of over 120 yards rushing as a team. “You’re not only depending on one guy. He (Williams) stepped up, he did great, he kept us on the field. We knew we had to keep the ball out of Atlanta’s hands.”
Although this wasn’t Williams’ first chance to make an impression on the team in the regular season, Beckham had to wait until the first weekend in October to prove he was worthy of the 12th overall selection of this year’s NFL Draft. A hamstring injury in minicamp and an aggravation of that same injury on the first day of training camp caused Beckham to miss all nine of the Giants’ competitive games until Sunday (five preseason and four regular-season games). But Beckham’s injury showed major signs of improvement in the past two weeks, and he picked the right time to show how healthy – and how impactful – he can be.
When the Giants forced a three-and-out following Williams’ score, their offense proceeded marched into the red zone, but then was faced with a third-and-3 from Atlanta’s 15. Beckham, who caught his first NFL pass on a simple out route earlier in the game, was called upon to make the play to give Big Blue the lead. Not only did he grab Eli Manning’s 15-yard touch pass down the left sideline in the end zone, he outmuscled and out-leaped cornerback Robert Alford, showing no telltale signs of any prior leg injury.
Immediately after that catch which gave the Giants a 24-20 lead, Beckham celebrated his first career professional touchdown with an elaborate dance – something that might not have been understood by many on the field or in the stands but was appreciated by his teammates, who were genuinely happy for the former LSU standout.
“When Odell makes a play like he did, and it being his first game, and then him getting up and celebrating, I think that pumps everyone up,” said cornerback Prince Amukamara, who helped to contain Julio Jones and Roddy White and the Falcons offense in the second half.
After a Josh Brown field goal on the Giants’ next possession extended the lead to seven, Atlanta still had plenty of time to answer back and try to win its first road game since last December (vs. Buffalo, in Toronto) and its first road win on American soil since Dec. 22, 2012, in Detroit. However, their chances of pulling one out of the fire were doomed when head coach Mike Smith, known for his gutsy, if not, foolhardy approach to fourth-down scenarios late in games, decided to have his offense go for it on a fourth-and-1 from Atlanta’s own 27 with 4:45 remaining and the Falcons still owning all three of their timeouts. Matt Ryan, who threw for 316 yards with a touchdown and an interception, was sacked by Jonathan Hankins on the play, giving New York the ball in the red zone to start what would be their final drive. A 26-yard field goal by Brown to end that drive sealed the win for New York, who scored the final 20 points of the game on their last four possessions. It also sealed Atlanta’s ninth road loss in its last 10 on its travels dating back to last season.
Smith, after the game, stood by the decision to roll the dice on the fourth-down play.
“There was a belief right at four minutes and forty-five seconds,” said Smith. “We had talked all through the week that [if it] came up in the ball game that we would go for it. We felt like we had a good play, we just didn’t execute it. To me, it was a very makeable fourth down.”
Atlanta ended up blowing another second-half lead on the road after losing a one-point third quarter advantage in Minnesota the week before. The Falcons looked to be in control of the game after Ryan threw a checkdown to running back Antone Smith, who broke an Antrel Rolle tackle and ran down the sideline for a 74-yard touchdown, showing almost world-class track speed. Smith, who’s listed as the third-string backup running back behind Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers, also had a long touchdown run last week in Minnesota, and has positioned himself to possibly be the Falcons’ second or third-most important offensive player going down the road.
“We need to have more plays designed for Antone [Smith],” Mike Smith said. “When he touches the ball, he makes plays…I know everybody likes Antone. We like Antone a whole lot as well. We have to make sure that we get our playmakers the ball.”
While the Falcons are still ironing that out, the Giants have just found themselves two more playmakers to get the ball to. And it couldn’t have come at better time, with divisional road contests against Philadelphia and Dallas, both 4-1, in the next two games.
[Cover photo (Andre Williams) courtesy of Al Bello/Getty Images]