EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP)—On a cold, blustery afternoon, the New York Giants displayed the depth of their defense.
Despite playing without three injured defensive starters and losing another early, the Giants held Tampa Bay to 174 total yards and set up a score with a turnover deep in Buccaneers’ territory in a 17-3 victory Sunday.
“You know what? I’m not surprised because the backups, the guys who came in, are like starters,” Pro Bowl defense end Michael Strahan said after the Giants (5-2) won their fourth straight game. “They are players.”
During the winning streak which started after a bye week, the defense has allowed 42 points, and hasn’t given up a touchdown in the last two home games.
The Bucs (2-5) were 2-for-16 on third-down chances and 0-for-3 on fourth-down opportunities in seeing their two-game winning streak snapped. They also fumbles six times, losing one important one.
What made this performance so impressive was who the Giants were missing.
All-Pro defensive end Osi Umenyiora (hip), strongside linebacker LaVar Arrington (season-ending Achilles’ injury) and starting cornerback Sam Madison (hamstring) were all out. Weakside linebacker Brandon Short went down early with a quadriceps injury.
Rookie Mathias Kiwanuka, veterans Carlos Emmons and R.W. McQuarters, and rookie Gerris Wilkinson replaced them, respectively, and coordinator Tim Lewis’ group didn’t miss a beat in the game played with winds gusting to more than 40 mph.
Kiwanuka, a first-round draft pick, had his first sack and six tackles. Wilkinson had three sacks, a pass defended and a forced fumble. Emmons had three tackles and McQuarters one.
“We know we’ve got a good team,” Robbins said. “We knew we had a good team when we were 1-2. We just had to put the pieces together. We know there is still more work to be done, but we are getting where we want to be.”
Jay Feely added a 31-yard field goal with 3:43 to play.
Matt Bryant, who kicked a winning 62-yard field goal last weekend against Philadelphia, had a 43-yarder for the Bucs.
Tampa Bay’s few other scoring chances were hurt by dropped passes by Joey Galloway on nice throws by Bruce Gradkowski, a late third-quarter fumble by receiver Michael Clayton on a fourth-down play, and a failure to get a first down on two cracks from the Giants 32 early in the fourth quarter while needing only a yard.
“Obviously, the weather was a factor,” Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. “It was hard for both teams. It was hard pregame warmup, it was hard throughout the game. Not only was it hard to throw it, it was hard to catch it, it was hard to snap it, it was hard to pitch it. It was hard, period.”
The twins had their moments, but they played a secondary role to the wind and the Giants defense, which held Tampa Bay without a first down on their first five offensive possessions.
“If it’s the last time we play, good for him because he got back in the win column,” Ronde Barber said of Tiki, who’s planning to retire after this season. “He’s still down 3-2.”
The Bucs’ inability to move and Jeff Feagles’ punting gave New York great field position, and the Giants cashed in on their second possession. Taking over at their own 47, the Giants went 53 yards in eight plays—capped by Burress’ left-handed, one-hand catch over Ronde Barber.
Robbins set up the second touchdown, recovering a muffed pitchout by Cadillac Williams at the Bucs 28.
On first down, a pump fake by Manning allowed Burress to get behind the Bucs secondary and make a 25-yard catch on a pass that got caught up in the wind. On a calm day, it would have been an easy touchdown.
“Anytime you can’t run the ball in this league, the majority of the time you are going to lose,” said Williams after the Bucs were limited to 40 yards rushing.
Tiki Barber finished with 68 yards on 26 carries. Manning was 16-of-31 for 154, and Burress had seven catches for 86 yards as New York held the ball for more than 35 minutes.
Gradkowski finished 20-of-48 for 139 yards.
It was so windy that every time referee Jeff Triplette turned on his microphone it sounded as if he was standing next to a jet engine. … Giants RB Derrick Ward was active for the first time and made the tackle on the opening kickoff. … Strahan remained tied with Lawrence Taylor for the Giants’ career record with 132 1/2 sacks. … The Giants honored their 1956 championship team at halftime. … Linebacker Shelton Quarles led the Bucs with 13 tackles.