Barber scored a touchdown and accounted for nearly half the yards in a go-ahead, 67-yard fourth-quarter drive, capped by Jeremy Shockey’s short touchdown catch as New York won its fifth straight with a 14-10 victory Sunday.
“Tiki always comes up big for us, that’s what we expect him to do,” linebacker Carlos Emmons said. “We wouldn’t think he would do anything else. Anytime the game is on the line, we knew if we give him the ball he will make a play for us. He did it today.”
The win set up a nationally televised showdown for first place in the NFC at the Meadowlands next week between the Giants (6-2) and Chicago Bears (7-1), who lost to Miami 31-13 on Sunday. New Orleans (6-2) also is a game behind Chicago.
However, that game would have lost some of its meaning if Barber hadn’t awoken the Giants midway through the fourth quarter with Houston (2-6) ahead 10-7.
Barber, who rushed for 115 yards and scored the Giants’ other touchdown in the first quarter, started the winning drive with a 13-yard catch on a swing pass and then had a 12 yard run. The 10-year veteran, who plans to retire after this season, kept the drive alive with a 7-yard run to the Houston 12 on a third-and-6.
“Let’s face it, we didn’t play well today, but we didn’t fall down, we didn’t give ourselves up,” said Barber who got his first touchdown of the season on a 16-yard run. “We fought through it, we came away with the big win, we made the plays down the stretch when we had to. We deserve credit for that.”
The defense, which was playing without three starters and then lost Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Strahan in the second quarter with a foot injury, sealed the win when rookie linebacker Gerris Wilkinson forced fullback Jameel Cook to fumble at the Giants 35 after a short catch.
Cornerback Corey Webster recovered with 5:11 to play, and the Giants (6-2) ran out the clock to the delight of the 78,485 fans who were booing them at the end of the third quarter.
“In my mind, that was the play of the game,” Giants middle linebacker Antonio Pierce said.
The Texans got a great effort from Carr just a week after he was benched.
Carr scored a go-ahead touchdown on a 2-yard scramble with 1:14 left in the third quarter, capping an 18-play, 80-yard drive. He celebrated by taking an imaginary jump shot, something the Giants started doing this season.
“It was definitely a winnable game,” said Carr, who was 21-for-30 for 176 yards and no interceptions on a day in which the Texans frequently employed an empty backfield. “We just didn’t make enough plays. They made more than us.”
Andre Johnson, the NFL’s leading receiver, had nine catches for 83 yards.
“It’s the same thing that was kind of tugging at us the whole year,” Johnson said. “A turnover here. We gave them a heck of a game, but they came out on top.”
Kris Brown, who missed a 42-yard field goal on the Texans’ opening possession, kicked a 41-yarder in the second quarter to cut the Texans’ deficit to 7-3.
Coach Tom Coughlin insisted all week that the Giants would not fall into the trap of looking ahead.
However, the number of bad plays and penalties against Houston seemed to indicate something was amiss.
“I think we had a little lull early,” Barber said. “I don’t know if it was because we were playing Houston, but for whatever reason we had a little bit of a lull.”
The Giants’ dumbest play was made by backup safety James Butler at the New York 5 after Johnson was stopped short of a first down on a third-down pass. Butler hit tackle Fred Weary after the whistle and was called for a personal foul, putting the ball at the 2. Carr scrambled for a touchdown two plays later.
Butler’s blunder wasn’t the only big mistake for the Giants.
Leading 7-3 early in the third quarter, punter and holder Jeff Feagles failed to handle a snap a 38-yard field-goal attempt and he ended up throwing an incomplete pass.
New York also squandered another scoring in the second quarter after reached the Houston 9, losing 26 yards on the next four snaps because of a holding penalty and sacks by No. 1 overall draft pick Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans.
“We are finding ways to win games,” said Manning, who finished 17-of-28 for 179 yards. “We are not playing our best football but that’s part of the league.”
New York played without All-Pro DE Osi Umenyiora (hip flexor), weakside LB Brandon Short (quad) and S Sam Madison (hamstring). Tackle Kareem McKenzie missed the game with a migraine. Veteran Bob Whitfield replaced him. … Williams set a Texans rookie sack record when his sack in the second quarter gave him 4 1/2 for the season, all in the last five games. … Houston S Glenn Earl got his first interception late in the first half, the Texans’ second of the season.