Giants-Lions: What we learned

Dana Gauruder, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

DETROIT -- The New York Giants didn't quit on their season or their coach after all.
Consecutive 23-point losses by the Giants the past two weeks prompted critics to question their desire and effort. New York answered with a 23-20 overtime victory over reeling Detroit on Sunday at Ford Field, a result that knocked the Lions out of the playoff picture.
"They've taken a lot of shots this year and quite frankly have earned the criticism, I don't think there's any doubt about that," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "But we've been able to stay focused and take on some real deep values that get overlooked when people are telling you that you've got nothing to play for. You've got everything in the world to play for. The way they played tonight was a good demonstration of that."
Josh Brown kicked the game-winning 45-yard field goal with 7:32 remaining in overtime.
New York (6-9) forced overtime when safety Will Hill intercepted a deflected pass from Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown with less than five minutes left in regulation.
"This gives you something positive to think back on this season," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said. "We've had some close games this season that we haven't won. We've been right there at the end and haven't been able to make the key plays to win the game. This time we did, and it's a good feeling."
Manning completed 23 of 42 passes for 256 yards and a touchdown despite going without his favorite target, wide receiver Victor Cruz, who underwent knee surgery earlier in the week.
New York wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan made his first career touchdown reception, a 20-yarder, late in the first half. He finished with six catches for 80 yards.
The Lions (7-8) lost their third game in a row, leaving them groping for answers to their late-season collapse. They appeared to be in control of the NFC North after blowing out the Green Bay Packers on Thanksgiving Day, but they couldn't quit their habit of self-destruction.
"Somebody's got to make the extra play for us to win the game," said defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who led the Lions' defense with a sack for a safety and a forced fumble. "We've just got to make one play. Every game, it seemed like we were one play away. Somebody's got to make a game-changing play. That's all it is, that's what separates the teams that make it to the playoffs."
Detroit running back Joique Bell gained 91 yards on 20 carries and scored a touchdown. He also caught 10 passes for 63 yards.
Stafford completed 25 of 42 passes for 222 yards but was intercepted twice and did not throw for a touchdown. Over the past five weeks, Stafford was intercepted 11 times and fumbled twice.
The Lions (7-8) blew a fourth-quarter lead for the fifth time in their past six losses. They fell 18-16 to the Ravens on Monday night when Baltimore's Justin Tucker kicked a decisive 61-yard field goal.
"It's just tough," said Detroit running back Reggie Bush, whose first-half fumble led to the Giants' first touchdown. "It's tough when you work so hard, especially for me being a part of the reason why we lost this game. It's tough, there's no other way to put it."

What the Giants said
"Coach (Tom) Coughlin always gives us lessons each week. People were talking about what we have to play for and all that, but the guys in this locker room, we are true fighters. We will fight to the end, and we believe in one another. We won't punch out until it's time to punch out." -- Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks.

What the Lions said
"Shocked. I think that's a good word. Very shocked. I could never imagine (it), the way we started, the way we came into training camp. We just knew we were going to roll. After that 6-3 start, things started to unravel a little bit. I'm not sure what it was but it's a tough situation." -- Linebacker Stephen Tulloch, on the collapse that led to Detroit's elimination from playoff contention.

What we learned about the Giants
1. The makeshift offensive line can protect quarterback Eli Manning once in awhile. Manning was sacked twice, increasing his single-season career high to 38, but the line actually held up well against Detroit's talented front four. Manning threw 42 passes and got time when he needed it, particularly on a crucial fourth-down pickup in overtime. Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was limited to two quarterback hurries and one assisted tackle even though Giants guard David Diehl didn't play and backup Brandon Mosley broke his hand in the first half.
2. Placekicker Josh Brown is arguably the Giants' Most Valuable Player this season. Brown revived his career after winning the job in training camp. He made three more field goals Sunday, including the game-winner, and he carries a streak of 17 consecutive makes into the season finale against the Washington Redskins. His last miss came Sept. 29 against the Kansas City Chiefs.

What we learned about the Lions
1. Detroit probably will be searching for a new head coach after the season. Jim Schwartz looked like the franchise savior after getting the Lions into the playoffs two seasons ago, but the team woefully underachieved since that uptick. The Lions finished last season with an eight-game losing streak and blew a golden opportunity this season to win the watered-down NFC North. The loss defeat Sunday was inexcusable considering the Giants had nothing to play for and were blown out in their previous two games.
2. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson is hurting, and the offense is ordinary without him making big plays. Johnson was a question mark to play Sunday because of ankle and knee issues. He tried to gut it out but was limited to three catches for 43 yards, all in the first half.
"He's been beat up pretty much the whole year, but he tried to do whatever he could today," Schwartz said.

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