EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - Defense wins championships, and right now the New York Giants are convincing many that they might be the NFL’s best.
Forget that they are ranked in the middle of the league. In the past two games, Steve Spagnuolo’s group has limited division leaders Dallas and Detroit to a total of 13 points, and Sunday’s 17-6 win over the Lions on Sunday came in a game where top cornerback Janoris Jenkins left early in the second quarter with a back injury.
Add in another Odell Beckham Jr. one-hand touchdown catch to delight replay fanatics and the Giants have inched closer to their first playoff berth since 2011, and maybe more, with a win that snapped the NFC North-leading Lions’ five-game winning streak.
“This is really exciting, I don’t even know the word to use,” linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. “It’s starting to be a beautiful thing. Thirteen points the last two weeks, we like where we’re at now.”
The win was the eighth in nine games for the Giants (10-4) and it gave them their best record through 14 games since 2008, when they opened 11-3.
The formula was the one the team has followed in Ben McAdoo’s first season: Just enough offense and a tough stingy, pass-rushing defense that has now come up with big back-to-back efforts against two division leaders in Dallas (11-2) and Detroit (9-5), giving up 13 total points.
Eli Manning (20 of 28 for 201 yards) threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Sterling Shepard on a 75-yard opening drive and then iced the game with a 4-yard TD pass that Beckham caught with his left hand and then pranced into the end zone for a 11-point lead with 5:20 to play.
“Norm,” veteran receiver Victor Cruz said of Beckham’s one-hander, which still paled in comparison to the fully extended TD catch against Dallas in his rookie year. “The norm. I wasn’t even surprised.”
Beckham said catches like that “just kind of happens” for him.
“You practice it and practice it,” he said. “That’s why you practice right hand layups and left hand layups. It’s just kind of, I don’t know.”
Beckham, who had six catches for 64 yards, almost wasn’t done. He reversed field about three times on a 63-yard punt return that brought the remaining fans to their seats less than a minute later. The electrifying return was nullified by an illegal block, but was simply a thrill to watch.
The Lions, who had rallied in the fourth quarter to win eight of their nine games, never came close to a comeback in this one as the Giants made them play on a long field all day.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford didn’t show any major issues playing with an injured middle finger on his throwing hand. He finished 24 of 39 for 274 yards and an interception , finding Golden Tate eight times for 122 yards.
“They’re a good team,” Stafford said. “Their secondary is probably the best we’ve played all year. They’ve got a really good defensive line. We knew it was going to be a challenge going into the day. We just didn’t make enough plays.”
The biggest play for the Lions was a 67-yard throw from Stafford to Tate that gave the Lions first-and-10 at the Giants 11, trailing 7-3 in the second quarter. On first down, Zach Zenner fumbled at the end of a 7-yard run after being hit by Leon Hall and Olivier Vernon recovered in the end zone.
“Obviously, we lost the turnover battle, lost the rushing battle. It’s tough to win on the road when you do that,” Stafford said. “We’ve got to look in the mirror and correct what we did wrong today.”
Matt Prater accounted for the Lions’ points with field goals of 48 yards in the second quarter and 33 in the third. The second cut the deficit to 10-6 - New York had gotten a 47-yard field goal from Robbie Gould late in the second quarter.
However, the Lions never got closer as New York limited Detroit to 5 of 14 on third down and 324 yards.
CAN’T STOP ODELL: Beckham had six catches for 64 yards. He has 85 catches for 1,173 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, and is the first player in NFL history to get at least 80 catches and 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first three seasons.
WINGY: Less than a week after being named the NFC special teams player of the week, Brad Wing of the Giants had a punt partially blocked by Brandon Copeland for an 18-yard net. The Lions got the ball at their own 43, but failed to convert. Wing had two punts downed inside the 5 in the second half.
OVERLOOKED BIG PLAYS: Rookie cornerback Eli Apple made one of the biggest plays for the Giants, recovering from 5 yards back to break up a deep pass to Tate in the end zone early in the second quarter.
“I didn’t think I was going to get there, but the ball hung up a little and I got my fingertip on it,” said Apple, who had seven tackles. Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie, who also had seven tackles, also made up yards to catch Tate on his 67-yard reception.
INJURIES: Detroit starting CB Darius Slay left in the second quarter after aggravating a hamstring injury. Leading rusher Theo Riddick missed his second straight game with a wrist injury.
For New York, Jenkins also left in the second quarter with a back injury and did not return. Backup QB Ryan Nassib was inactive because of a recurring elbow injury. LG Justin Pugh played for the first time since injuring a knee on Nov. 6
Lions: Visit Cowboys on Dec. 26
Giants: Visit Eagles on Dec. 22.
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