By Brian Lewis
The Giants’ secondary was so banged-up they didn’t just go to their bench. They dug all the way down to the practice squad.
The unit was stretched thin, but didn’t break. They even made arguably the biggest plays in a 19-16 victory over Carolina — including the game-clinching one.
Strong safety Julian Love’s 9-yard sack of quarterback Baker Mayfield sent the MetLife Stadium crowd of 73,843 into a frenzy and essentially sealed the win. It forced the Panthers to punt with 2:12 left to play, and Big Blue never gave it back.
“On that third-down sack … the crowd went crazy,” defensive end Justin Ellis said. “And I was just like, ‘This is New York.’ So at the end of the game when we knew it was over I hugged coach Wink [Martindale] and said ‘Man, did you see that?’ We talked about it, it was so amazing.”
As the nearest defender, left corner Adoree’ Jackson didn’t allow a catch on four targets over 27 coverage snaps (per NFL Next Gen Stats). On the other side, they played without right corner Aaron Robinson, after he had his appendix removed.
“Credit Wink. It’s not like woe is me, or ‘Oh, damn’ when a sudden change or something happens. We just see a series of events, snap clear, reset and refocus on the next play,” Jackson said.
Cor’Dale Flott got the nod at right corner, but slipped covering DJ Moore and gave up a third-quarter touchdown that left Big Blue trailing 13-6.
Flott eventually gave way to Fabian Moreau, activated off the practice squad.
But what could’ve been a recipe for a short-handed disaster turned into an opportunity for the Giants’ secondary to shine. After Love saw Christian McCaffrey sprint through his diving arm tackle, there was Moreau to chase the Pro Bowler down. Yes, that was after a 49-yard gain to the Giants’ 26, but the defense stiffened and forced the Panthers to settle for a field goal.
“Get him down. Live to play another down,” Moreau told The Post. “We were in man. He broke free: You’ve got to go get him.”
Despite not having pass rushers Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari, the secondary held up. Martindale concocted just enough pressure to rattle Baker Mayfield, and frequently brought a safety in the box to deal with McCaffrey, sometimes Love but often free safety Xavier McKinney.
“It’s the first time that I had to do that at this level. Obviously the first two years I didn’t get to play in the box; this game I got the responsibility of Wink putting me on McCaffrey,” McKinney said. “I think I did a pretty good job.”
So did Love, getting in and taking down Mayfield to seal it.
“We were so happy for him and happy to get off the field and he was the one to get it done,” McKinney. said. “We knew that was potentially the game-winning play. … He’s one of those guys that’s able to make that play. He has the ability to do it, and he did it.”