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The play had never been run. Not in a practice, and most certainly not in a game.
Eli Manning lined up in the shotgun formation with two wide receivers to his left, and one to his right. He took the snap and a couple steps back before hitting his back foot. A perfect pocket formed around him.
Manning then looked left and lobbed a pass into the end zone and in the direction of Odell Beckham Jr.
The rookie jumped up, came down, and instantly erased any and all criticism thrown his way. The score put New York on top for good in a 30-20 victory over the Atlanta Falcons yesterday in East Rutherford.
“Words can’t even describe it,” Beckham said. “To be out this long and to have to deal with the adversity I’ve had, I just want to thank God for giving me the opportunity to play and allowing me to score in my first game.”
While Beckham was expected to be kept on a tight snap count, the Giants unleashed the No. 12 overall pick in this year’s draft in front of a rowdy crowd at MetLife Stadium. Of the 64 plays run by the Giants, Beckham was on the field for 37 of them, catching four passes for 44 yards and the score.
Early in the game, it appeared as if the Giants were gearing up for an ugly beginning to the month of October. After jumping on top, 7-0, the Giants watched as Atlanta scored 20 of the game’s next 23 points.
Facing a third down midway through the third quarter, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan found running back Antone Smith out of the backfield. Smith broke an Antrel Rolle tackle and raced 74 yards for a touchdown to put Atlanta up, 20-10.
“We caught them in a zero coverage,” Falcons head coach Mike Smith said. “It was a great throw by Matt, getting the ball out of his hands. And in zero, there is no defensive depth and he just outran everybody.”
With the life all but sucked out of MetLife Stadium, Manning answered on New York’s following drive, marching the team on a 83-yard touchdown drive. Rookie running back Andre Williams accounted for 33 of the yards, including a three-yard rushing touchdown.
The Giants defense then answered, forcing a Falcon three-and-out and giving the ball back to Manning. The quarterback, who completed 19-of-30 passes for 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the afternoon, proceeded to complete 4-of-5 passes on the drive before finding Beckham for the go-ahead score.
“I was proud of the team today,” Manning said. “We got down 10 in the third quarter and we responded and responded right away. We had a drive and a touchdown. Our defense rallied and started getting some sacks and some stoppages, and offensively, we did what we had to do to win. So I was proud of the guys. No one started getting uptight or getting worried.”
On the ensuing drive, Atlanta took over trailing by seven with just over four minutes left. Facing a fourth on one, Smith kept the offense on the field. Ryan dropped back to pass, but felt pressure up the middle from defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins. The second-year pro brought Ryan down for his second sack of the season.
“It was huge,” Coughlin said of Hankins’ play. “I figured they would try to kick the ball. It was close to four minutes (left).”
The Giants (3-2) will travel to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles Sunday night. Philadelphia (4-1) presently sit in a two-way tie atop the NFC East with the Dallas Cowboys.
Video highlights of today’s game are available at NFL.com.
Post-Game Player Media Q&As: Transcripts and video of the post-game media sessions with the following players are available at Giants.com:
- QB Eli Manning (Video)
- WR Victor Cruz (Video)
- WR Odell Beckham (Video)
- RB Rashad Jennings (Video)
- RB Andre Williams (Video)
- OT Will Beatty (Video)
- DT Johnathan Hankins (Video)
- S Antrel Rolle (Video)