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Landon Collins watched in Wednesday morning’s tense team film session as Ben McAdoo showed video clips of Collins’ on-field mistakes against the 49ers again, again and again.
Three times in all, the Giants head coach made an example of how Collins, a first-team All-Pro safety in 2016, had erred in the previous week’s embarrassing loss at San Fran. And Collins said another unspecified teammate was put on blast a team-high four times for lackluster effort, and one can only surmise it was cornerback Janoris Jenkins.
So two of the Giants’ highest-profile players were called out big-time in front of the whole team. And this was two days after Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch had released a statement calling the season “extremely disappointing” and the previous two blowout losses to the Rams and Niners “inexcusable and frustrating.”
“I ain’t gonna lie to you,” Collins said with a smile Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium. “I was kinda upset.”
But that moment may have been when McAdoo, on a coaching seat so hot it was practically engulfed in flames, began to win his players and this Giants team back. Because on Sunday, Collins, Jenkins and the Giants defense responded constructively and demonstratively to McAdoo’s call to accountability, intercepting three Chiefs passes in a 12-9 overtime win, the team’s first home victory in five tries this fall.
“I was more like, ‘All right,’” Collins said of being called out. “(Was I) embarrassed? No, because I know the caliber of player I am and that I have more respect than a lot of people in that room. But I kind of just took it personally that I’m not playing how I played last year, and for him to put that up there it’s like, ‘All right, I’m not the only one seeing this.’”
Collins indeed played like his 2016 self with 14 total tackles, including a tackle for a loss, a pass defended, and an interception of a fourth-quarter pass by Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce. The defense had intercepted just four passes all season prior to Sunday’s three picks.
Jenkins didn’t play perfectly, but he played hard and made a difference, a drastic change from his no-show coming off suspension in last week’s 31-21 loss to the previously winless Niners. Jenkins was beaten for a Tyreek Hill 38-yard completion in the third quarter on a Chiefs scoring drive to tie the game at six apiece early in the fourth. And he committed a pass interference penalty on the Chiefs’ final regulation drive to tie it and send it to overtime at nine-up.
But Jenkins intercepted Chiefs QB Alex Smith in the fourth quarter to set up a go-ahead Aldrick Rosas field goal at 9-6, and his penalty later was committed out of will, not indifference. While it negated what would have been his second interception, his effort and his celebrations of both picks — throwing the ball high into the stands for the fans he’d dismissed this week when his effort was questioned — were clear signs he was out to make a point.
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“Don’t ever question my passion for This Great Game of Football,” Jenkins posted pregame on Instagram.
“I think after the week we had, a couple of guys being called out, being put on the big screen, I think everybody responded well,” said corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, suspended earlier this season by McAdoo but now lauded for his bounce-back in attitude.
All of this said, the Giants defense still let the Chiefs offense drive 69 yards with 1:30 to play in the fourth to tie the game on Harrison Butker’s third field goal, the big play being a Kelce 32-yard catch on which defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo unusually had defensive end Olivier Vernon covering the stud tight end.
The Giant offense scored only 12 points on a bad Chiefs defense, their only touchdown scored by Orleans Darkwa in the second quarter after Damon Harrison’s interception gave them the ball at Kansas City’s 26-yard line.
The Giants also improved to just 2-8 with their first win since Oct. 15 in Denver. And Thursday’s Thanksgiving showdown in Washington looms to threaten any momentum they hope to build with this win.
Still, given that the Giants had been outscored 106-45 in their three-game losing streak coming in, the improvement in effort across the board on defense and special teams was noteworthy.
And it is encouraging mainly because this win reflected well on McAdoo, a man who desperately needed something to go his way.
The chaos of the Giants’ past two weeks was unprecedented, including anonymous player quotes ripping the coach, other players angrily calling out any “rat” in the locker room, and Mara’s and Tisch’s Monday statement setting the tone for this nervous week.
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“Ben McAdoo is our head coach and has our support,” the statement read. But the owners’ confidence was tepid and their insistence they would reassess everything after the season reflected the sweeping nature of their dismay.
McAdoo responded by declaring he was built for a “storm” and called the Wednesday team meeting to stress accountability. Many Giants fans still entered this weekend more excited for Saturday night’s USC-UCLA game — which GM Jerry Reese attended, per ESPN, to scout quarterback prospects Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen — than for Giants-Chiefs.
Still, while Sunday’s win all but eliminated the Giants from the first overall pick in next April’s draft given the winless Browns’ futility, McAdoo and these Giant players had a point to prove to each other.
Right guard D.J. Fluker said McAdoo delivered a speech to the team on Saturday night “about being fired up, (about how to) come out with passion (and) make the guy across from you quit.”
McAdoo’s and Mike Sullivan’s early trick-play-calling bordered on desperate, including Shane Vereen’s halfback pass intercepted to squelch the Giants first drive. And McAdoo admitted he had prioritized “trying to put a touchdown on the board” over other considerations, clearly stretching for a win.
And, yet, though it took 68 minutes, six seconds and an incredible catch by Roger Lewis Jr. to set up Aldrick Rosas’ game-winning 23-yard field goal, McAdoo got his players to work. “I know we played hard,” McAdoo said.
And in a season when McAdoo has taken the blame for so much bad, he deserved credit for the good on Sunday.