Giants win sixth-straight against Browns, set sights on NFC East lead

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The New York Giants entered Week 12 on a high horse, riding on a five-game win streak as they headed to Cleveland to take on the winless Cleveland Browns. Earlier in the week, the Dallas Cowboys extended their win streak to 10 games after a hard-fought game against the Washington Redskins. In order to remain within two games of the Cowboys in the race for the NFC East, Big Blue had to pull out a win in FirstEnergy Stadium, the Browns’ stadium.

Despite their empty win column, the Browns gave the Giants a run for their money, staying in the game until the fourth quarter before Big Blue was finally able to break away.

The Browns’ defense took the Giants by surprise in the first quarter, forcing the team into numerous three-and-out situations. Jamie Collins, formerly a New England Patriots standout, anchored the defense early on, leaving the Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning under duress.

Although the Giants held up under pressure, the team was on upset alert, wary that they may give the Browns their first win of the season. To make matters worse, star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. appeared to sustain a thumb injury that sent him to the sideline after a gang-tackle from the Browns’ defense.

The Giants’ first opportunity came in the second quarter, after Browns’ running back Isaiah Crowell lost the football and gifted Big Blue great field position. On the ensuing drive, Manning connected with old-friend Dwayne Harris on a textbook pass to the back of the end zone. The touchdown was Harris’ first catch of the entire season, resigning exclusively to the return specialist role. During the previous season, Harris was headed to the receiver corps, complementing OBJ well in the absence of Victor Cruz. Surprisingly, new head coach Ben McAdoo has not utilized Harris in a similar role since taking the helm.

Heading into the fourth quarter with a 14-6 score in their advantage, the Giants were still eager to put the game away. With the Browns facing a second down and 19 to go, the Giants’ defensive front exploded at the snap, with new Giants players Damon “Snacks” Harrison and Olivier Vernon meeting at the opposing quarterback. While the offensive line was retreating back in his direction, quarterback Josh McCown panicked and lost the ball. Awaiting the ball as it fell was veteran defensive-end Jason Pierre-Paul, who returned the interception 43 yards for his first career pick-six. Pierre-Paul made headlines earlier in the offseason during a freak accident, which yielded significant damage to his right hand. After a long rehabilitation process, Pierre-Paul returned to the Giants’ defensive line on a mission, so far dominating his opponents and making a strong case to get paid once his current contract is up.

Following Beckham’s second touchdown of the day, the Giants wrapped up their sixth straight win, dropping the Browns to 0-12 on the season. Despite the accomplishment, Giants fans had mixed feelings about the win.

On one hand, there were those eyeing the NFC wildcard race—following Washington’s Thanksgiving Day loss, the Giants now had a comfortable lead over their competition.

On the other hand, some fear that Big Blue would be unable to eclipse the Cowboys for the division title given Dallas’ amazing season. While being atop the wildcard is certainly reassuring, the ultimate goal is to win the divisional crown and earn a first-round playoff bye-week.  When the Giants last won the Super Bowl in 2012, they took the longer route, knocking off the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC wildcard before making a run for the Lombardi Trophy.

Still, the NFC title is well within reach for Big Blue. Dallas is pitted against the desperate Minnesota Vikings on Week 13’s running of Thursday Night Football. Despite its recent slump, the Vikings’ defense is among the best in the league. The team desperately needs a win to keep playoff hopes alive, so it is expected to bring its best performance.

If Minnesota is able to shell out the win and the Giants can top the Pittsburgh Steelers, they will close the gap between Dallas to just one game. Following this thought, Big Blue is set to host the Cowboys at MetLife Stadium the following week.

If the Giants are able to hand Dallas their second straight loss, they will relinquish the NFC East lead by means of a tie-breaker. Although wishful thinking, the chances of this storyline actually playing out are not so far-fetched.

Still, the Giants’ meeting with Ben Roethlisberger is tough. Being that Pittsburgh’s team features arguably the best receiver in the league, Antonio Brown, the cornerbacks of the Giants cannot afford to make a single mistake or else “Big Ben” is sure to take the advantage. In order for the Giants to exploit the Steelers’ secondary, they must make sure that they can hold off James Harrison and the veteran defensive line.

If Manning can stay up and see the entire game, the receiving core will have proven that it can build a sizeable lead and give the team a strong chance to extend its win-streak.

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