The New York Giants' defensive improvements paid dividends in a 21-20 victory over the visiting Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL.
The Giants had the NFL's worst defense last year, but spent over $200million to sign free agents like defensive end Olivier Vernon, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and defensive tackle Damon Harrison. They also got defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul back following last year's horrific fireworks injury.
Each played a huge role in Monday's win over the Bengals, who were two of 11 on third-down conversions.
Vernon had a team-high 10 tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss. Harrison had eight tackles, including one for loss and half a sack. Pierre-Paul batted a couple of passes at the line to go with five tackles and two quarterback hurries. Jenkins had six tackles and limited Cincinnati receiver A.J. Green to seven receptions for 68 yards.
The Giants entered Monday's game with an NFL-worst 11 sacks, but got to Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton three times on Monday.
Dalton finished 16 of 29 for 204 yards with a touchdown and was picked by Giants safety Landon Collins in the fourth quarter.
The Giants came in with the NFL's worst rushing offense at 68.2 yards per game, but churned out a season-high 122 yards against the Bengals (3-5-1). When they needed to put the game away late, Rashad Jennings ripped off a 25-yard run with two minutes remaining and the Giants were able to go into victory formation.
The game-winning touchdown came early in the fourth quarter on a gutsy fourth-and-goal call. Eli Manning, who went 28 of 44 for 240 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions, hit rookie Sterling Shepard over the middle for a three-yard touchdown.
"We knew on second down we were in four-down territory," Manning told NFL Network following the game. "Shepard ran a big-time route and came through for us."
Jennings ran for 87 yards on 15 carries and caught three passes for 22 yards. It was easily the best game of the season for Jennings, who entered with 168 rushing yards.
"That was awesome. That was big time," Manning said of the running game. "Those big guys up front wanted to run the ball."
"We are really looking forward to February 5 in Houston," Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who caught 10 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown, said of the Super Bowl on ESPN. "That's the goal.
"We're working to get better every day. I can really feel this team jelling... We're making strides and headed in the right direction."
LOOK OUT COWBOYS
The Giants might be the only team to contend with the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys. The Giants beat the Cowboys in the season opener in Dallas and will play host to the Cowboys at the Meadowlands on December 11. The Giants (6-3) are still two games back of the Cowboys (8-1) and would need some help to win the division.
The Giants defense has shown vast improvements and, if they can continue to run the ball, they will be tough for anyone to beat.