In those moments late Sunday afternoon, Garrard became a snapshot of the latest victim of the Giants’ pass rush, turning into a human punching bag at the end of at New Meadowlands Stadium.
In a defensive stand that saved a win — and perhaps a teetering season — the Giants sacked Garrard three consecutive times on the Jaguars’ final possession after Jacksonville moved deep into Giants territory.
On third down, cornerback Terrell Thomas provided the punctuation mark by forcing a fumble that was recovered by safety Antrel Rolle. After that, the Giants (7-4) knelt to victory to stay afloat in the National Football Conference and move into a after .
After the Giants took the lead on a 32-yard touchdown reception by Kevin Boss with 3 minutes 15 seconds to play, the Jaguars (6-5) got the ball back 73 yards from the end zone. The members of the Giants’ defense realized the season was on the line.
“I think there was some of that,” defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. “There was some of that at halftime. We realized we were about to let the season go down the drain.”
In the first half, the Giants did not have answers for Garrard or the diminutive running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
The Jaguars built a 17-6 halftime lead thanks to Garrard, who ran through the grasp of more than one defender (including the outstretched arms of end Osi Umenyiora en route to a second-quarter touchdown). Jones-Drew helped to keep the Giants off balance by rushing for 73 yards in the first two quarters.
At halftime, the captain and Umenyiora each made a speech so impassioned, Cofield said, he was nearly brought to tears. Tuck preached about protecting their home turf. Umenyiora, usually reserved even around his teammates, grew so intense that he was screaming.
Rolle described the overriding emotion in the locker room as anger.
“We weren’t playing ball the way we needed to play ball,” Rolle said. “We weren’t physical. We weren’t playing disciplined football. We allowed things to happen to us that shouldn’t have happened.”
In back-to-back losses before Sunday, the Giants’ defense showed holes. Though the Giants were soft in the first half against Jacksonville, they stiffened later as a result of the halftime speeches and a heightened focus on execution.
The Jaguars accumulated only 92 yards of offense in the second half and went 5 for 10 on third-down conversions after converting 5 of 6 in the first half. Thomas intercepted Garrard at the Jaguars’ 39 on the first offensive play of the third quarter, which help set a tempo for the Giants’ defense.
The game, though, came down to the Jaguars’ last possession. Garrard moved the Jaguars 39 yards to the Giants’ 34 by completing 3 of 6 passes, all but one out of the shotgun formation. The Jaguars reached the Giants’ 29 when cornerback Aaron Ross was flagged for defensive holding, giving Garrard just under two minutes to move Jacksonville in for the go-ahead touchdown.
“That was the game,” Rolle said. “It was put on our backs, which is something we don’t mind. We have guys that have extreme measures of heart. If the game is on the line and our backs are against the wall, we’ll respond to that.”
With the Jaguars threatening, Perry Fewell, the Giants’ first-year defensive coordinator, called . Instead of having the Giants play conservatively, though they were in a cover 2, Fewell sent pressure at Garrard. It worked.
On first down, a sack by Rolle and Tuck.
On second down, a sack by end Jason Pierre-Paul.
On third down, a sack by Thomas.
After each of the first two sacks, the Jaguars called time out, and Garrard walked gingerly back to the huddle. He needed time to rouse himself while prone on the turf. The Giants put an exclamation point on the third sack with a fumble recovery.
The Giants’ game-ending beating of Garrard put a stamp on the victory, but it also strengthened their playoff hopes.