EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — At kickoff in Sunday’s game between the Giants and the Jets, the stands at MetLife Stadium were less than half full. The teams play each other in the regular season only once every four years, which customarily stokes the heated rivalry between the New York metropolitan area’s two N.F.L. teams. But this year, the region’s football fans seemed unmoved.
With good reason.
Those with tickets to the game remained in the parking lots encircling the stadium, and a majority appeared in no hurry to get inside the building to watch a matchup of two of the league’s worst teams.
But then the game began, with the Jets racing to a two-touchdown lead. That spurt induced the tailgating crowd, which was at least half Giants fans, to head inside the stadium. And perhaps to everyone’s surprise, an exciting, entertaining game ensued.
Maybe it was the level of the competition, but for long stretches on Sunday, both teams looked like they knew what they were doing for a change. The Giants rallied impressively throughout the middle of the game, and the Jets countered with a fourth-quarter, 10-point comeback of their own to win, 34-27.
Most fans stayed until the end of the game, which concluded with the Giants’ offense failing four times to match the Jets’ late charge. The Giants (2-8) have now lost their last six games. At the final whistle, fans of the Jets (2-7), who no longer shared the stands with Giants fans, celebrated.
The Jets opened the game as if they were going to run the Giants out of the building by halftime. On an opening 13-play drive that took 7 minutes 39 seconds, Jets quarterback Sam Darnold had some of his best moments of this season, standing in the pocket under pressure to complete his first seven passes. With the Jets at the Giants’ 2-yard line, Darnold perfectly executed a run-pass option play, faking the handoff to Le’Veon Bell before keeping the ball to dash into the end zone for a score that put the Jets ahead, 7-0.
After the Giants ran just three plays on their initial drive, Darnold looked poised again. On a second-down play, with Giants linebacker Markus Golden draped around his legs in the passing pocket, Darnold adeptly fired a crisp pass to Robby Anderson for an 11-yard gain.
The Giants’ defense appeared to be in disarray as the Jets marched to the Giants’ 23-yard line. From there, on a third-down play, Darnold was again under pressure but tossed the ball into the right flat to Jamison Crowder, who despite being surrounded by three Giants defenders managed to sprint into the end zone for a 14-0 Jets lead late in the first half.
It was another embarrassing gaffe for the beleaguered Giants secondary. Things were not any better for the Giants’ offense, which gained 2 yards and had only one first down in the first quarter. Daniel Jones had already fumbled once. But in the second quarter, everything shifted.
Jones led the Giants on an eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive. The longest gain for the Giants was a 31-yard gain by tight end Rhett Ellison, who caught a swing pass and stormed up the right sideline. Three Jets penalties also kept the Giants’ advance alive.
At the Jets’ 5-yard line, Jones had more than five seconds in the pocket to choose his target and eventually fired a pass between three Jets defenders for a touchdown to Darius Slayton that cut the Jets’ lead in half.
The Jets had their chances in the quarter. On a flea flicker, Darnold looked 50 yards downfield and saw wide receiver Vyncint Smith running behind the Giants' secondary, but Darnold’s pass was too long and fell yards beyond the reach of Smith.
The Giants’ pass rush was also beginning to get to Darnold, who was sacked once and harassed into poor throws several times.
The Giants' offense continued to be effective, and benefited from Jets’ penalties. Jones was at his best in pivotal moments. On fourth-and-4 at the Jets’ 39-yard line, he rifled a short pass on a slant pattern to Slayton, who caught the pass at the 30-yard line and outraced the Jets’ secondary into the end zone. A bungled snap on the ensuing extra point try left the Jets ahead, 14-13.
A mere 47 seconds into the third quarter, Jones’s ball security issues cost the Giants points again. On a blitz, Jets safety Jamal Adams ripped the football from Jones’s right hand as he was in the process of being sacked. Adams then raced 25 yards into the end zone untouched for a 21-13 Jets lead.
But things were just getting interesting. On the Giants’ next possession, wide receiver Golden Tate caught a screen pass with several blockers in front of him and bolted through a gap in the Jets' defense for a 61-yard touchdown. The Giants appeared to tie the game with a successful 2-point conversion try, but an offensive pass interference penalty negated those points. Then the Giants decided to go for the 1-point kick attempt instead. Aldrick Rosas missed the try and the Giants still trailed by 2.
About six minutes later, Jones again connected with Tate, who was wide open in the middle of the field when he caught a 15-yard touchdown pass. As he was being knocked to the ground, Jones lofted a deft pass over two Jets into the left corner of the end zone for a 2-point conversion that put the Giants ahead, 27-21.
The Jets cut the deficit to 27-24 late in the third quarter on a 53-yard field goal by Sam Ficken. At the start of the fourth quarter, a 33-yard pass interference penalty on the Giants rookie corner DeAndre Baker gave the Jets the ball on the Giants’ 1-yard line. One play later, Bell put the Jets ahead with a touchdown plunge. They extended their lead later in the quarter on a 35-yard Ficken field goal.