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. Those with tickets packed the parking lots encircling the stadium in the customary tailgating ritual, but a sizable majority appeared in no hurry to get inside the building to watch a matchup of two of the league’s worst teams.
So much for the heated rivalry between the New York metropolitan area’s two N.F.L. teams. This season, fans of both teams seemed unmoved. With good reason.
But when the game began, the woebegone Jets quickly raced to a two-touchdown lead.
The spurt persuaded the crowd outside, which was at least half Giants fans, to head for the stadium entrances. Then, perhaps to everyone’s surprise, an entertaining game ensued.
Maybe it was the less than stellar level of the competition, but for long stretches on Sunday, both teams almost looked like they knew what they were doing for a change. The Giants rallied to take the lead through the middle of the game, but the Jets did not fold, countering with a fourth-quarter, 10-point comeback to win, 34-27.
Afterward, Jets quarterback Sam Darnold was smiling for the first time in a month.
“We needed that,” he said. “Really did need that.”
As predicted, however, the loser in this contest of beleaguered teams was the most thunderstruck. The Giants (2-8) have now lost their last six games and, for a week at least, supplanted the Jets (2-7) as the area’s most besieged pro football organization.
Pat Shurmur, the Giants’ coach, was asked afterward what he would say to the fans. He answered somewhat softly: “I think they should be as disappointed as I am.”
Giants running back Saquon Barkley, who was selected with the second overall pick in the 2018 N.F.L. draft — one spot ahead of Darnold — rushed 13 times for 1 yard on Sunday. Daniel Jones, the Giants’ first-round pick this year, fumbled on the most pivotal play of the game.
That sequence came less than a minute into the second half, after the Giants scored two touchdowns to pull to 14-13. (The Giants bungled an extra point attempt.)
Before the third quarter began, Jets safety Jamal Adams stood on the sideline and loudly predicted to his teammates that he would soon make a big play to alter the game.
“He said he would create a turnover,” Jets Coach Adam Gase said with a rare grin after the game. “So when I saw him running into the end zone right after that, I was like, ‘I guess he was right.’”
Adams blitzed from Jones’s left on the play. Among the rookie quarterback’s chief issues are anticipating blitzes and deciding whether to get rid of, or protect, the football before the pass rushers reach him. With Adams closing in, Jones did neither, and Adams snatched the football from Jones’s right hand.
He then raced into the end zone for a 21-13 Jets lead. As he did, he ran past Barkley, who hardly looks like the same player he was last season. Barkley, in fact, was examined for an undisclosed injury after the game. He missed three games in October with a high ankle sprain.
Asked on Sunday if he was injured, Barkley replied, “Next question.”
Adams, who has had a noisy few weeks that created friction within the Jets organization, was all smiles Sunday.
“I like to speak my mind, so I told everyone on the sideline that I was going to flip the game,” he said.
Said his teammate Jordan Jenkins: “Jamal may talk a lot, but if he keeps doing that kind of thing, I can deal with it.”
To their credit, the Giants, who were playing without their best wide receiver and their starting tight end and center, charged back.
On their 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. But Giants kicker 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.
Unlike in the previous three games, Darnold was poised and confident in the pocket and led the Jets to the game’s final three scores.
“I did a better job of controlling myself,” Darnold said. “I wasn’t trying to do too much, and that’s a key.”
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 cornerback DeAndre Baker gave the Jets the ball on the Giants’ 1-yard line. One play later, Le’Veon Bell put the Jets ahead with a touchdown plunge. They extended their lead later in the quarter on a 35-yard Ficken field goal.
The Giants failed to even cross the 50-yard line on their final five drives.
After the game, not many in the Jets' locker room said anything about having earned bragging rights.
Darnold mentioned it once, and then a quizzical expression came over his face, as if he was reminding himself that the two New York teams have now combined for just four victories 10 weeks into the season.
“Today, this is fun,” he said. “Or, more fun.”
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