The New York Giants were 9-5 and fighting for a playoff spot as they took on the Buffalo Bills on December 23, 2007. Head Coach Tom Coughlin’s team had struggled with inconsistency, particularly with regard to fourth-year QB Eli Manning. He was helped by the presence of WR Plaxico Burress, who was productive despite playing with an injured ankle. The Giants were also helped through a running back by committee approach that had successfully replaced retired star RB Tiki Barber, although in a loss the previous week to the Redskins they were criticized for underutilizing the ground attack. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s unit was aggressive and adept at pressuring opposing quarterbacks while stopping the run.
The Bills, coached by Dick Jauron, had recovered from a slow 1-4 start to win four straight games but were at 7-7 and out of the playoffs. Still, they had received an emotional lift prior to facing the Giants when TE Kevin Everett, who suffered a severe injury to his spinal cord in the season-opening game, returned from his rehab to address the team before the game. Remarkably, he was able to walk under his own power – something that seemed unlikely in the early aftermath.
There was a gusty wind and hard rain that turned to snow flurries as the game at Ralph Wilson Stadium progressed. The fired-up Bills scored the first two times they had the ball. In the game’s initial series, they drove 60 yards in seven plays that featured QB Trent Edwards throwing to WR Lee Evans for 21 yards and to RB Marshawn Lynch for 30 yards in a second-and-17 situation. Edwards finished off the drive with a pass to TE Michael Gaines in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown.
Following a punt by the Giants, Buffalo went 66 yards in six plays, the big one of which was an Edwards completion to WR Roscoe Parrish for 42 yards to the New York four yard line. From there on the next play, Edwards tossed a TD pass to Evans. The score was 14-0 following a quarter of action.
Early in the second quarter, the Giants got a break due to a fumble by the Bills and gained possession at the Buffalo 23. QB Eli Manning completed a pass to WR Amani Toomer for 13 yards on a third-and-six play and the five-play series ended with RB Brandon Jacobs (pictured above) running six yards for a touchdown.
The Giants regained possession following a punt and the series was extended thanks to a roughing the kicker penalty when it appeared that they would go three-and-out. They took immediate advantage when, on the first play after the penalty, Jacobs took off on a 43-yard run for a TD. With the successful extra point, the score was tied at 14-14.
New York added more points following another short series by the Bills that ended with a punt. After two runs by Jacobs gained five yards, Manning passed to Toomer again on third-and-five for a 19-yard gain and the seven-play, 32-yard series ended with Lawrence Tynes kicking a 42-yard field goal that gave the Giants a 17-14 lead.
It seemed as though New York might score again before the half when they advanced to the Buffalo 26 on their next possession with time running out, but Manning fumbled when sacked by DE Aaron Schobel, who then recovered to end the threat and keep it a three-point contest at the intermission.
The Bills regained the lead quickly in the third quarter. On the first play from scrimmage, LB Keith Ellison intercepted a Manning pass and Lynch immediately ran 28 yards to set up his three-yard touchdown run. The successful conversion made it a four-point game with the home team on top at 21-17.
The Giants responded with a long drive that began at their 35 and put them in almost certain scoring position with a first down at the Buffalo one. Three running plays failed to reach the end zone and, going for it on fourth-and-one, RB Reuben Droughns was stopped for a four-yard loss and the Bills regained possession.
Buffalo ran three plays and punted, with the Giants starting with good field position at the Buffalo 45. Jacobs carried six straight times to advance the ball to the Buffalo 11 as the third quarter came to an end. However, the final period started off with Manning fumbling and DT Larry Tripplett recovering for the Bills at the 12. Any advantage for Buffalo was erased two plays later when an Edwards pass that bounced off the shoulder pad of Evans, the intended receiver, was intercepted by LB Kawika Mitchell, who returned it 20 yards for a TD. The Giants were up by 24-21 and wouldn’t look back.
The teams traded punts until Manning was picked off by CB Terrence McGee to give Buffalo the ball near midfield, but the Bills, who hadn’t shown much offense since the first quarter, were unable to advance and, following the ensuing punt, RB Ahmad Bradshaw took off on an 88-yard touchdown run that effectively put the game away. If there was any doubt, on the second play of Buffalo’s next possession Edwards again tossed an interception that was returned for a TD, this time by CB Corey Webster from 34 yards out. The Giants won by a final score of 38-21, with Coach Coughlin receiving a Gatorade bath on the sideline in celebration of nailing down a playoff spot.
New York outgained the Bills by 383 yards to 244, with 291 of that total coming on the ground – the most that the team had accumulated in a game since 1959. The Giants also had the edge in first downs (17 to 16). Each club turned the ball over four times. New York also recorded three sacks, all after star Buffalo OLT Jason Peters left the game with a groin injury in the second quarter.
Ahmad Bradshaw (pictured below), in a breakout performance highlighted by the long scoring run, gained 151 yards on 17 carries that included a TD and Brandon Jacobs, who left the game in the fourth quarter with a sprained ankle, rushed for 143 yards and two TDs on 25 attempts. Eli Manning went to the air just 15 times and completed 7 for 111 yards with no touchdowns and two intercepted, along with two fumbles. Amani Toomer was far and away New York’s leading pass receiver with 5 catches for 99 yards while Plaxico Burress was held to one reception for six yards.
For the Bills, Marshawn Lynch rushed for 70 yards on 18 attempts that included one TD. Trent Edwards, under heavy pressure as the game progressed, was successful on only 9 of 26 throws for 161 yards with two for touchdowns but also three interceptions. Lee Evans had three catches for 43 yards and a TD.
“We knew what we had to do,” said Brandon Jacobs. “We knew the wind was going to be blowing and it was going to be a little rainy. So that is what you do in conditions like that – you run the ball.”
“We were going to put the ball on the ground and have success,” echoed Tom Coughlin. “We didn’t get ourselves into a situation where we felt like we had to do anything but run the ball.”
It was the seventh straight win on the road for the Giants, who finished second in the NFC East at 10-6 but then proceeded to catch fire in the playoffs. With Manning upping his game considerably and the defense playing at its best, New York won three straight postseason road games before upsetting the undefeated New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. Buffalo placed second in the AFC East at 7-9 and out of the playoffs for the eighth consecutive year.
The power-running Brandon Jacobs ended up leading the Giants with 1009 yards on 202 carries (5.0 avg.) and four touchdowns despite missing five games due to injury. Ahmad Bradshaw, little used in his first year except for returning kickoffs until late in the season, had just 190 yards on 23 attempts but saved his best for the postseason where he ran for 208 yards on 48 attempts (4.3 avg.) and a TD.