EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -– It was not an R-E-S-P-E-C-T affair as much as it was a R-E-L-I-E-F matter, the Chargers and Giants, morbid 0-4 teams scrapping on Sunday in Met-Life Stadium.
It was a desperate and panicky tone all afternoon.
With so much amiss all season for both, the ebb and flow of the entire four quarters was an exercise in which team would blow it and which team’s top players would rise and win it.
That latter would be the Chargers and quarterback Phillip Rivers and running back Melvin Gordon and defensive end Melvin Ingram. Put the Giants and quarterback Eli Manning and receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul in the other box.
The Chargers won it, 27-22, proving the difference between a 1-4 record and 0-5 is a wide divide in happiness, hope, and relief.
That word — relief — kept surfacing among the Chargers.
"We are trying to turn the page on our whole season, because, man, we’ve got somewhere we’re trying to go," said Ingram, a defensive end who by far is producing the best season of any in the NFL at his position with 7.5 sacks (second most in the league), a guy who his teammates affectionately describe as a "beast" and a "dog." He flipped the game with dominating play throughout.
More on that later.
His team finally found a way to win a close game, Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn added, which also happened to be his first victory as their coach. Rivers offered him the game ball afterward and told him, "Sorry it took so long."
"I think those guys made their minds up before they got on the plane that we were going to come here and win today," Lynn said.
Which you imagine the Giants had decided before kickoff, too, tired of losing, at home, a big crowd behind them and a fragile team in their sights.
"In my mind, there was never a doubt that we were going to win this game," Giants guard Justin Pugh said.
They did and a lot more.
They lost their top three receivers to injury, including Odell Beckham Jr. for the remaining 11 games due to a fractured ankle. They lost playoff hope. They lost because their linebackers twice could not cover Gordon out of the backfield on his touchdown catches of 6 and 10 yards. They lost because they were outscored in the second quarter 10-0 and in the final quarter 10-6. They lost because they could not block Ingram when it mattered most nor hold onto the ball once he created chaos.
One of the Chargers’ five sacks of Manning came with 3:46 left, with the Giants at their own 23-yard line and ahead 22-20. It was third-and-7. This is a situation where you convert or you fail and punt and make the Chargers beat you. But on the play, the Chargers wound up with the ball at the Giants 11-yard line.
Ingram sacked Manning, knocked the ball loose, and then dove into a pile of players and recovered it. That led to Gordon’s 10-yard winning catch on a third-and-9 play by the Chargers.
Giants blow it on a third-down play.
Chargers win it on a third-down play.
Giants defense in the first half limits the Chargers to 3-of-10 third-down conversions. Chargers rip them for 5-of-8 in the second half.
"You know, can’t afford to do that," Manning said. "We were backed up … So, I’ve got to get two hands on the ball right there and take the sack and move on. Can’t give them that field position right there."
Things always seem clearer to the Giants, the entire bunch, once the damage is already done. They chat a lot, across the board, about what they could have done or should have done in hot moments. That’s the entire lot, coaches and players.
They do not do enough proper things in crucial moments. This has earned them every bit of their 0-5 season.
"0-5, we didn’t plan it this way," Giants receiver Roger Lewis Jr., said.
“I'm hurting right now,” Pugh said. “It's a tough loss. We will bounce back. We will go out and flush it.”
They play at Denver on next Sunday night. They host Seattle after that.
They are staring at 0-7 entering their bye week.
A flushed season.
It was a game of relief, because the team that won it would snap its wicked skid and increase hope.
Ingram made sure that was the Chargers.
He is a rare combination of explosiveness, power, and strength. He can run as adeptly as he can mash. He kept pushing his way into the Giants backfield all game long. And on those occasions where the Chargers lined him and end Joey Bosa on the same side, it created confusion and an overmatched situation for the Giants’ weak offensive line.
Ingram in September won AFC defensive player of the month. Imagine that, a player on a winless team swiping that honor. That is a rose among weeds, for certain, but Ingram did his part and more in lifting the Chargers to a sweeter place.
He does not lack confidence.
"C’mon man, I know that I’m one of the best players in this league," Ingram said. "I don’t think I am — I know I am.
"I’m building a legacy. I don’t want to be one of best linebackers or defensive ends to play this game, I want to be one of the best football players ever. I want to affect and change every play. It’s a team sport. I’d trade any individual honor for team success. But the way I look at it, I compete against myself. I am always going to try to do more on the next play than I did on the last play, more in the next game, too."
Bosa called it the "beast" in Ingram. Some guys have it, some don’t, he said.
Gordon said Ingram is a "big contract guy" who plays like a free agent scuffling for every penny.
"It’s the dog in him," Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward said. "He is just a dog in this game, a real terror, a matchup nightmare, a guy who can change the complexion of everything."
"I’ve been on a team that was 14-2 here," Chargers 15th-season tight end Antonio Gates said. "There is relief when you are 0-5 and you win. You appreciate it. You plant so much into this that you want to reap the benefits of harvest. You have to bring a lot to the table in this league just to have the chance to win. And then in the end of these games when the chance is there, you must make the plays to win it. This could be the lesson we learned today. This could be who we now become."