EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Crazy as it may sound, the New York Giants are starting to believe they have a chance to make a run at the playoffs.
It’s amazing what a couple of wins can do for a team after a 1-7 start.
Saquon Barkley ran for a career-high 142 yards and scored three touchdowns as the Giants held off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 38-35 on Sunday to win consecutive games for the first time since December 2016.
“I think there is some excitement going around,” said Eli Manning , who hit 17 of 18 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns. “It is good. It is a good feeling to have in the locker room and you see some growth. You see the improvement.”
What the Giants (3-7) are doing is making plays and finishing. The running game has picked up and it’s opened up the passing game, and the defense is forcing turnovers. The group intercepted four passes in sending the Bucs (3-7) to their fourth straight loss with linebacker Alec Ogletree returning one 15 yards for a touchdown.
“I just know that we’re playing better and I just love to see these guys in here after the game with smiles on their faces,” said receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who caught an 8-yard touchdown pass. “We just put it all together, so it’s always a lot more fun when you win.”
Playing in the NFC East also helps increase the belief the Giants are not dead.
Washington, which fell to Houston and lost quarterback Alex Smith for the season to a broken leg, leads the division with a 6-4 record. No other team has a winning record.
“We’ve got a long way to go, there are a lot of things we’ve got to get better at, but if we can just keep battling and fighting, who knows?” coach Pat Shurmur said. “That would be a fun thing for everybody to write about.”
The Giants never trailed as Manning found a wide-open Barkley on a 6-yard TD pass on the opening series, and the No. 2 overall pick in the draft scored from 5 yards out on the second possession to give New York the lead for good.
“We’re finishing games and we’re finishing drives, and that’s what we weren’t doing in the first half of the season,” Barkley said of his first winning streak as a pro.
Tampa Bay made things interesting after Jameis Winston replaced a turnover-plagued Ryan Fitzpatrick in the third quarter and led four touchdown drives. The last score came on a 41-yard pass to Mike Evans with 2:22 to play and got the Bucs within 38-35.
The Bucs got the ball back at their 20 with 23 seconds to play, but B.W. Webb intercepted Winston’s long throw down the sideline to ice the win.
After Tampa Bay got within 31-28, Manning, whose only incompletion came on a short pass to Barkley late in the second quarter, connected with tight end Evan Engram on a 54-yard pass and run on the second play after the kickoff, and Barkley capped the drive with a 2-yard run with 3:52 to play.
The Winston-to-Evans TD pass closed the gap to three points again.
“It hurts me when I have to see my team lose a game because I turned the ball over,” Winston said. “And I’m sure it hurts Fitz. And I’m sure it hurts anyone that has a hand in what they believe led the other team to winning. That’s our main focus. We have to find a way to win.”
Fitzpatrick scored on a fourth-down 1-yard run for the Tampa Bay, which squandered a chance to score on its opening possession when Fitzpatrick was stopped on a quarterback sneak inside the Giants’ 5.
Evans recovered a fumble in the end zone in the third quarter to start the comeback, Peyton Barber tallied from 5 yards out and Adam Humphrie s and Evans caught TD passes in the fourth quarter to get the Bucs within three points twice.
Winston finished 12 of 16 for 199 yards and two touchdowns. Barber rushed for 106 yards on 18 carries. Evans had six catches for 120 yards. Fitzpatrick was 13 of 21 for 167 and the three interceptions.
Buccaneers TE O.J. Howard left the game in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury. Giants DL Kerry Wynn left the game in the second half with a concussion.
Jason Pierre-Paul, the Giants’ 2010 first-round draft pick, returned to face his old team for the first time since being traded in the spring. He had 1½ of the Bucs’ four sacks. He helped Manning up after the first sack.
“I just said to him: ‘Get up, stop falling,’ but no, I was just helping him up because that used to be my old teammate and I’m not trying to hurt him, I’m just trying to play football and have good sportsmanship,” Pierre-Paul said.
Kareem Martin had the Giants’ first and only sack in the last three games.
Buccaneers: Host the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
Giants: Travel to Philadelphia to face the Eagles on Sunday.
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