ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. - Neither rain, sleet, nor snow - and not even Bills tight end Kevin Everett's inspirational return to Buffalo - could prevent the New York Giants from clinching a playoff berth yesterday.
A rediscovered running attack and an opportunistic defense carried the Giants past the Bills and the elements in a 38-21 win.
"I'm proud of my team," said running back Brandon Jacobs, who scored twice and finished with a career-high 145 yards. "I'm proud of the defense. It means a lot."
Even coach Tom Coughlin could shrug off his sourpuss public persona for a moment, cracking a joke about the Gatorade bath he received on the sideline.
"It was the chunks of ice that gave me some mixed thoughts on the intention there," Coughlin said, smiling.
The game began with a pelting rain and winds gusting at more than 30 miles per hour, and ended with flurries. The conditions contributed to the teams committing four turnovers each and not mounting much of a passing attack.
Good thing the Giants (10-5) had a plan to run the ball, something they were criticized for failing to do in a 22-10 loss to the Redskins last week. They rushed for 291 yards, their most since they had 351 Nov. 29, 1959, against Washington.
Jacobs's two scores, including a powerful 43-yard run, rallied the Giants from a 14-0 first-quarter deficit. And when he left the game with a sprained left ankle in the fourth quarter, New York kept running the ball, with backup Ahmad Bradshaw scoring an 88-yard touchdown that put the Giants up 31-21 with 6:12 left.
New York's defense did the rest as Kawika Mitchell intercepted Trent Edwards and returned it 20 yards for the go-ahead score early in the fourth quarter. Corey Webster then sealed the victory by scoring on a 34-yard interception return 22 seconds after Bradshaw's touchdown.
By clinching yesterday, the Giants avoided what could've been a must-win finale against the league's top team, the Patriots, next Saturday night in East Rutherford, N.J.
Even quarterback Eli Manning could shrug off a performance in which he went 7 of 15 for 111 yards with two interceptions and two lost fumbles.
The Bills (7-8) had plenty to play for even though they were eliminated from playoff contention last week. That's because of Everett, the tight end who addressed the team before the game in his first visit to Buffalo since sustaining a severe spinal cord injury in the Bills season opener against Denver Sept. 9. Everett is walking on his own while continuing his rehab in Houston. It's a remarkable recovery for someone doctors initially feared would never walk again.
"There's no way I could deny it, it was certainly an inspiration to see him," coach Dick Jauron said of Everett.
The Bills seemed to ride the emotion of Everett's speech in the first quarter, when Buffalo gained 122 yards and scored on each of its first two possessions. Nothing much else went right after that as the Bills managed 122 yards the rest of the game.