Meet the first-place Giants … quarterbacked by Colt McCoy.
Sunday was a good news/bad news day for the Giants, who beat the host Cincinnati Bengals, 19-17, to move atop the NFC East entering December for the first time since 2012.
But the Giants will begin a brutal four-game stretch against winning teams with questions at quarterback after Daniel Jones suffered what appeared to be a mild right hamstring strain sliding to the turf in the third quarter and did not return.
Jones made an awkward throw on the next play as he could not step into the delivery or run through an open hole and the trainers came onto the field. In his Giants’ debut, McCoy’s first pass was a completion for a loss of 9 yards and his second was a dropped interception, which allowed the Giants to still kick the go-ahead field goal.
Jones went into the blue medical tent on the sideline. He came back on the field for two plays on the next drive but grimaced and grabbed his hamstring immediately after his only throw, prompting McCoy to return.
It set up a battle of backup quarterbacks. Signed from the practice squad earlier in the week, Brandon Allen made his fourth career start, jumping backup Ryan Finley to take over after the season-ending ACL injury to Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow.
The Giants (4-7) have won three straight for the first time since the 2016 season and now have the same record as the Washington Football Team, but own the tiebreaker because of a head-to-head sweep. The Eagles (3-6-1) could retake first with a win over the visiting Seahawks on Monday night.
Wayne Gallman finished with 24 carries for 94 yards and a touchdown, McCoy was 6 of 10 for 31 yards and the Giants forced three second-half turnovers, including Leonard Williams’ game-sealing fumble recovery in the final minute.
It was McCoy’s 41st career game (28 starts) but his second since suffering a broken leg in November 2018. Two McCoy-led drives produced points: A 41-yard field by Graham Gano for a 16-10 lead with 11:40 remaining and a 32-yarder opened a two-score lead, 19-10, with 3:54 to go.
Gano, who has made 24 straight field goals, tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 17 but did not miss a game because of the bye week.
His last two field goals came off turnovers.
Defensive lineman Niko Lalos — who was promoted from the practice squad Saturday to fill a hole on special teams — made a diving interception. Cornerback Darnay Holmes broke up a pass and Lalos hustled back to the second level to make the catch off the deflection as rookies came up big on both ends of the play.
Lalos later held up tight end Drew Sample as Logan Ryan came in, stripped the ball and recovered a fumble. The Giants defense forced three three-and-outs and two turnovers on the Bengals’ first five possessions of the second half.
The Giants opened the game with a nine-play, 76-yard touchdown drive highlighted by a line-of-scrimmage audible producing a 53-yard pass to Evan Engram. Gallman got four straight handoffs inside the 10-yard line and finally powered into the end zone from a unique goal-line formation with side-by-side tackles Cam Fleming and Andrew Thomas.
But the Bengals (3-8-1) answered with the longest play in their franchise history, a 103-yard kickoff from Brandon Wilson. It was exactly the kind of non-traditional scoring needed to keep the score close when an offense is outgained 223-66 in the first half.
The teams traded second-quarter field goals for a 10-10 tie. A fumble by Engram cut short a Giants’ drive in field-goal range and led to the Bengals’ first three offensive points but his 44-yard reception from Jones early in the third set up the tie-breaking score.