- Matt Ehalt, ESPN New York contributor
- 0 Shares
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Terrell Thomas had been waiting for this play all game.
In his preparation for Sunday, Thomas had familiarized himself with the Oakland Raiders' two-by-two formation, recognizing that it indicates a slant is coming. He even recorded an interception on the play in practice.
Late in the third quarter, Thomas saw that formation being used. And he was more than prepared.
"They haven't run it all game, so when they motioned I kind of knew it was coming," Thomas said. "I stayed inside, and I jumped it."
Thomas' interception proved to be the game-changing play, as it led to the go-ahead touchdown in the New York Giants' 24-20 win over the Raiders at MetLife Stadium. Thomas returned the pick to the Raiders' 5-yard line before Andre Brown scored from 1 yard out to put the Giants in front 21-20.
"We knew we needed a turnover as a defense," Thomas said. "[The] offense was struggling at first, we were turning the ball over and we were playing good defense, but we weren't getting the ball. We needed a big play."
Because of three first-half turnovers, the Giants trailed the Raiders 17-14 at halftime. Inside the locker room, the defensive players talked about creating a turnover that could galvanize the Giants. Thomas was one of the most vocal players.
With the Giants trailing 20-14, Thomas made the play the Giants so desperately needed. After picking off the pass at the Giants' 30-yard line, he zigzagged his way 65 yards toward the end zone, making several defenders miss. But Thomas couldn't quite outrun all the Raiders, as he was eventually dragged down at the 5-yard line. The ball squirted loose, but it was ruled that Thomas was down first.
"If he doesn't make that play, there's no telling what would have been the outcome in this game," safety Antrel Rolle said. "Terrell Thomas, we all know him, we all know what he's capable of. He's just a great veteran player, and more important, his heart is the size of Texas."
Thomas' play this year has been one of the most pleasant surprises for the Giants in what has otherwise been a rough season. He entered the season coming off his third ACL tear, aiming to become just the second NFL player to make it back after suffering that injury three times.
He started slowly, but Thomas has turned it on in recent weeks. He won NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors two weeks ago for his play against the Philadelphia Eagles.
"Sometimes when you get something taken away from you so much, you really appreciate when you have the opportunity to go back out there. He's leaving no stone unturned," linebacker Jon Beason said. "A lot of times when guys have those big injuries teams give up on you, but because of the person he is and the way he's come back and battled back is the reason I think he's making these plays."
Thomas said his knee is at about 80-90 percent -- it still hurts and gets swollen, but he feels like he's turning the corner. To make up for that 10-20 percent he believes he's lacking, Thomas has hit the books harder than ever to make up for what his body can't deliver.
On Sunday, that studying paid off.
"I'm just blessed. I just thank God for putting me in this position, giving me the grace to come back from three ACL surgeries and play in the fashion I am," Thomas said. "I can't thank the Giants enough, my teammates and everybody that believes in me."