After making the playoffs in 1989, the Giants entered the 1990 season as one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl, although most believed they stood little chance of preventing a threepeat by the 49ers. They began the season with a 27–20 win over the Philadelphia Eagles, then won their next nine games before losing a rematch to Philadelphia 31–13 in week 12. The Giants also lost close games to the 49ers on the road and Bills at home in the regular season, before defeating both teams in playoff rematches. In Week 15 during the game against Buffalo, starting quarterback Phil Simms was injured and ultimately lost for the season with a broken foot. He was replaced by Hostetler, who won the final two regular season games prior to the playoffs. The Giants defense led the NFL in fewest points allowed (211), and the team set an NFL record by committing only 14 turnovers in the regular season. After the season, six Giants were selected to the Pro Bowl.
In 2007, ESPN.com ranked the 1990 Giants' defense as the sixth-greatest in NFL history, noting that the team "allowed only 13.2 points a game against a very tough schedule – they played against seven playoff teams during the regular season. Led by Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor, New York's defense also came through in the playoffs, holding the Bears to just three points in the divisional playoff game. Then they allowed a tough 49ers offense just two field goals and one TD, and set up the game-winning score by forcing a late fumble to win the NFC title 15–13. In Super Bowl XXV, the Giant defense held its own against the Bills' no-huddle offense, and New York won 20–19."
The Giants started the season with a 27–20 win against the Philadelphia Eagles. Despite sitting out training camp and the preseason in a contract dispute, linebackerLawrence Taylor started against the Eagles and finished with three sacks and a forced fumble. The Giants defense forced three turnovers and held the Eagles to 83 rushing yards. The Giants offense scored three touchdowns in a 13-minute span in the third and early fourth quarters, but head coachBill Parcells felt its performance was lackluster overall, "Our runners didn't run the way we wanted them to. They were a little impatient. There were five or six vivid examples of cutting back too soon. You just have to give the play a chance and let it go where it's supposed to."
In temperatures reaching 122 degrees on the artificial turf at Texas Stadium, the Giants played the Dallas Cowboys on September 16. In a matchup featuring the Giants, who went 12–4 in 1989, and the Cowboys, who went 1–15 in 1989, the Giants dominated from the outset, and used their backup players heavily throughout the game. Lawrence Taylor batted a Troy Aikman pass high into the air that he returned for a touchdown. The Giants defense held the Cowboys to 20 rushing yards and 156 yards of total offense, while their offense gained 369. In addition, the Cowboys totaled only nine first downs, averaged 1.8 yards a rush attempt, and were dominated by the Giants in time of possession; 41 minutes 40 seconds to 18 minutes 20 seconds. Despite the 28–7 victory, Giants centerBart Oates still felt the Giants offense could improve their play, "[w]e missed a lot of assignments. We rushed the ball O.K., but not like we did against Buffalo in preseason. Phil was pressured some. There were plenty of things we didn't do."
The Miami Dolphinsheld the ball for only 19 minutes and 42 seconds, and totalled only 158 yards of total offense against the Giants defense on September 23. The Giants offense set the tone by holding the ball for 10 minutes and 25 seconds on the opening drive, leading to a field goal by Raul Allegre. They defeated the Dolphins 20–3 in front of 76,483 fans at Giants Stadium. Parcells was criticized by the local media for playing Taylor in the final moments, despite the lopsided score, after he injured his hamstring. The Giants defense held the Dolphins passing game, led by eventual Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino, to 119 total yards, and 3.6 yards per pass attempt.
The Giants faced the Dallas Cowboys in week four in front of 75,923 fans at Giants Stadium. The Giants defense held the Cowboys to 51 rushing yards on 20 attempts, and the Giants controlled the ball for 35 minutes and 38 seconds of the game. Giants quarterback Phil Simms threw three touchdowns, and backup Jeff Hostetler ran for a 12-yard score late in the fourth quarter. Although the Giants league-leading defense gave up 284 yards, 84 came on the Cowboys' final possession when the Giants played a prevent defense. Simms threw touchdown passes to Mark Ingram, and Rodney Hampton, and the Giants built a 31–10 early in the fourth quarter, before pulling their starters and allowing a Dallas touchdown.
In week seven, the Giants faced the Phoenix Cardinals in front of 76,518 fans at Giants Stadium. They rushed for 151 yards on 31 carries, and committed only four penalties for 24 yards. Their defense held the Cardinals to 96 passing yards and 221 yards of total offense. With 5 minutes 38 seconds left in the game, the Cardinals—13-point underdogs going into the game—extended their lead over the Giants to 19–10, and had knocked Simms out of the game. However, the Giants came back with a 38-yard touchdown from Jeff Hostetler to Stephen Baker, and Hostetler then led a late drive culminating in a game-winning 40-yard field goal by Matt Bahr to win 20–19. The Giants responses were subdued in their locker room after the win. "It wasn't pretty," said Taylor. "But you don't ask how to win, you just win."
At home in front of 75,321 fans, the Giants played the Washington Redskins in week eight. Each team totaled 16 first downs, four punts, five penalties, and the margin in time of possession was less than a minute. However, the Giants committed zero turnovers and forced the Redskins into three. Giants cornerbackEverson Walls intercepted two passes—including one that he returned for his first career touchdown—and free safetyGreg Jackson intercepted another. The first interception, by Walls, set up a Giants touchdown to give them a 14–0 lead in the second quarter. Jackson then intercepted a pass in the endzone in the third quarter to preserve a 14–10 lead, and Walls returned his second interception 28 yards for a touchdown that made the score 21–10 and put the game of reach in the fourth quarter.
The Giants improved to 8–0 with a 24–7 win over the Indianapolis Colts in front of 56,688 in the Hoosier Dome. The Giants defense held the Colts to 11 first downs, 181 total yards, and 55 rushing yards. Simms completed 17 of 21 for 172 yards, with no touchdowns, one interception. Simms' interception ended a streak of 150 passes without an interception.Defensive endLeonard Marshall sacked Colts quarterback Jeff George twice, Dave Duerson returned a fumble for a touchdown, and the Giants defense held George to 160 yards passing on 37 pass attempts. The Giants controlled the game from the start, ending the first half leading 17–0, and ahead of the Colts 206 to 45 in total yards, 13 to 1 in first downs, and 20:57 to 9:03 in time of possession.
The Giants traveled to California to face the Los Angeles Rams on November 11. They defeated the Rams 31–7 in front of 64,632 fans in Anaheim Stadium, led by Simm's efficient passing. Going into the game the Rams had beaten the Giants three times in two years, including eliminating the Giants in the 1989 playoffs. Although the Giants defense was only able to sack Rams quarterback Jim Everett twice, they forced him into 17 of 36 passing for 186 yards, zero touchowns, and three interceptions. "It's hard to sack him," Belichick said. "But we kept the pressure on. We had the same coverage we used the last eight years. Nothing radically different."
The Giants defeated the Detroit Lions 20–0 in week 11 to improve their record to 10–0, and set a franchise record for wins to start to a season. Simms threw a 57-yard touchdown pass to receiver Mark Ingram in the second quarter to run the score to 17–0. After the Giants kicked a field goal to make the score 20–0, the teams played a scoreless second half. The shutout was the Giants defense first of the season, and coach Parcells commented, "[t]he defense played very well. The offense played well when I let them. We played conservatively in the second half. We played pretty much error-free. We didn't do anything stupid."
The Giants were dealt their first 1990 regular season loss in a 31–13 defeat against the Philadelphia Eagles on November 25 to set their record at 10–1. The Eagles broke open a close game by scoring two touchdowns in 22 seconds in the fourth quarter. The game was marked by several scuffles and after the game some of the Giants players complained of the tactics used by the Eagles. The Eagles amassed 179 rushing yards and 405 total yards, and punted the ball just twice in the victory. Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham rushed for 66 yards while completing 17 of 31 passes for 229 yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions. Taylor, who recorded three sacks and seven tackles in the Giants season opening victory over the Eagles, was held to one tackle in the loss.
The San Francisco 49ers matched the Giants with their own 10–0 start in the 1990 season. Although both teams lost in week 12 to stand at 10–1, their week 13 matchup was still highly anticipated. The game took place in front of 66,092 fans at Candlestick Park. The 49ers scored the only touchdown of the game in the second quarter on a 23-yard pass from Joe Montana to John Taylor. With four minutes left, they stopped the Giants on four passes from the 49ers' 9-yard line and went on to win, 7–3, after which 49ers safety Ronnie Lott and Simms had a heated verbal exchange. The Giants defense performed well in the loss. They held the 49ers to 152 passing yards, 88 rushing yards, and limited All-Pro Wide receiverJerry Rice to one reception for 13 yards. 49ers defensive endCharles Haley recorded five tackles, 1.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles in the victory.
The Giants hosted the Minnesota Vikings in week 14. Led by Taylor, who recorded 12 tackles and two sacks, the Giants defense held the Vikings to 132 passing yards. Taylor also forced a fumble by Vikings quarterback Rich Gannon and pressured Gannon into an interception by Gary Reasons at the Viking 17-yard line, which positioned Matt Bahr for the game-clinching 18-yard field goal. In addition, Taylor gave several inspirational speeches to his teammates. "He told us: 'I'm going to start playing the way we're supposed to play. If anybody wants to come along, fine,' " inside linebackerSteve DeOssie said. "He changed our attitude." The Giants won 23–15 to improve to 11–2. Prior to this game, Parcells had been hospitalized for kidney stones.
In what would turn out to be a preview of Super Bowl XXV, the Giants lost at home to the Buffalo Bills 17–13 in week 15. The game was played in inclement weather, which caused 10,295 no-shows at Giants Stadium. They led the Bills in total yards (313 to 264), rushing yards (157 to 65), first downs (20 to 13) and time of possession (37 minutes 59 seconds to 22:01), but lost nonetheless. Simms broke his foot during the game, causing him to miss the remainder of the season, and was replaced by Jeff Hostetler, who had engineered the Giants' week seven 4th quarter comeback versus Phoenix. The Bills built a 14–10 second quarter lead behind 74 and 78 yard touchdown drives. The teams alternated field goals to make the score 17–13. However, the Giants could not score in the fourth quarter despite mounting drives to the Bills' 18 and 23 yard lines. This was Lionel Manuel's last game as a Giant, as he was waived afterwards.
The Giants played the Phoenix Cardinals in Tempe, Arizona in week 16. Their defense allowed 452 yards, and Cardinals quarterback Timm Rosenbach threw for three touchdowns and set a new career high with 381 yards passing. The Giants noticed in the week leading up to the game that teams had success running with their fullback against the Cardinals, and in the game, Giants' fullbackMaurice Carthon set a career high with 67 rushing yards on 12 carries. They also installed several plays to take advantage of quarterback Jeff Hostetler's scrambling ability. Hostetler threw for 191 yards and ran for 31 in his first start of the season. The Giants held on to win 24–21 when two of the Cardinals fourth quarter drives resulted in interceptions and their final drive was ended by a Taylor sack. The win clinched the NFC's #2 seed (over the Chicago Bears) and first-round bye for the playoffs.
The Giants travelled to Massachusetts to face the New England Patriots at Foxboro Stadium in week 17. The game was a de facto home game, as many Giants fans made the trip up to Foxborough to sell the stadium out. The game had no playoff implications for the Giants, who could not surpass the 49ers for the #1 seed in the NFC playoffs. The Giants rushed for a season high yards 213 yards, led by Hostetler's 82 yards on 10 carries. The Patriots' Jason Staurovsky missed a potential game-tying 42-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, and Hostetler then ran a 30-yard bootleg on a key third down play to allow the Giants to run out the clock and secure the victory 13–10.
The Giants defeated the Chicago Bears 31–3 at home in the NFC Divisional playoff game on January 13, 1991.Ottis Anderson rushed for 80 yards on 21 carries, and the Giants rushed for 194 yards overall, and dominated the Bears in time of possession; 38 minutes and 22 seconds to 21 minutes and 38 seconds. Parcells at the suggestion of Belichick used a four-man defensive line most of the game—as opposed to their traditional 3-4 defense—confusing the unprepared Bears who had trouble with their blocking assignments. The Giants were 4 for 4 on fourth down plays and converted 6 of 14 third downs. The Giants defense stopped the Bears on the goal line on a fourth down attempt in the second quarter, and held Bears quarterback Mike Tomczak to 17 of 36 passing for 205 yards, and two interceptions, and running back Neal Anderson to a season-low 19 yards on 12 carries. Hostetler threw for two touchdowns and ran for a third.
NFC Championship Game: At San Francisco 49ers
The Giants advanced to face the two-time defending champion San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game on January 20, 1991 in front of 65,750 fans at Candlestick Park. The game was a rematch of the 7–3 49ers win one month earlier. The teams alternated field goals in the first and second quarter to make the score 6–6 at halftime. Less than five minutes into the third quarter 49ers Joe Montana threw a 61-yard touchdown pass to receiver John Taylor to give the 49ers a 13–6 lead. A Giants' field goal made the score 13–9 at the end of the third quarter. With 9:42 remaining in the game, Leonard Marshall sacked Montana and knocked him from the game due to several injuries. The Giants got the ball back, but were stopped on a key third down and one. On fourth down, Parcells called a fake punt, which resulted in a long run by Gary Reasons to set up another Giants' field goal, making the score 13–12. The 49ers gained possession of the ball and attempted to run out the clock, but nose tackle Erik Howard made a key play, fighting through a double-team to knock the ball out of running back Roger Craig's possession. Lawrence Taylor caught the fumble in mid-air, which gave the ball to the Giants at their own 43-yard line. Hostetler completed passes to Bavaro and Baker which took them to the San Francisco 24-yard line.Matt Bahr then made his fifth field goal from the 25-yard line a few plays later as time expired, giving the Giants a 15–13 victory.
Super Bowl XXV took place amidst a background of war and patriotism in front of 73,813 fans at Tampa Stadium, in Tampa, Florida. The Gulf War had begun less than two weeks previous and the nation rallied around the Super Bowl as a symbol of America. Adding to the patriotism was Whitney Houston's stirring rendition of the National Anthem, which became known as one of the greatest renditions in Super Bowl history. The game lived up to the stirring Anthem, as it went down as the most competitive Super Bowl in history. The Giants got off to a quick 3–0 lead. However, the Bills scored the next 12 points, on a field goal, a touchdown by backup running back Don Smith, and a safety after Jeff Hostetler was sacked in the end zone by Bruce Smith, to give the Bills a 12–3 lead. The Giants then ran a drive that took nearly 8 minutes, and culminated in a 14-yard touchdown pass from Hostetler to Stephen Baker making the score 12–10 at halftime.
The Giants received the second half kickoff and mounted a record-setting drive, during which they converted on five third down plays. The opening drive ran for over 9 minutes (a Super Bowl record) and culminated in a 1-yard touchdown run by Ottis Anderson, giving the Giants a 17–12 lead. The signature play of the drive came on a third down play, when Giants receiver Mark Ingram appeared about to be tackled well short of a first down. However, Ingram evaded several tacklers, and dragged one defender just enough to get the Giants the first down, and kept the drive alive. By this time, the Giants strategy to handle the Bills offense had become clear: keep them off the field. Indeed, the Giants two touchdown drives consumed over 17 minutes.
The Bills struck back quickly. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Thurman Thomas ran for a 31-yard touchdown that put the Bills back in front, 19–17. A few possessions later, the Giants drove down to the Bills 4 yard line, but were unable to score a touchdown and had to settle for a 21-yard field goal by Matt Bahr that gave the Giants a 20–19 lead. Both teams exchanged possessions before the Bills began one final drive. The Bills drove down to the Giants 30-yard line to set up what would be a potentially game-winning 47-yard field goal attempt by Scott Norwood. Just before the kick, ABC showed a graphic indicating that, on grass that season, Norwood had only made 3–of–7 field goals from at least 40 yards, and that the 47-yarder would be Norwood's longest ever on grass. A few moments later, in what became the game's signature moment, Norwood's attempt missed wide right, and the Giants won their second Super Bowl in five years, 20–19.
The Giants set a Super Bowl record for time of possession with a mark of 40:33, and Ottis Anderson was named MVP of the game after rushing for 102 yards and a touchdown.