Cardinals defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche returns a fumble for a touchdown against the Giants.
The donut on the scoreboard never technically changed size, but it got bigger and bigger to the Cardinals' defense as the game went along Sunday.
When the clock finally matched the Giants' scoring total, it was time to rejoice.
The Cardinals put together a dominant defensive performance in their home finale, forcing three turnovers, scoring a touchdown and pitching a shutout in the 23-0 win. It was the Cardinals' first time blanking an opponent since they did so in a 19-0 win over these Giants on Dec. 12, 1992.
"Definitely in the third quarter, you start seeing it, and you want to keep it," money linebacker Deone Bucannon said. "You want to see that goose egg. I was glad we were able to get it."
The Giants accumulated only 293 yards of total offense and averaged a paltry 4.4 yards per play. Quarterback Eli Manning was 27-of-45 for 263 yards with a pair of interceptions for a quarterback rating of 57.9, and the Giants averaged 2.2 yards per carry.
"For whatever reason, we just didn't connect on some things," Manning said. "You've got to go back and look and see the exact reason why, but they're a good defense. They had some good schemes that gave us some troubles."
When New York did have chances, the defense continually made plays.
Safety Antoine Bethea had a pair of interceptions, including one at the Arizona 25 in the first quarter. Later, Bucannon forced a fumble and defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche returned it 21 yards for a score. The Cardinals caught a break when Aldrick Rosas missed a 33-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter, although no one knew at the time that would be New York's best chance at points.
The Giants looked like they would avoid the shutout early in the fourth quarter when an interception on a tipped pass by Ross Cockrell gave them a first-and-10 at the Arizona 26.
"Offense almost screwed it up," coach Bruce Arians said.
But an illegal hands to the face penalty and a subsequent holding call backed up New York, and Manning was tackled on fourth-and-25 for a turnover on downs.
Bucannon said Arians, defensive coordinator James Bettcher and inside linebackers coach Larry Foote have stressed to play sound no matter where a drive begins.
"If it's the inch line, if it's on their end zone side, it doesn't matter," Bucannon said. "We play the same type of defense. We went back in there with that mentality and I'm glad across the board everybody played great."
The Cardinals not only held New York out of the end zone, but Nkemdiche found it. The second-year defensive lineman – the team's first-round pick in 2016 – scooped up a fumble and returned it for a score on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Nkemdiche shook off a tackle attempt and then sprinted into the end zone, leaving offensive linemen in his dust.
"They used to call me the 'Bus,'" Nkemdiche said. "They used to call me the 'Refrigerator.' I'm used to it. I saw a hole, I took it, and I'm like, 'I'm gone.'"
Bethea had his fourth and fifth interceptions of the season, which lead the team. He almost had a third on a deflected pass but it careened past him. Still, this was the first multi-interception game of his career and it got him to five for the first time. Bethea had four interceptions in a season three times previously.
"It feels good," Bethea said. "Merry Christmas."
Bucannon finished with eight tackles, the sack-fumble and a pass defensed. Safety Budda Baker led the team with 12 tackles including a tackle for loss, while Kareem Martin added a sack-fumble to stall a drive. Outside linebacker Chandler Jones didn't put up big statistical numbers and failed to register a sack, but he drew multiple holding penalties and was consistently putting pressure on Manning in the backfield.
The Cardinals have rolled out impressive defenses over the past several seasons, but none was able to post a shutout until Sunday.
"I was a part of a couple of them that were very, very close of getting a couple years back," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "But to have this one against the same team that we had it against 25 years ago is definitely remarkable. We played stellar football."
Images from the Week 16 matchup at University of Phoenix Stadium