From Jon Wagner, SNYGiants columnist
The new kids on the NFC East block regretted letting the veteran champs off the hook the last time, and they wouldn’t let it happen again.
Six weeks after two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning edged the Washington Redskins (6-6) on a long, late touchdown pass that started moving the Redskins’ season into a sputtering tailspin, a pair of emerging rookie stars helped Washington get revenge and eke out a 17-16 win over the New York Giants (7-5) at FedExField in Landover, Maryland on Monday night.
More importantly, after their earlier road loss to the Giants started a three-game losing streak that put the Redskins at a dismal 3-6, Washington is back at .500 following its third straight victory (all within the NFC East), and tied with Dallas (6-6), just a game behind the defending Super Bowl champion Giants, who missed a golden opportunity to afford themselves some divisional breathing room with just four weeks to play in the regular season.
Quarterback Robert Griffin III (13-for-21, 163 yards, one touchdown; five carries, 72 yards), better known as “RG3,” showed again, during his Monday Night Football debut, why the two initials in his nickname could easily stand for “Really Good.”
While the production of the dynamic 2012 second overall draft pick was limited by some time-consuming New York drives over the first three quarters (when the Giants held the ball for nearly 29 of the game’s first 45 minutes), Griffin and fellow rookie, running back Alfred Morris (22 carries, 124 yards), keyed an extensive game-winning drive of their own, spanning the final two quarters.
Trailing 16-10, the Redskins went 86 yards on 12 plays in 6:38 to take the lead for good, as Morris ran five times for 41 yards and Griffin rushed once for seven yards while completing three of four passes for 31 yards.
The last of those throws came on a beautifully designed play that badly confused the Giants’ defense and allowed Griffin to roll to the right on an option run, before throwing an eight-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Pierre Garcon (game highs of eight catches and 106 yards, one touchdown) with 11:31 left in the game.
Whereas Griffin, the long-haired, 2011 Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor, sustained his expected fast-track to stardom, Morris, a sixth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic, continued to surprise, as he became just the second Redskins rookie to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards.
That accomplishment etched the Redskins into the NFL record books as the first team to have a 1,000-yard rookie rusher and a 2,000-yard rookie passer in Griffin, who also set a league record for rushing yards by a rookie quarterback with 714 rushing yards.
Prior to that duo’s late-game heroics, the Giants controlled the game everywhere but on the scoreboard, as their season-long problem of settling for field goals over touchdowns continued to plague them – in large part, because of nine penalties, more than twice their 4.4 per game average, which had ranked second-best in the league.
Scoring just a lone touchdown in the game, New York drove inside the Washington 30-yard line on each of its first four possessions, and five times overall.
The first of those trips was an 11-play, 69-yard drive that took 6:32, during which a 39-yard field goal by kicker Lawrence Tynes gave the Giants a 3-0 lead.
Responding immediately after the ensuing kickoff, the Redskins needed just four plays to go 80 yards for their first lead, as Griffin completed a 25-yard pass to Garcon and Morris ran for 19 yards to set up a lucky touchdown for Washington as Griffin ran for 12 yards and fumbled.
Wide receiver Joshua Morgan (two catches, 17 yards) alertly picked a loose ball out of the air and ran it in 13 yards for a 7-3 Redskins lead after Griffin lost the ball just before falling on his back.
Going on another long drive of nearly six minutes, New York moved 51 yards on 13 plays, but Tynes hooked a 43-yard field goal attempt wide left, early in the second quarter.
A 13-play, 85-yard drive that took nearly half (7:23) of the period resulted in the Giants’ only touchdown on New York’s next possession, as Manning (20-for-33, 280 yards, one touchdown, one sack) completed a 24-yard pass to tight end Martellus Bennett (five catches, 82 yards, one touchdown) and went back to Bennett on a four-yard touchdown pass four plays later, to regain a 10-7 lead for the Giants.
But again, the Redskins answered right away, with Griffin completing passes of 18 and 35 yards to Garcon on the next two plays, to move to the New York 13-yard line.
Washington could go no further though, and managed only a 33-yard field goal from kicker Kai Forbath to tie the game, 10-10, with 41 seconds left in the half, leaving just enough time for the Giants to grab the lead again before halftime.
Running back Ahmad Bradshaw (24 carries, 103 yards) ran for 13 yards before Manning completed passes of 13 yards to rookie wide receiver Reuben Randle (his only catch) and 28 yards to Bennett, to let Tynes make a 40-yard field goal that put New York ahead, 13-10, at intermission.
History suggested that advantage would have held up – as the Giants had won an NFL-record 26 consecutive games, over six years, when leading at halftime – especially since Manning was a hot 14-for-22, for 187 yards, with completions to seven different receivers by that point.
But, Manning was just six-for-11 for 93 yards in the second half, during which his favorite first-half target (Bennett) had no catches, and Bradshaw was also held to only 26 yards on nine rushes in the second half after amassing 77 yards on 15 first-half carries, as New York punted three times on four second-half possessions.
A brilliant 46-yard, the second-longest of Griffin’s career, came on the Redskins’ opening possession of the third quarter, but Morris lost the ball on a fumble at the Giants’ 15-yard line on the next play, when linebacker Chase Blackburn (eight tackles, four solo, one forced fumble) popped the ball loose and fellow linebacker Keith Rivers (four tackles, one fumble recovery) recovered.
An eight-play, 75-yard New York drive followed, highlighted by a 49-yard completion up the right sideline from Manning to wide receiver Victor Cruz (five catches for a team-high 104 yards). The trip ended with a 35-yard field goal by Tynes that extended the Giants’ lead to 16-10 with 3:09 left in the third period.
The next drive proved to be the game-winning possession for Washington though, as New York – which had the ball for just 4:18 in the final quarter after dominating the time of possession over the first three periods – got only one more first down on its last two drives, while punting each time.
Still unable to stop Griffin, Morris, or the Redskins’ unique variations of their pistol option formations, the Giants allowed Washington to run out the final 3:51.
“I don’t know what happened in the second half,” said New York head coach Tom Coughlin. “We certainly didn’t come out and play. Penalties, sloppy football, it seemed like every time we had a [big] special teams play, we had a penalty… just very disappointing that our second half wasn’t better… the real factor was in the second half, we had a lot of difficulty stopping them, and we didn’t do anything with our [own] opportunities.”
Yet, the Giants can still capitalize on their one chance that means the most – trying to hold on to a divisional lead with the final quarter of the regular season to play.
Of course, nothing can be taken for granted in the NFL, but New York figures to have the easiest matchup of the trio of NFC East contenders next Sunday, as the Giants will be home for New Orleans (5-7) while Dallas travels to Cincinnati (7-5) and Washington hosts a D.C. area Beltway battle against Baltimore (9-3).