First, the bad news: The Giants played one of their poorest games of the season Sunday and lost to the Washington Redskins, 23-10, in MetLife Stadium.
Now the ray of hope: Although they fell to 7-7, the Giants can still win the NFC East title if they win their last two games, against the Jets and Dallas Cowboys, whom they trail by a game.
But the jarring reality is this: The Giants will be eliminated from postseason consideration if they lose Saturday to the Jets – they will be the visiting team – and Dallas defeats the Philadelphia Eagles at home.
The Giants collectively put up a brave and optimistic face, even while admitting the loss to Washington was bitterly disappointing and the performance fell far short of their expectations, particularly in light of their big victory a week ago in Dallas.
"I told the players that I just expected to see more," Coach Tom Coughlin said. "I expected to see quality, quality execution and really, quite frankly, we didn't get much of that."
The players were in no position to disagree. The Giants didn't score a touchdown until 33 seconds remained in the game. They threw three interceptions. The Giants' defense picked off two passes in the first quarter and punted after each of them. Washington converted eight of 15 third down opportunities, rushed for 123 yards and owned the ball for 10 more minutes (35-25).
"Obviously, the one word that comes to mind is disappointing, a little bit embarrassed," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "Knowing what we had at stake, it is disappointing."
"They played better than us. That's all it came down to," said quarterback Eli Manning, who completed 23 of 40 passes for 257 yards, but threw those three picks. "They had a good plan defensively. Some things that we were expecting, we didn't get. We still had opportunities for some big plays early on - we didn't capitalize on. That hurt us. The defense got us turnovers early in the game. We got nothing off of that. Even late in the second half, when we got into scoring range, we didn't score. We had turnovers, had a missed field goal, had a stop on downs. It came down to we just didn't execute as well as we needed to. Their offense played well, kept us off of the field a good bit."
The Redskins, who improved to 5-9, scored on Rex Grossman's 20-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss, Darrel Young's six-yard run and Graham Gano field goals of 36, 43 and 25 yards. Washington, which defeated the Giants on Sept. 11 in FedExField, swept the season series for the first time since 1999.
"We didn't play well," running back Brando Jacobs said. "We were disappointed in each other. We disappointed our fans. We just have to play better. We didn't want it bad enough the first time we played these guys and we didn't want it bad enough this time."
Lawrence Tynes' 40-yard field goal was the only scoring for the Giants until Ahmad Bradshaw crossed the goal line from three yards out in the final minute.
The Giants thought they had a touchdown in the fourth quarter on a Manning pass to D.J. Ware, but it was taken off the board after a replay review, resulting in a fourth down at the two-yard line. David Diehl's holding penalty sent them back to the 12 and Manning was sacked for a 13-yard loss by Ryan Kerrigan, putting the Giants in dire straits with 8:53 remaining.
"They do some things defensively where we thought we had a good plan and could hit a few big plays," Manning said. "That's what it was going to take - a few big plays, some long touchdowns to spark our offense and loosen (the defense up) also. They were there. We just didn't capitalize on those. We got down, obviously had some turnovers that hurt us. But we still had opportunities in the third and fourth quarter to go down and get some points, make it a game, and we weren't able to score."
"They were the best team today, hands down," safety Antrel Rolle said. "I don't think we came out flat, we just didn't have enough fight throughout the entire game. It's football, man. If you don't have enough fight, then you don't deserve to be on the field and that's the bottom line. We have to get that together."
Trailing 17-3 at halftime, the Giants needed a productive start in the third quarter – but they didn't get it.
On the second play, Manning's pass down the right side for Hakeem Nicks was intercepted by DeAngelo Hall, who returned the ball 34 yards to the Giants' 26-yard line. The Redskins gained one yard on three plays before Gano kicked his second field goal, a 43-yarder that increased the visitors' lead to 20-3 with 1:49 remaining in the quarter.
The Giants then put together one of their best drives of the game, moving from their own 20 to the Redskins' 18. But Manning was sacked for an eight-yard loss by Stephen Bowen and Tynes was wide left on a 44-yard field goal attempt.
"Throwing an interception on the first series of the second half doesn't help," Manning said. "But we got the ball back the next time, drove right down there and had a sack on third down that prevented us from keeping the drive going and then had the missed field goal."
Washington responded by moving 59 yards in nine plays to set up Gano's 25-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter. That gave the Redskins a 23-3 lead.
On the ensuing possession, Manning threw his third interception of the game on a pass to Mario Manningham that was picked off in the end zone by cornerback Josh Wilson.
"Had a fade route out there," Manning said. "They were doubling our tight end and Z so I was going to throw it to the back corner of the end zone. That's where we always try to hit those. I guess he went inside at the last second so it made it a little bit too easy of a play for the defensive back."
Manning was asked how he felt after the pick.
"Disappointed. Upset," he said. "There was a great opportunity. We were going to go down and score and get back into the game. We knew we needed three scores at that point - three touchdowns at that point. We hit a big play, drove down there very quickly. Would have been nice to get a touchdown, put a little pressure on the Redskins knowing that we've been good with those two-minute drives."
But they never had an opportunity to make one of the fourth-quarter comebacks that have been such a big part of their season.
Tynes' 40-yard field goal with two seconds remaining in the second quarter left the Giants facing a 14-point halftime deficit.
After stopping the Redskins on fourth down, the Giants drove 46 yards in six plays, including an 18-yard pass that bounced off Bradshaw's foot and was caught by the running back while lying on his back. Manning also threw 15 yards to Jake Ballard and 13 yards to Manningham on the drive.
Most of the half belonged to Washington. Young's touchdown gave the Redskins a 17-0 lead with 7:56 remaining in the second quarter. On first down from the six, the fullback took a handoff and ran up the middle for the score.
The Redskins' nine-play, 41-yard drive was set up by Oshiomogho Atogwe's interception of a Manning pass for D.J. Ware that hit linebacker London Fletcher and was caught by a diving Atogwe. Coughlin challenged the ruling, hoping the ball hit the ground, but referee Alberto Riveron upheld the call on the field.
Atogwe returned the ball 26 yards to the Giants' 41-yard line. Washington picked up two first downs while running on each of the first six plays of the drive. Grossman's 16-yard pass on third-and-14 to Jabar Gaffney moved the ball to the six, and Young scored on the next play.
The Redskins scored their first touchdown on Grossman's pass to Moss with 13:42 remaining in the second quarter. On third-and-eight, Moss caught the ball on the left side of the end zone with Corey Webster, Kenny Phillips and Prince Amukamara all in his vicinity. Washington converted six of nine third-down opportunities in the half.
Moss' score concluded a 13-play, 82-yard drive that spanned the first two quarters and was aided by Phillips' facemask penalty. Prior to the touchdown, the longest play in the series was Grossman's 16-yard pass to Donte Stallworth.
The Giants trailed, 3-0, at the end of the first quarter, despite interceptions by Webster and Phillips. All of Manning's six passes in the quarter fell incomplete, though he threw a long strike that might have been a touchdown, but caromed off Nicks' facemask and fell to the ground. It was the first quarter in which he threw at least five passes without a completion since Oct. 28, 2007 against the Miami Dolphins in London.
The only scoring in the quarter was Gano's 36-yard field goal on Washington's second series.
"We got two interceptions in the first half and didn't do anything with that," Coughlin said. "We threw some very untimely interceptions ourselves and gave them point blank range."
And that was pretty much the story of the game.
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