EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.**– Seldom has one game exemplified a season as fittingly as the Giants' 20-6 victory over the Washington Redskins in their 2013 finale Sunday in MetLife Stadium.
Giants players took to Twitter to thank the fans...
Highlights: Giants win in finale
Watch the best Giants moments from the team's Week 17 win at home...
The Giants took a 20-6 win over Washington in the season finale...
The team that seldom got through a week without a significant injury (13 players on injured reserve and many more with missed playing time, including Pro Bowlers Victor Cruz and Jason Pierre-Paul) suffered its highest number of injuries of the season. The list included their seemingly indestructible quarterback, Eli Manning, who suffered a high ankle sprain and did not play the second half.
The Giants, who lost their first six games, again started poorly vs. their NFC East rival, going punt-punt-punt-missed field goal-lost fumble on their first five possessions.
Despite playing in a miserable downpour, the Giants demonstrated their steely resolve and put together one more recovery. In doing so, they completed a surge that saw them win seven of their last 10 games and finish 7-9. It's not the record anyone wanted or expected when the season began, but it's perhaps better than they could have hoped for when they fell to 0-6 on Oct. 10 in Chicago.
"I'm proud of our team, not only how they rallied today, but to win the last two ballgames," coach Tom Coughlin said. "I thought the way we played today – we had a lot of injuries, a lot of things happened out there. (It's) obviously not a great day, and the weather, too. But everybody hung in there on both sides and battled well."
The players also took pride in rallying to go 7-3 in the season's final two-plus months.
"It meant everything," safety Antrel Rolle said. "This is the last game we had to go out there and showcase what we had for the 2013 season and closing it out with winning seven of our last 10 games, we can't ask for too much more than that. The team showed a lot of resiliency and we went out there and fought together as a team. … We're a never-quit and never-die locker room. No matter how tough times may get, tough times never last, tough people always do and this is an extremely tough football team, no matter what kind of ups and downs we may face throughout the season."
"To win seven of the last 10 games, that's an accomplishment," guard David Diehl said. "It just goes to show how appreciative we are and how tough it is to win games in the NFL. It's the direction that this team's going in. Obviously, the slow start isn't what we wanted, but through thick and thin we're proud of this. We're proud of our team, we're proud of our guys because it could have gone two directions. Either everybody totally gave up on the season, fights, arguments and all of that stuff, or come together as a team. This team has come together as a football team. It's an honor to play with these guys and see the character of our team come out through thick and thin."
With their lineup already gutted by injuries, the Giants lost players at an alarming rate against Washington. Two wide receivers, Hakeem Nicks (ankle) and Rueben Randle (knee), left in the first half. With Cruz already sidelined after recent knee surgery, the Giants were without their top three wideouts. That left Jerrel Jernigan, Louis Murphy and Julian Talley to play receiver. Jernigan was the game's star; he scored the game's only touchdowns on a 24-yard catch and a 49-yard run and led the team in receiving (six catches for 90 yards) and rushing (57 yards).
It was just as hazardous on the left side of the offensive line, where guard James Brewer sprained his ankle in the first half and tackle Will Beatty fractured his leg in the second. They were replaced by Dallas Reynolds and Stephen Goodin, who was signed off the practice squad on Nov. 26 and saw the first action of his career.
"We were down to our last offensive lineman – we didn't have any left," Coughlin said.
But the most disconcerting injury was Manning's, who started his 151st consecutive regular-season game, extending the third-longest streak by a quarterback in NFL history. With 56 seconds remaining in the first half, Manning's foot bent awkwardly when he got caught under defensive end Chris Baker as he attempted to throw to Peyton Hillis. Though in obvious pain, Manning stayed in the game and, unable to step into his next throw, tossed a pass that was intercepted by Josh Wilson. He then limped directly into the locker room – "I don't want to see it again," Coughlin said when asked his reaction to seeing Manning leave the field during a game. Manning wore a walking boot after the game.
"I couldn't finish the game," Manning said. "I obviously wanted to. The doctor said it would not be a good decision, and I agreed with him. I don't think I could have been very effective playing after the injury."
It was just the second time in his 10-year career that Manning left a game early with an injury. On Sept., 9, 2007 at Dallas, Manning bruised his shoulder on a failed two-point conversion in the fourth quarter. He later threw his fourth touchdown pass of the game, but was replaced by Jared Lorenzen on the Giants' final possession. Manning started the following week against Green Bay.
"You hate to leave your teammates and you like to finish, knowing it's going to be the last game of the season – go out there and finish and get a win," Manning said.
The Giants did that without Manning and all of the other injured players. Manning's final touchdown pass of the season, the 24-yarder to Jernigan, who made a terrific catch in the back of the end zone, and Josh Brown's 34-yard field goal gave the Giants a 10-6 halftime lead. Jernigan scored on the Giants' longest run of the season in the third quarter and Brown added a late 38-yard field goal for the final margin.
Curtis Painter played the second half for Manning and, with the makeshift line and receiving crew, completed two of eight passes for just 11 yards.
"We made enough plays early in the game to get us a lead at halftime and the guys played outstanding in the second half with some big plays, and the defense played outstanding. It's good to at least finish the season with a win and obviously now we just have to put this season behind us and learn from it, try to get better from some of the things that happened, heal up this ankle, and get ready for next year."
For the Giants, it was a day of conflicting emotions. They took pride in their late-season success while continuing to lament their poor start. Despite the numerous missing parts, the Giants came together as a team, but they know the roster can look very different when the offseason conditioning program begins.
"Depending on what you define as major, I think they're going to make changes and they'll do it the right way," said defensive end and captain Justin Tuck, who had two sacks of Kirk Cousins to increase his team-high total to 11.0. "Jerry Reese and the Mara family and Tisch family are pretty smart about what this team needs and what needs to be changed. I do think they'll probably start tomorrow. I think they'll jump on it real quickly, but I don't know if you would consider it major changes. I don't think so, but I don't get paid to answer those questions."
Those who do will begin plotting for the 2014 season on Monday.