The Giants.com crew reacts to the big primetime win over the Washington Commanders:
John Schmeelk: You have to tip your cap to the Giants' offensive line for how well they played last night. Not only did the Washington Commanders have no sacks, they only logged four total quarterback hits. According to Pro Football Focus, the Giants offensive line allowed one hurry and without any quarterback hits to a unit featuring star defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne. Allen's PFF line was a goose-egg as a pass rusher.
After struggling run blocking early in the game (11 rushes for 24 yards in the first half), the Giants offensive line took control of the game on a crucial late-game drive. On the Giants' final offensive drive of the game, they ran it seven times for 55 yards to move the ball from the Giants 14 to the Washington 32, setting up Graham Gano's 50-yard field goal.
Overall, this felt like a Giants' win from early in the season. They won the turnover battle (+2), avoided crucial penalties, ran the ball well late in the game, and made crucial plays defensively on third down (Washington was just 1-10) and in the red zone (just one score – a touchdown - in three trips) to seal the win.
Dan Salomone: Speaking with the Giants at 7-2 on Nov. 17, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale praised prized rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux for doing the dirty work despite compiling just one sack and three QB hits. "I know everybody wants to say 'sacks, sacks, sacks' to him after games whenever you do the media with him," Martindale said at the time, "but if there's 1,000 plays run and we're happy with him in 950 of them, it's better than the guy that has 12 sacks, plays 600 plays and can't play the run, can't do this, can't do that. I just think the kid is playing great. It's just like takeaways or anything else, the sacks will come."
In the same breath, Martindale said their mindset is to open a can of you-know-what on offenses and called Thibodeaux the "can opener." Well, on Sunday night, the fifth overall pick took the lid off his career.
"You never wait," said Thibodeaux, who became the first Giants' rookie with a fumble recovery touchdown and a sack in a game since sacks became an official stat in 1982 (the last NFL rookie to do so was Washington's Chase Young in Week 14 of his 2020 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year season). "You just keep working. It's going to come. That's one thing that the vets have been imparting to me that 'how many games have you went without a sack' and it's New York and the people asking how do you feel. That's it, that's the life. I didn't get here because I was waiting or sitting back or wanted to see what was going to happen. I take everything that's been given to me. I take everything that's in front of me. There's nothing that's given."
Lance Medow: If there's been one key identity to the Giants' defense for the bulk of the season, it's been their ability to keep opposing teams out of the end zone when they get inside the 20. But in the previous five losses/ties, their opponents scored 14 touchdowns in 18 red zone opportunities. Earlier in the season, the defense had bent but didn't break; the opposite was consistently happening in recent times. Itwasn't the case against the Commanders as the Giants' level of execution returned to early-season form.
Washington outgained New York, 387-288, in total yards yet only managed 12 points. That's where the red zone defense comes into play. The Commanders scored just one touchdown in three opportunities and they walked away with no points in the other two chances. The Giants were leading by five with just over nine minutes to go in the fourth as Washington quickly moved down the field. It got a 61-yard completion to Jahan Dotson and, a few plays later, faced a 3rd-and-4 four from the New York 5. Dexter Lawrence and Azeez Ojuarli split a sack, Taylor Heinicke lost the ball and replay confirmed it was a fumble and clean recovery by Leonard Williams. Instead of perhaps settling for a field goal, the Commanders wound up with no points, a lost possession.
The same outcome occurred on Washington's final possession of the game when - after a pair of explosive plays - the Commanders set up 1st-and-goal at the 10. After an incomplete pass, Heinicke scrambled up the right sideline for nine yards before Kayvon Thibodeaux stopped him at the 1. The edge rusher's hustle turned out to be a game-changing play because after an illegal formation penalty wiped out a Brian Robinson Jr touchdown, Heinicke threw a pair of incompletions (one of which was forced by an Azeez Ojulari hit). A high level of execution is a huge reason why the Giants held on for the win. When the defense's back was against the wall, Wink Martindale's unit found a way and when you play as many one score games as the Giants have, you need to deliver in the red zone.
Matt Citak: Kayvon Thibodeaux's outing was certainly the biggest bright spot of the night. But the No. 5 overall pick's breakout game has somewhat overshadowed how well the Giants' entire defensive line played as a whole.
Thibodeaux led the way with a team-high 12 total tackles (nine solo) and three tackles for loss, all three of which came in the first quarter. Fellow outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari picked up a half-sack and two quarterback hits, and as 3.5 sacks and six quarterback hits and 15 pressures in his three games since returning from a calf injury. Thibodeaux also has two sacks and three quarterback hits since Ojulari has gotten back on the field.
Dexter Lawrence has been the Giants' most consistent pass rusher all season, and that continued Sunday night. The fourth-year defensive lineman picked up a half-sack and three quarterback hits, and forced the late Heinicke fumble. Lawrence totaled five pressures against the Commanders with an impressive 28.0 percent pass-rush win rate. Leonard Williams played 53 snaps after missing last week's game against the Eagles and recovered the fumble Lawrence forced, in addition to registering two total pressures.
As crazy as it sounds, Sunday night's game was the first all season in which Thibodeaux, Ojulari, Lawrence and Williams played the entire game together. Each made least one big splash play for the defense, which serves as an encouraging sign of what's to come over for Martindale's unit.