They didn't do it in Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas or Philadelphia, or at home last Monday night against Tampa Bay. So Sunday, when a 17-point lead had been whittled down to just three and the Giants were in danger of another late and disheartening loss, Joe Judge continually gave his players instructions that were basic and vital.
"The whole message was finish," the Giants' first-year coach said. "That's a thing you could constantly hear a player saying over and over and over. We talked about that before the game, at halftime, throughout the game and on the sideline. We have to finish the game. When we took the field, a number of times in that fourth quarter, the message was finish. The players were ready."
That became obvious. With the Washington Football Team trying to complete an improbable comeback with its backup quarterback, safeties Jabrill Peppers and Logan Ryan - both New Jersey natives - intercepted Alex Smith passes in the final 2:18, a finish that clinched the Giants' 23-20 victory in FedExField. The last two of the Giants' five takeaways secured their second consecutive season sweep and fifth straight victory against Washington.
The Giants are 2-7 and host NFC East leader Philadelphia Sunday. Their last five games have been decided by 10 points and their last four by six points. The Giants' two victories against Washington were by a total of four points, including a 20-19 victory in MetLife Stadium on Oct. 18.
"We knew it was going to be a 60-minute game like it was last time," Judge said. "We knew this was an improved team, who plays very aggressive. They did. They did not disappoint. They gave us everything. We asked our guys to finish and play 60 minutes. We saw that down the stretch. We were able to come away with the result that we were working for this week."
"It's always good when you close it out on defense," Peppers said. "The game shouldn't have been that close to begin with; we had a lot of bonehead plays that put us in that position. But at the end of the day, a W is a W. They all go in the same column. Just going to keep building off this, correct the tape tomorrow, and get ready for a big showdown against Philly."
The Giants had a long list of important contributors.
Linebacker Blake Martinez joined the safeties in intercepting passes thrown by Smith (who took over late in the first quarter after Kyle Allen suffered an ankle injury). Peppers (on Washington's first offensive play) and Madre Harper (on an early muffed punt) recovered fumbles. The five takeaways are the Giants' highest total in a game since Sept. 25, 2014, when they had six in Washington.
Despite getting sacked five times, Daniel Jones completed 68% of his passes (23 of 34) for 212 yards and one touchdown and had zero turnovers.
The Giants' 2017 draft class had a big day as first-round tight end Evan Engram caught his first touchdown pass of the season and fourth-rounder Wayne Gallman led the team with 68 rushing yards, including a two-yard touchdown. Alfred Morris added 67 yards on the ground.
Ten different receivers caught passes, led by Sterling Shepard with six. Rookie Austin Mack caught a 50-yard pass for the Giants' longest completion of the season.
Graham Gano has now made 18 field goal attempts in a row after converting attempts of 38, 48 and 42 yards against Washington.
"We keep getting in these close games," said defensive lineman Leonard Williams, who had one of the Giants' two sacks. "Hopefully, one day we're not taking it to the last two minutes of the game and we're just able to close it out before we get to that point. But this defense is pretty good and I think everyone believes in each other, so when we were challenged by Coach Judge, we took it in a positive way, we were like, 'Okay, let's do it, let's put the team on our back, let's go out there for another drive and do it again.' The guys answered the challenge and we got the win."
If any player deserved to be singled out, it was Ryan, who endured an incomprehensibly difficult week. Soon after the Giants' two-point loss last Monday night to Tampa Bay, Ryan received a phone call from his wife, Ashley, who was in Florida and experiencing extreme stomach pain. She was going to try to sleep it off until Giants assistant athletic trainer Justin Maher instructed her to get to a hospital. That forceful directive might have saved her life. Ashley Ryan was soon rushed into surgery with an ectopic pregnancy. She has since rejoined her family and is recuperating in New Jersey.
Despite carrying that burden, Ryan was one of the Giants' key contributors on Sunday. He had six tackles (five solo), two passes defensed, forced the fumble that Peppers recovered and sealed the victory with his first interception of the season with 1:15 remaining.
"It was an extremely emotional week," Ryan said. "Extremely grateful to the organization and to my wife. She's a fighter, to not lose her there in that situation is very fortunate. At the same time, my wife and I mourn in silence of our lost child during that process too, so we had a loss as well. Although it's a great story, it was an emotional week for me and her, and that game was definitely for my wife, definitely for my family. I had her name written on my cleats and just extremely grateful that I have a great wife. That ball is for her, she told me to bring one home for her, so I was able to do that."
"Logan's a very mentally tough football player and he's a great team leader," Judge said. "There are a lot of things behind the scenes that people don't know or see that Logan really brings to a team. That's something I've seen really evolve throughout his career. First coaching him when he was a younger player (in New England), and then having to coach against him when he was on an opposing team and he beat you, and you know that he's a key catalyst in winning those games. Now being back on a team with him, you can see how his maturity and his age have really helped him settle in. It really is what his personality is and Logan is a tremendous leader for us, on and off the field."
The defensive call used to thwart Washington's last gasp had been in the playbook for about 20 hours before it was called. Fittingly, it was installed as a reaction to the Giants' too many close losses.
"The play that we ran is something that I talked to (defensive coordinator] Pat Graham about doing and putting me in that position to make that play," Ryan said. "In two-minute, we'd been struggling all year and it was just a play that we put in, I think, Saturday night, like hours before the game. Last night, we said we were going to try something new and try that.
"In the first half, I messed up, I wasn't there, They ran a 32-yard in-cut in the two-minute and that was my fault, that was my job there. I told Pat, I said, 'Hey, that's on me. Call it again and I'll be there, I'll make it right,' and at least he thinks it's going to be there, so he called it again and the next time we ran it was at the end of the game and I was able to make the play. So that's just the story behind the game and I'm very fortunate that Pat trusts me enough to run my play and to call my play and to call my number, and that's what I believe I'm here to do and I believe I was here to do today for the team."
Ryan guaranteed the Giants wouldn't let another game slip from their grasp in the fourth quarter. Maybe that will start a new trend.