The stakes are always bigger in sequels.
For the second time in 14 days, the New York Giants will take on the Washington Commanders after playing to a 20-20 tie at MetLife Stadium in Week 13. While the latter sat idle in the week between the meetings, the former fell to the NFL-leading Philadelphia Eagles.
Now, the Giants and Commanders enter their rematch with identical 7-5-1 records as they currently occupy the final two spots in the NFC playoff field. The winner on Sunday at FedExField will grab a valuable tiebreaker chip with just three games remaining in the regular season while the Seahawks (7-6) and Lions (6-7) nip at their heels.
"Coach [Brian] Daboll always says, 'What we do in December is what people remember,'" offensive tackle Andrew Thomas said. "These games mean the most, and we're blessed to have our opportunity to compete, have an opportunity to play in the playoffs. We're looking forward to the challenge – we've just got to do a good job of executing."
Here are three keys to victory for the Giants in the key divisional matchup:
Control the ground game, control the clock
The Giants are 4-0 when they have a 100-yard rusher this season, and the Commanders are averaging 147 yards on the ground over their past eight games, which yielded six wins, one tie and a loss. Washington owns the best average time of possession in the NFL and controlled the ball for a season-long 41 minutes, 11 seconds against the Giants in the first meeting. Saquon Barkley has averaged just 38 rushing yards per game during the Giants' current 0-3-1 skid, and a neck injury combined with a runaway loss to the Eagles caused him to have a season-low nine carries last week. On the defensive side, the Giants have allowed 187 rushing yards per game over the past four weeks.
"I think some of the things earlier in the year, too, is we had some good numbers but some of those were from big runs, too," Daboll said. "So, you look at the type of game you're playing in, whether you're behind, whether you're getting as many touches as you want to get. You look at the play design; you look at all 11 on the same page. I think it's probably a variety of things. Certainly missing a few big plays out there is one of them and just being on the same page and making sure we get a hat for a hat, getting downhill and making some positive yards. I'd say some of the games we didn't run it probably as much as we would've run it based on where we were at. So, all that being said, we're just not doing a good enough job. All those other things to me, I'm giving you some examples, but we're really not making any excuses – just got to do a better job."
In recent weeks, the Giants have fallen into holes of 21-0 to Philadelphia, 10-0 to Washington, and 24-6 to Detroit. The Giants showed their resiliency with fourth-quarter heroics early in the season, but the law of averages have caught up with them. With a fast start, they can play the game on their own terms.
"It can affect what we're doing," Daniel Jones said after the Eagles game. "We can't afford to get off to a slow start like that. Didn't do much those first two drives and fell behind. We've got to do something to catch ourselves and make a play and get going. It was disappointing we weren't able to do that. I think when you get down in a game like that it can affect how you approach it."
All three phases
The Giants' last three trips to Washington have come down to the wire, including last year's fateful offside penalty against Dexter Lawrence that gave Dustin Hopkins a second chance for a game-winning field goal as time expired. Although they blocked a punt last week, the Giants had some special teams miscues against the Eagles. Jamie Gillan was called for an illegal kick after mishandling the snap, and the Giants allowed a 66-yard kickoff return to Boston Scott. The Giants' last game against the Commanders ended in their first tie since 1997, so there is a small margin for error as the pressure only mounts from here on out in the playoff chase.
"I think that there's always a reason for each play to breakdown," Daboll said. "[Sunday] was a variety of issues, whether that was missing a tackle, whether it was getting a hat for hat on a kickoff return. We made a play on that blocked punt, but we gave up far too many yards in the kickoff return and really didn't give ourselves a chance to get going on our kickoffs. So, certainly an area we need to improve, and we'll continue to try to do that."
View rare photos of the all-time series between the New York Giants and the Washington Commanders.