LANDOVER, MD. – The pregame buzz generated by the Giants-Redskins game was largely confined to the teams' locker rooms. While numerous Week 16 games affected division titles and postseason seeding, the game in FedExField elicited more discussion about placement in the first round of the draft than in the standings. Such is the grim reality when two 3-11 teams clash.
But the show proved to be much more exciting than the previews. Indeed, the game had a little bit of everything – 11 touchdowns, including eight through the air, 913 yards of total offense and 53 first downs, a blocked punt and a 99-yard drive, no turnovers (improbably), record-setting individual performances and a thrilling ending decided in overtime.
Most of all, the game had two teams going at each other as if they had no idea they were mired at the bottom of the conference standings. The Giants, who twice blew 14-point leads and surrendered a tying touchdown with 29 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, earned an exhilarating 41-35 victory when tight end Kaden Smith caught Daniel Jones' fifth touchdown pass of the game, a three-yarder with 5:45 elapsed in overtime.
The Giants won their second game in a row and clinched third place in the NFC East with a 4-11 record.
"I told the team, this is the time of year when teams can quit fighting and it's pretty obvious to me that our guys didn't," coach Pat Shurmur said. "They fought hard. We made enough plays to win."
The players were determined to play their best and win the game, despite their disappointing record.
"I think it just shows that we have grit, that we have heart," Saquon Barkley said. "A lot of people probably would have wanted us to just lay down and lose for draft picks. But we made a mindset as a team that we wanted to finish the season off strong, and we have the opportunity to do that next week (at home against Philadelphia, which will win the NFC East title with a victory)."
"(The game) had a little bit of everything," 14-year safety Antoine Bethea said. "A lot of times, that's just how it is. Those divisional games, the end of the year, guys are fighting for whatever they're fighting for. It was one of those things I think the team showed fight to the end. It says a lot about the character of the guys in this locker room. Coaches are coaching, players are playing hard."
On Sunday, they played well. The Giants' 552 yards is their highest total ever in a road game. They scored touchdowns on their first three and four of their first five offensive possessions. The Giants took the overtime kick and did to the Redskins what Philadelphia did to them two weeks ago – never let them see the ball. They drove 66 yards in 11 plays to win their second straight game.
"Getting a win is important because that's why we do this," Shurmur said. "And to do it on the road and get ahead and get tied and come back and do it in overtime, it's good for everybody. I'm happy for our fans. As you go through this, you're sitting down on Sunday watching football and you want to see good ball and you want to see your team win. For our fans, they got to do that this week."
And they got to see why Jones and Barkley are the best and most important players on the Giants' young roster.
Jones – who had missed the previous two games with an ankle sprain - became the first rookie in Giants history to throw five touchdown passes in a game while completing 28 of 42 throws for a career-high 352 yards. He is the first rookie in NFL history with at least 300 passing yards, five touchdown passes and zero interceptions in a game.
"He played pretty heroic," Shurmur said.
The Giants won their first game started by Jones since Sept. 29, when they defeated Washington in MetLife Stadium. But he consistently declines to make any game story about him.
"I think last week, we had this feeling," he said of the Eli Manning-led triumph over Miami. "You want to play, you want to be out there but we won last week. I'm part of the team, and we won, so that was exciting for me as well. Yeah, being out there is a lot of fun and able to win a game today was exciting."
It was certainly fun watching Barkley, who set a franchise record with 279 yards from scrimmage, including a career-high 189 rushing and 90 receiving. He scored touchdowns on a 67-yard run in the first quarter and a 33-yard reception in the second.
"He sort of alluded to the fact after last week that he's starting to get his groove back, so pretty good game," Shurmur said. "He and (Jones) had an outstanding game."
In the Giants victories the last two weeks, Barkley has rushed for 301 yards, totaled 422 yards from scrimmage and scored four touchdowns.
"I felt good today," Barkley said. "I had a great game, great game plan. The coaches called it up great. D.J. put us in the right positions. The O-line blocked perfectly. Tight ends and wide receivers blocked perfectly, too. Besides having a good game statistically wise, the only thing that matters is a win, and we found a way to do that."
It wasn't easy. Early in the game, it seemed the teams were trying to set an NFL scoring record. The Giants drove 75 yards each on each of their first three possessions, which ended with Jones touchdown passes of 23 yards to Sterling Shepard and 33 yards to Barkley sandwiched around the running back's season-long 67-yard touchdown run.
Last year in FedExField, the Giants took an early lead on a defensive touchdown and scored on all five of their second-quarter possessions (three touchdowns and two field goals) to jump ahead, 34-0. But on Sunday, their early scoring surge wasn't enough to shake off the determined Redskins.
Washington tied the score at 7-7 on Dwayne Haskins' 10-yard touchdown pass to Steven Sims, Jr. and at 14-14 on a pass to tight end Hale Hentges. All three of those players are rookies.
Jones' 10-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Cody Latimer increased the Giants' lead to 28-14. Sims scored his second touchdown on a nine-yard reception to again lift Washington to within seven points. When Jones found an equally open Smith in the end zone for a nine-yard score, the Giants took a 35-21 lead into the fourth quarter.
But the Redskins kept coming. Nate Orchard's block of Riley Dixon's punt gave Washington a first down at the Giants' 17-yard line and led to Adrian Peterson's one-yard touchdown run.
With 6:28 remaining, Cody Core downed a Dixon punt at the one-yard line. But Case Keenum, who replaced an injured Haskins early in the second quarter, engineered a 99-yard drive, the longest against the Giants in 17 years. Keenum converted three third downs with pinpoint passes on the series, and when Corey Ballentine was penalized for interfering with Sims, the Redskins had a first down at the Giants' one with 37 seconds left. On the next play, Keenum barely got the ball over the goal line for the tying touchdown.
Barkley called heads at the overtime coin toss, giving the Giants the only break they needed.
"I'm a heads guy," Barkley said.
"I knew it was a big opportunity for us," Jones said. "The way overtime is set up, you get the ball first, that's a huge advantage. An opportunity to go down and score and end the game. We were confident that we could do that and obviously, thrilled to get the ball."
They were more thrilled with what they did with it. The big play was Jones' 23-yard pass to Shepard on third-and-seven.
"He made a great play there, obviously," Jones said. "The O-line did a great job up front and I had time to see that. That was a big play, but kind of throughout the drive, there were a couple of runs that popped here and there. There was a nice mix of what we had done all game, and that was good to see."
Barkley's 12-yard run put the ball at the Washington two. After two plays lost a yard, Jones fired the game-winner to Smith and the Giants were winners in the season's most entertaining game.
"I seem emotional?" Shurmur said in response to a question. "Not really. I'm happy we won. I'm not emotional, I'm a little drained. This stuff takes a little bit out of you. I'm good. I'm great. When we win, I'm great."
So are his players.
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