It was a humid night in Landover, Maryland, as the Giants took the field against the Washington Redskins. Both team came into the game 1-2 and two games behind the Philadelphia Eagles, who lead the NFC East with a perfect 3-0 record. The winner of this game has hope of catching the Eagles and being relevant in the division race. The loser drops to 1-3 and, while certainly far from eliminated in September, faces an uphill battle for the remainder of the season. From the opening kickoff, which the Giants received after winning the coin toss, it was clear the momentum they established in the Houston game last Sunday carried through. It continued to build as this team created 6 turnovers, moved the ball seemingly at will, and dominated the Redskins for a 45-14 victory.
A touchback gave the Giants the ball at their own 20, and Eli Manning went right to work, finding Rueben Randle on slant for a quick first down. A roughing the passer penalty was called on Washington defensive end Jason Hatcher for grazing Manning’s helmet, moving the ball out the the Giants 45. Two Rashad Jennings runs gained 5 yards and set up a third and 5 at midfield. Manning found Victor Cruz across the middle for a first down and more, but Cruz was unable to hold on to the slightly under thrown ball. The pass was catchable, and would have put the ball in Redskins territory if Cruz had hauled it in. Steve Weatherford’s 44 yard punt, combined with an illegal use of hands penalty on defensive end Clifton Geathers, pinned the Redskins in at their own 2 yard line.
Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins had been high effective since replacing the injured Robert Griffin III in week 2, completing 65% of his passes for 677 yard with 5 touchdown and only 1 interception. He came out firing from the shadow of his own goal post, faking a hand off to Alfred Morris and finding tight end Niles Paul for a 13 yard gain. After a 4 yard Morris run, Cousins kept the ball on a designed quarterback run and gained another 12 yards, giving Washington a first down on their own 31. Mathias Kiwanuka bit badly on a fake hand off to Morris up the middle, leaving the outside wide open for Cousins on the play. Cousins is not known as a running quarterback, but the Giants have been vulnerable to this type of play through the early part of the season. A team with a true running threat under center will take advantage of it, should it not be corrected. Kiwanuka seems especially prone to over committing inside.
After Jacquian Williams stopped Morris for only a one yard gain on a quick pass to the flat, and a deep incompletion to Paul down the left sideline set up 3rd and 9 at the Redskins 32, and Kiwanuka made the first big defensive play of the night. Blowing right past Redskins right tackle Tyler Polumbus, who was battling a knee injury coming into the game, Kiwanuka plowed into Cousins, jarring the ball loose. Cullen Jenkins recovered at the Redskins 24 yard line, setting up the Giants offense with prime field position for their second drive of the night.
Mixing Jennings runs of 3, 5, and 6 yards with passes for Randle and Larry Donnell, Manning drove the Giants to the Washington 5 yard line in five plays where they faced a third and 4. Working against linebacker Perry Riley, Donnell ran a seam pattern to the back of the end zone, turned before Riley was saw the pass coming, and hauled in the Manning bullet for the touchdown. The drive covered 24 yards in 6 plays, and consumed 3:07. It was the first points scored by the Giants in the first quarter in 2014 and staked them to a 7-0 lead.
Damontre Moore blasted Redskins kick returner Andre Roberts, who took the ball from five yards deep in the end zone, and stopped him in his tracks at the Washington 15 yard line. Two Morris runs netted only 5 yard, and a Cousin pass sailed over Robert head, forcing a Tress Way punt. The booming punt out kicked Washington’s coverage, and Preston Parker appeared to break off a good return, making it into Washington territory before Way tripped him up. An illegal block above the waist penalty on Nat Berhe brought the ball all the way back to the Giants 20, another critical special teams error wiping out a big play. The flag was thrown after Parker was 20 yards past down the field and the Redskins player [number obscured] was well out of the play. The contact by Berhe was unnecessary and shows a lack of field awareness by the rookie safety.
A holding penalty on John Jerry following a quick seven yard sideline completion to Parker on first down doomed this drive from the start, and two runs netted only 10 of the 13 yards needed, forcing another Giants punt. Jerry pulled defensive tackle Chris Baker down before he could tackle running back Andre Williams for a loss on second down, drawing the flag. The play calling after the penalty makes it clear that the coaching staff does not trust the offensive line to hold pass blocks long enough for Manning to drop back and complete longer throws. Weatherford’s directional punt of 46 yards forced a fair catch by Roberts at the Washington 27.
Holding penalties also plagued the Redskins in the first quarter, one on left tackle Trent Williams against Jason Pierre-Paul wiped out a 15 yard completion to Pierre Garcon, and the other on an third down incompletion was called on Polumbus, but declined. In between, when Cousins threw to running back Roy Helu in the flat for a 7 yard gain, he was uncovered, and someone in the Redskins coaching booth took notice. Way boomed a 57 yard punt, but Washington has good coverage, and the Giants took over at their own 24.
On the first play of the drive, Cruz broke outside from the slot on a timing pattern and Manning found him 12 yards down field. He caught the pass in stride and raced 24 more yards before he was pushed out of bounds. Jennings ran two plays behind J.D. Walton and Weston Richburg, gaining 17 yards, and Donnell ran uncovered over the middle for a 14 yard gain as the first quarter ended, setting up the Giants with a first and goal at the Washington 8 yard line.
The first play of the second quarter saw Jennings drive up the middle for a hard earned 2 yard gain. On second down, Donnell lined up on the left and again ran a seam route, this time drawing safety Brandon Merriweather in coverage. He reacted slowly, as did linebacker Keenan Robinson, who provided no help inside, allowing Manning to easily find Donnell for a second TD. Geathers was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct on the extra point for jumping on a teammate trying to make the block. The penalty was assessed on the kickoff. The Giants scoring drive covered 75 yards in 6 plays and took 2:45, giving the Giants a 14-0 lead.
The kickoff from midfield went for a touchback. Cousins rallied the Redskins following an thigh injury to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie that occurred when he tackled fullback Darrel Young out of bounds on a 9 yard swing pass. He walked off under his power, and later returned to the game.
While the Giants adjusted to the temporary loss of one of their top defenders, Morris broke off an 18 yard burst, finding a seam between Pierre-Paul and Jenkins and almost broke the run for a touchdown before Demps tackled him. Cousins found tight ends Paul and Paulson for gains of 19 and 13 yards. The Paul catch and run appeared to be the first Redskins exploitation of linebacker Mark Herzlich’s poor pass coverage ability. No one covered Paulson on his blitz release, resulting in the 13 yard gain. The big plays gave Washington a first and goal at the Giants 8 yard line.
On the first play of the goal to go sequence, Paulson was called for a hold on a sweep by Morris, pushing the Redskins out to the 18 yard line. Cousins again used play action to create space, this time for Roberts, who found it between Trumaine McBride and Demps for the touchdown. The Redskins drive was 10 plays, took 5:24 off the clock, covered 80 yard, and cut the Giants lead in half at 14-7.
Parker took Way’s kick from one yard deep in the end zone out to the Giants 33. Using the no huddle, Manning found five different receivers, including Randle three times, and mixed in runs by both Williams and Jennings to efficiently drive the Giants to the Redskins 6 yard line as the two minute warning approached. The drive included three third down conversions, completions to Parker and tight end Daniel Fells, and a one yard run by Jennings behind Jerry, Justin Pugh, and a pulling Richburg. On first and goal, Donnell ran to the right corner of the end zone and out leaped rookie cornerback Bashaud Breeland to complete his touchdown hat trick. The score gave the Giants a 21-7 lead on a 12 play, 67 yard drive that ate up 6:17.
On the next drive, starting from his own 20, Cousins found Garcon for a quick gain of 11 before the night’s most controversial play occurred. On second and ten, following an incompletion to Roberts, Cousins threw a seam pass to Paul for 28 yards. Antrel Rolle and Demps converged on him, and Paul lowered his head to try to gain more yardage. The three collided, jarring the ball loose, and dropping Paul, momentarily unconscious, to the turf.
The officials, under strict instructions from the NFL office to penalize any close plays involving hits to or near the head, called unnecessary roughness on Demps for “An illegal hit on a defenseless receiver.” Both Giants defenders appeared to lead with their shoulders and collide more with each other than Paul, who’s decision to lead with his helmet caused him to get knocked out.
Referee Carl Cheffers reviewed the incompletion and correctly reversed it, putting the ball, with the penalty, at the Giants 26. While no one wants see players injured, it is professional football, and responsibility for injury cannot always be assigned to a defender. The officials are following a league mandate due to concussion lawsuits by former players, and will be graded poorly if they don’t throw the flags. Penalties such as these, when the offensive player is clearly the aggressor, and the defensive player clearly attempts to comply with safe tackling protocols, have greatly diminished quality of play. The rules changes have taken cheap hits out of the game, but the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction, and adjustment is needed. Paul was evaluated for a concussion and did not return to the game.
Fortunately for the Giants, two plays later, McBride stripped Paulsen of the ball and recovered it when Jameel McClain stood him up following a five yard completion. The fumble recovery gave the Giants a first down at their own 18 yard line with 1:16 remaining in the half and 2 time outs at their disposal.
Quick passes to Cruz, Randle, and Parker drove the ball out the 48 yard line. There was an opportunity to use a timeout with 49 second left and preserve time on the clock, but Manning burned 13 second off the clock setting up another play. A pass interference call on Breeland gave the Giants a first down on the Redskins 35, but a sack by Ryan Kerrigan, who bull rushed Justin Pugh, pushed the ball back to the 40. The Giants used their second time out following the sack.
After an incompletion to Parker, the Giants mysteriously burned timeout number three, leaving them with a third and 15 at the Washington 40 with :07 on the clock. Expecting a quick out to set up an easier field goal try for Josh Brown, Manning crossed the Redskins up and found Cruz down the right sideline for 29 yards, putting the ball at the Washington 11 with 1 second remaining. Brown’s 29 yard field goal closed out an 8 play, 71 yard drive, and the half, giving the Giants a 24-7 lead.
Manning played perhaps the finest half of football in his professional career, completing 20 of 24 passes for 209 yards and 3 touchdown, all to emerging star Donnell. Jennings, coming off of a 34 carry afternoon against the Texans, only had 10 attempts in the first half, for 40 yards. The Giants offense continued to sustain the gains made in their last 2 games and had the points on the scoreboard to show for it.
The Redskins received the kickoff and started the first drive of the second half at their own 17 after Moore planted Roberts into the turf. A 5 yard run by Morris and neutral zone infraction by Pierre-Paul moved the ball to the 27, when Cousins found Helu wide open in the flat for a 36 yard gain. Herzlich appeared to have blown the coverage and broke inside with Rolle while Helu drifted into the flat, caught the ball, and raced down the left sideline for the huge gain. Cousins followed it up with a strike to Garcon for 17 yards in front of Prince Amukamara before Morris ran left for the final 20 yards on a perfectly blocked play that took Pierre-Paul and Herzlich out. Demps over pursued, giving Morris a clear path to the end zone. The drive took only 2:03, covered 83 yards in just 5 plays and cut the Giants lead to 10, at 24-14.
The Giants first drive of the half stalled after one first down when Cruz was stopped 3 yards short on a third and 8, and momentum was firmly on the Redskins side as Weatherford’s punt gave them the ball at their own 10 yard line. Cousins found Morris in the flat, in another blown coverage by Herzlich for a 26 yard gain, and the Washington offense was on a roll. Herzlich once again broke down field and left the back uncovered. The most concerning part about this play is that the player he moved to cover, Garcon, was already covered by McClain. Amukamara stopped the drive in it’s tracks when he jumped in front of a pass intended for receiver Ryan Grant and intercepted it, returning the ball 28 yards to the Washington 21 yard line.
Manning drove the Giants to the Washington 6 by mixing runs by both backs with a toe tapper to Randle along the left sideline. He appeared to throw his fourth touchdown of the night to Randle, who caught the ball in the end zone, took two steps and was hit by Merriweather. The ball popped out and into the arms of Keenan Robinson. It was ruled an interception on the field and not overturned upon review. The play was close, but Randle seemed to secure the ball and take two full steps before in the end zone before the ball was jarred lose. Cheffers ruled that it “Stands,” meaning that there was not enough video evidence to overturn it. When a replay is “Confirmed,” it means that the visual clearly showed the call was correct. Has it been ruled a touchdown, it would have stood based on the “Stands” ruling.
In the end, it didn’t matter, as 2 plays later, Demps intercepted Cousins on a overthrown pass intended for Garcon and gave the Giants the ball back at the Redskins 38. Manning wasted little time, using just 4 plays and 1:19 to drive the 38 yards, the biggest of which was a 21 yard snag by Randle down the right sideline that put the ball on the two yard line. Fells, left uncovered in a three tight end set that included fullback Henry Hynoski in the backfield, hauled in Manning’s fourth touchdown pass of the night in the far right corner of the end zone. The Giants lead increased to 31-14 with 4:19 left in the third quarter and the competitive portion of the game was over.
Cousins was obviously rattled by his back to back interceptions and big plays being made by a suddenly confident Giants defense. Demps batted away a wide receiver screen to Garcon and Cousins threw behind Roberts on third down, bringing in Way to punt. Bouncing past Parker, the punt covered 77 yards and combined with another special teams blocking penalty, put the Giants in a hole at their over 7.
Not wanting to give the Redskins a turnover, the Giants kept the ball on the ground with Andre Williams for three straight plays that included a 23 yard gain, his best as a Giant, behind blocks by Jerry, Walton, and Hynoski. On third and 7, Manning floated a pass, under pressure, towards Cruz that Merriweather barely missed intercepting. It was Manning’s only bad misfire of the night. Weatherford’s punt gave the ball back to the Redskins at their own 25.
Cousins threw his third interception of the game to McBride, on an under thrown pass intended for Roberts. It was easily intercepted, and set the Giants up with a first down at the Redskins 22 yard line. A 20 yard catch and run by Cruz down the middle of the field put the ball on the Washington 2 as the third quarter expired.
As the final quarter got underway, Williams was stuffed for no gain, and Manning threw two incompletions to Donnell, but illegal used of hands was called on Riley giving them a new set of downs. Finding no one open, Manning kept the ball himself and scrambled right for the one yard touchdown, and the rout was on at 38-14 Giants. The 5 play, 22 yard drive took only 1:22.
On the next drive, starting at his own 20 and following a 3 yard run by Morris, Cousins again found Helu, this time covered by Williams, for a gain of 27, putting the ball at midfield. A penalty for ineligible down field on a pass and sack by Moore, who ran around Polumbus to take down Cousins, put the Redskins in a hole and Cousins badly under threw Jackson, getting intercepted for the fourth time by Rolle, who returned the ball to the Redskins 19. A holding penalty on the return put the ball back to the Washington 46.
Manning remained in the game, but only threw on pass on the drive, to tight end Adrien Robinson. Yes, you read that correctly. The Giants had begun substituting liberally by this point in the blowout. Mixing runs by Williams, Peyton Hillis, and even one by Hynoski, the Giants drove 46 yard in 9 plays and Williams plunged into the end zone for his first professional touchdown. The drive closed out scoring for the game at 45-14 and took 5:25 off the clock. Ryan Nassib finished the game, but didn’t throw a pass.
The Giants scored 31 points off of 6 Redskins turnovers, and they were +5 for the game, bringing them to +1 for the season. The gave up just 86 yards on the ground and 243 through the air while gaining 449 yard of total offense. Manning cooled off in the second half, finishing the game 28 of 39 for 300 yard, with 4 touchdown, and the 1 hard luck interception. He was in command of the offense and was able to put the Giants in the end zone 6 out of 8 trips to the red zone.
The defense suffered from not having Beason and Devon Kennard available as 114 passing yards were surrendered to running backs. McClain being out of position, and Herzlich being forced into pass coverage resulted in Helu being uncovered three times for huge gains out of the backfield. This will need to be corrected during the ten day break before the Falcons game on October 5th. The extended rest should allow both linebackers to get back on the field.
Coverage units improved noticeably, but the return teams remain a penalty plagued disaster. This needs to be an area of focus over the next ten days. Parker has proven a dynamic returner and Odell Beckham is even better, when healthy, but neither will be able to provide a spark if their blockers make constant mental mistakes.
This Giants team is not as good as they have looked against Houston and Washington, not as bad as they looked against Detroit in the opener. It is a talented team that is growing together and will compete for the NFC East if they are able to avoid major injuries and show continued progress in all areas. Neither the Eagles, nor the Cowboys are powerhouses, and both contain major flaws that render them vulnerable to a Giants team that should take the division if they are able to play smart football.
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