Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is a stickler for the little things, so when he turns on the coach’s tape Tuesday morning he’s going to be sick, because his team gave away the game in a 17-16 loss to the Redskins.
New York (7-5) committed nine penalties in the loss, a no-no for a Coughlin-led team. Washington barely even had the ball, particularly in the second half, when they had only four possessions. But when they did, they made the most of it as quarterback Robert Griffin III did just enough for the win. Griffin, who finished 13-of-21 for 163 yards and a touchdown, and also 72 rushing yards, had the eventual game-winning touchdown when he connected with wideout Pierre Garcon at the 11:31 mark, to give his team a 17-16 lead.
Griffin and Garcon also connected on the second-biggest play of the fourth quarter when the duo hooked up on a 20-yard pass play as the clock ran down to the two-minute warning, and the Giants down a point, but with just one timeout remaining.
Eventually, Washington (6-6) salted away the final two minutes for the win. They move within one game of the Giants for first place in the NFC East.
The loss was particularly frustrating for the Giants, as they made too many mental mistakes with penalties, blown coverages and easy dropped passes, despite eating up huge chunks of yards and time.
Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning (20-of-33 for 280 yards and a touchdown) actually outplayed Griffin statistically, but in the end Griffin and Co. outlasted a team that’s been known for clutch road performances.
With the win, Washington has now made things very interesting in the division heading down the stretch, especially as the Giants still have a murderous schedule remaining.
“We’ve got a tough test ahead of us,” Manning said. “We’ve got to find a way to play better football and win games.”
What we learned …
1. Arms race
It seems like months ago Giants fans were worrying about Eli Manning’s arm. But after his Monday night performance, that talk is a distant memory. Manning went 20-of-33 for 280 yards and a touchdown for his second-straight strong outing since Big Blue came off their much needed bye week. It’s hard to imagine a two-time Super Bowl champion can head into a game nowhere near as ballyhooed as his rookie counterpart, but that was Manning’s plight as he had to share the marquee with Washington quarterback Robert Griffin. And unfortunately for Manning, while he statistically outplayed Griffin, it was the rookie who shined the brightest in clutch moments as he led his team on the eventual game-winning touchdown drive with 11:31 remaining. Griffin also had a big-time final drive that salted away the win while keeping Manning from working his usual fourth-quarter magic.
2. Exploiting the passing game
Washington’s two-deep defense, which allows for multiple underneath patterns, was exploited by Manning, as tight end Martellus Bennett and Manning’s favorite slot security blanket, wideout Victor Cruz, both had solid games. Bennett, who has been steady but unspectacular this season, broke out for five catches for 82 yards and a touchdown. Cruz, who’s having a Pro Bowl-type season, had a team-high 104 yards on just five receptions. Wideout Hakeem Nicks (five catches for 43 yards) continued to struggle, however, as it’s been months since he’s had a real impact in the passing game.
3. Crashed out
The Giants’ defense, particularly its famed NASCAR pass rush unit, wasn’t bad, but they also had very little impact in stifling Griffin. New York didn’t record a sack and allowed rookie running back Alfred Morris to go over the 100-yard threshold with a game-high 124 yards — including the game-clinching first down. Griffin also added 72 yards rushing to keep Big Blue off balance. The performance was extra special for Griffin, who was making his Monday Night Football debut.
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.