It’s also likely neither team expected the game would be for first place in the NFC East.
The Giants and Redskins renew a storied rivalry and try to maintain at least a share of the division lead when they meet at the Meadowlands.
Few could have expected the Redskins, a team that endured a turmoil-filled 6-10 season in 2004, to make such dramatic strides in their second season since Joe Gibbs returned as coach. With a much-improved offense led by quarterback Mark Brunell and receiver Santana Moss, and a dominant defense that’s allowing only 157.5 yards per game through the air, Gibbs has shown he hasn’t lost his winning touch.
The Redskins had dropped two straight before last week, but forcefully ended that slide with a 52-17 home rout of lowly San Francisco. Washington led 35-7 at halftime, piled up 448 yards and scored on seven of its first nine possessions.
None of the Redskins’ first five games had been decided by more than seven points.
“We are a Rocky Balboa-type team, but it’s good to get a young Mike Tyson-type win and knock someone out,” linebacker Marcus Washington said.
Brunell completed 13 of 20 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns, and Moss continued his torrid start with a 32-yard TD reception and five catches for 112 yards, his fourth 100-yard game in five weeks.
Clinton Portis, whom the Giants couldn’t stop in the teams’ last meeting of 2004, ran 19 times for 101 yards and scored his first three touchdowns of the season.
With Washington having all its offensive weapons working, Sunday’s game could be a high-scoring affair. That would mark a wholesale departure from the run-heavy, defense-dominated games the franchises engaged in when they routinely battled for NFC East supremacy in the 1980s, during Gibbs’ first tenure as Redskins coach.
Led by second-year quarterback Eli Manning, New York has an offense to match the Redskins’ and leads the NFL with 28.8 points per game.
“We’ve got a real tough one next week,” Gibbs said after last week’s win.
Manning continued to build on his growing reputation as a clutch player last Sunday, directing a drive that culminated with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Amani Toomer with 5 seconds remaining that gave the Giants a 24-23 win over Denver.
Dominated for much of the game by the Broncos, who came in with a five-game winning streak, Manning rallied his team from a 23-10 deficit with 13:18 left.
“A two-minute drive against a good team that’s playing well, and to score a game-winning touchdown—that’s definitely the biggest play of my career,” Manning said.
The trouble for New York has been its own defense. The Giants are ranked 31st in the league in total defense and have particularly had trouble against the pass, allowing nearly 296 yards per game through the air.
While New York won’t abandon its high-powered passing game even if Washington is able to contain Manning and Co., Giants coach Tom Coughlin could pick this week to put more emphasis on the ground attack. Barber and several other Giants complained publicly about not employing the run more after a 16-13 overtime loss at Dallas two weeks ago, and the Redskins are only 15th in the league in run defense at 108.5 yards per contest.
With the 4-2 Philadelphia Eagles playing at 5-2 Denver this week, the winner of this game could find itself alone atop the division Sunday night.
The Giants will be looking to go 5-0 at Giants Stadium. They’ve outscored opponents 137-76 at the Meadowlands.
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