Now that the New York Giants have ended their losing streak, they have a clear path to the NFC East title.
The next step comes Sunday at home and the Giants will have to contend with a number of injury problems as they try to avenge a season-opening defeat to the Washington Redskins.
New York (7-6) held a two-game division lead after starting 6-2, then fell a game behind Dallas thanks to a four-game slide. Eli Manning, however, guided the Giants to two touchdowns in the final 3:14 to rally them to a 37-34 road victory over the Cowboys last Sunday and a share of first place before Dallas’ win at Tampa Bay on Saturday dropped New York one-half game back.
“We knew that we couldn’t afford to fall further behind Dallas when we went into the game,” offensive lineman Kevin Boothe said. “We are in a playoff-type atmosphere from here on out. We have a big division game this week and we have to take it one game at a time and see what happens. We have to give Washington our best shot.”
New York can clinch the division by winning one of its next two games along with the regular-season finale at home against Dallas.
The Giants, though, are dealing with numerous injuries.
Pro Bowler Justin Tuck failed to record a tackle against the Cowboys and could sit out with a toe injury while fellow defensive end Osi Umenyiora could miss a third straight game with a sprained ankle. Safety Kenny Phillips missed the Dallas game with a sprained left knee.
Tuck and Umenyiora were both injured when they sat out a 28-14 loss at Washington (4-9) in the opener. Rex Grossman continued his success against the Giants with 305 yards passing and two touchdowns as the Redskins ended a six-game slide in the series.
That loss didn’t stop Giants safety Antrel Rolle from saying earlier this week that New York could beat Washington 99 out of 100 times.
“I know what the outcome of the game should be come Sunday,” Rolle said. “It is up to us to go out there and put it on film and make sure the outcome is what we plan.”
Three of Grossman’s six best games in terms of passing yards have come against New York. He didn’t sound too worried about Rolle’s comments.
“It is the NFL and nobody is going to beat anyone 99 out of 100 times,” Grossman said. “I am confident about where we are. We haven’t finished games lately and we need to finish and everything should take care of itself.”
Grossman was sacked four times in the first meeting, twice by Jason Pierre-Paul. The Giants defensive end had two more last week to bring his season total to 12 1/2, and he blocked Dan Bailey’s tying field-goal attempt near the end of regulation.
Pierre-Paul has come on strong after he registered 4 1/2 sacks in 2010 as a rookie.
“I’m not thinking as much as I was last year,” Pierre-Paul said. “Last year, I was on and off and I wasn’t sure about all of the calls so I was playing slow.”
Pierre-Paul and the Giants’ pass rush will be looking at a patchwork Washington offensive line that is far different from what they saw in Week 1. Right tackle Jammal Brown missed last week’s 34-27 loss to New England with a groin injury as Tyler Polumbus replaced him while left tackle Trent Williams continues to serve his suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Manning failed to throw a touchdown pass against Washington in the opener - one of two times that has happened this year. He recorded his third 400-yard effort of the season last Sunday and is fourth in the league with a career-high 4,105 passing yards and sixth with 25 TD passes.
Manning has totaled 1,153 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions over his last three games.
“Eli has taken it upon himself to throw the ball well, and exceptionally well for the last three games,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “But he’s played well the whole year.”
A major reason why Manning’s numbers are up is that New York owns the NFL’s worst rushing attack at 85.8 yards per game.
There is reason for optimism. With Ahmad Bradshaw suspended for the start of last week’s game due to a violation of team rules, Brandon Jacobs gained a season-high 101 yards on 19 carries with two scores.
“Nobody wants to hit that guy running like he’s running other than they have to,” said Giants coach Tom Coughlin about Jacobs. “It’s the right message and when you see him north and south as hard as he can go and the pile’s going forward, we’re all cheering.”
Washington has the league’s second-worst rushing attack at 93.8 yards per game, but rookie Roy Helu has reached 100 for three straight weeks. Helu had a season-high 126 last week.
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