Times are tough for the last two champions of the NFC East.
Instead of fighting to reach the postseason, the New York Giants and Washington Redskins are battling to avoid last place in the division entering Sunday night’s meeting at FedEx Field.
These teams met last December in a prime-time showdown that Washington won 17-16 en route to its first NFC East crown since 1999. New York finished one game back with a 9-7 mark - its eighth straight season with at least a .500 record after capturing the Super Bowl in its previous campaign.
Twelve months later, the mood is very different for both.
“Everybody’s got a lot of pride in the NFL regardless of what your record is,” Washington coach Mike Shanahan said. “Everybody wants to win and I’m sure the Giants feel the same way.”
It’s unlikely that either of these clubs will catch Dallas and Philadelphia in the East.
New York (4-7) will try to move on after its postseason hopes were dealt a potentially fatal blow in last Sunday’s 24-21 home defeat to the Cowboys, who swept both games from the Giants.
“I think that’s something that we have to deal with a lot of times in this league,” safety Antrel Rolle said. “The pages have been turned. We’re already looking forward to playing a game and getting the preparation in for this week.”
The Giants will get their first 2013 look at the embattled Robert Griffin III, who is clearly not the same player from a year ago. Griffin rushed for 815 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie but has gained 367 yards on the ground and has yet to reach the end zone after offseason reconstructive surgery on his right knee.
”We had a dual threat. Now that threat is not quite there as strong as it was a year ago,” Shanahan said. ”But now we go to a different direction. We run play-action, we still run some of the zone-reads.”
Making matters worse, Griffin seems to be involved in a controversy every week while also clashing with the demanding Shanahan at times. The quarterback was said to have failed to have taken the complete blame for a late interception in a 24-16 loss to the Eagles on Nov. 17, and then drew attention for having his father visit him in the locker room following Monday night’s 27-6 home loss to San Francisco.
Robert Griffin Jr.’s appearance was noteworthy because he has been vocal about his son’s role in the Redskins offense, saying in the spring that he wants his son throwing more and running less. It came after RG3 threw for a season-low 118 yards while he was sacked a career-worst six times.
”Yeah, I was a little shocked that he was there, but he meant no harm,” Griffin said. ”And anybody out there that’s going after my dad needs to back up. That is my father. I will protect my family. He served 21 years in the military - I know that’s not an excuse for anything that he does - but he’s not overstepping any bounds, so I hope people respect that and back off.”
Griffin had a 105.9 passer rating against New York in last season’s series split. He threw for three scores and ran for 161 yards on 14 attempts.
He may not have to worry much about a once-feared Giants pass rush that has produced 18 sacks for the NFL’s second-lowest total ahead of only Jacksonville.
Griffin’s Redskins (3-8) were held to a season-low 190 yards of total offense Monday.
Their defense has yielded 37 touchdowns to match Minnesota for the league’s highest total but could be buoyed by an injury-plagued Giants’ unit coming to town.
New York lost center Jim Cordle for the season and will field a new starting combination on the line in front of quarterback Eli Manning for the sixth time. Kevin Boothe moves to center while third-year pro James Brewer will take over for Boothe at left guard.
Manning is enduring a horrific season with a 72.5 passer rating - his worst since his rookie year. The Giants have committed a league-high 30 turnovers, including 17 interceptions by the two-time Super Bowl MVP.
The Giants have also started six different running backs.
Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, who missed last Sunday’s game with an abdominal injury, practiced fully Friday and is probable. He has failed to reach the end zone this year while Victor Cruz has gone a career-worst seven games in a row without scoring.
One Washington player enjoying a strong year is Alfred Morris, third in the NFL with 970 rushing yards. Morris had 224 yards on the ground last season as a rookie versus New York.
New York defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and cornerback Trumaine McBride have been ruled out, and backup running back Brandon Jacobs and cornerback Corey Webster also will miss the game.