LANDOVER, Md. (AP)—First-and-goal at the 1. Fifty-eight seconds left in the game. A defense that had stunk up the NFL for two weeks was on the verge of blowing the game.
What was it like in the New York Giants defensive huddle?
“If I put you in that huddle, your ears might bleed,” defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. “At that point, it’s not about technique, it’s not about the call, it’s all about getting fired up and realizing what’s at stake. We just came off the ball and did what we had to do.”
Four plays later, the defense ran off the field celebrating a 24-17 victory over the Washington Redskins, a had-to-have win Sunday that kept the Giants from sinking into a deep hole in the NFC East.
“Amazing way to win a game,” quarterback Eli Manning said. “Give a lot of credit to our defense for hanging in tough. To get a goal line stand to win a game, you can’t beat that.”
The Giants (1-2) trailed 17-3 at halftime, giving them 10 quarters in a row of going-nowhere football to start the season. In the second half, however, a defense that had allowed 80 points in the first two games shut out Washington and allowed only 81 total yards.
Meanwhile, the offense found a way to master third-and-long against a Redskins defense that had allowed only one touchdown all season. The Giants converted seven straight third downs—all but one of them was third-and-5 or longer—to put together three touchdown drives.
Plaxico Burress, who had three drops and no catches in the first half, had five receptions for 86 yards in the second. The ankle injury that caused him to miss two practices last week didn’t seem to affect him on the game-winning score — a 33-yard catch-and-run in which he received the ball in the left flat and sidestepped Carlos Rogers before dashing to the end zone with 5:32 to play.
“I gave him one of those old backyard Virginia Beach moves, and he fell for it,” Burress said. “I just had to keep fighting. I’ve never played like that in the first half. If we would have lost that game, I would have felt horrible.”
The loss deflated the Redskins (2-1), whose two close wins against middling opposition had the team feeling primed for a surprise season as a playoff contender. Naturally, most of the talk in the locker room centered on the final sequence.
After a 20-yard pass to Antwaan Randle El, Jason Campbell spiked the ball on first-and-goal at the 1. Coach Joe Gibbs said he called for the spike because there were no timeouts remaining, and he wanted to get in the jumbo, goal-line package.
But on second down, the pass went in the flat to fullback Mike Sellers, who dropped the ball and probably wouldn’t have scored anyway. With leading rusher Clinton Portis on the sideline, Ladell Betts was stopped on near-identical running plays on third and fourth downs.
Gibbs said he told Campbell the plays to run, indicating that Gibbs apparently had taken over the play-calling duties usually held by assistant coach Al Saunders. Later, Gibbs clarified his remarks, saying he was just reinforcing the plays called by Saunders to the young quarterback.
“We feel like either one of our backs are capable of being in there,” Gibbs said. “And on that particular drive, it was Ladell who was in there.”
Betts was tackled for a 2-yard loss on fourth down.
“It’s probably going to be hard for me to go to sleep tonight when I think about it over and over,” Betts said.
Manning completed 21 of 36 passes for 232 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Derrick Ward ran for 94 yards on 26 carries and had six catches for 26 yards. Reuben Droughns had a pair of 1-yard TD runs—New York’s first rushing touchdowns of the season—and Mathias Kiwanuka’s pair of sacks doubled the defense’s output for the year.
The Redskins scored in the first half on Clinton Portis’ 1-yard run and Chris Cooley’s 8-yard touchdown catch. Washington lost despite getting three takeaways, one-fourth of their total from all of last season, but both offense and defense fell apart in the second half.
The Giants opened the third quarter with a touchdown drive in which they converted third-and-6, third-and-7 and third-and-8. Another TD drive had conversions on third-and-6 and third-and-5. The third-and-5 was a 6-yard run by Ward, who initially was ruled to have fumbled the ball before a replay challenge verified that his left elbow hit the ground before the ball came loose. New York’s winning score was set up by a Redskins fumble, a bad exchanges on a handoff to Portis.
But the game wasn’t over until the final fourth-and-1.
“Just the jubilation you feel when you’re running off the field after making a big stop like that, in the division, on the road,” Cofield said. “I’ll never forget it.”
Jeremy Shockey (five catches, 79 yards) set the Giants career record for catches by a tight end, moving ahead of Bob Tucker. … Washington WR Santana Moss strained his groin in the fourth quarter. … The attendance of 90,803 set a record for FedEx Field, the NFL’s largest stadium. … The Redskins looked more like the Green Bay Packers in their 1970-71 throwback uniforms, complete with bright yellow pants.