With their 2009 season teetering on the brink of finishing without playoff football, the New York Giants (8-6) couldn’t afford yet another slip-up.
They ensured that wouldn’t happen, and then some.
Not only did Big Blue come away with the road victory they so desperately needed to remain a factor in the NFC playoff race, but the Giants served notice that if other conference contenders allow New York to crash the NFC postseason party, the Giants might still be dangerous enough to make the most of such an opportunity.
The G-Men made that type of statement with a thorough 45-12 thrashing of the Washington Redskins (4-10) before a national television audience in the nation’s capital on Monday Night Football.
It was the type of effort that was a lot more reminiscent of the Giants’ 5-0 start to the season while making the Giants temporarily forget their subsequent 2-6 mark leading into Monday night’s contest.
A day after the Redskins’ stadium crew had to remove an estimated 25 million pounds of snow from the stadium and their parking lots just so the game could be played after a big northeast snowstorm, it was the Giants who took the Redskins by storm.
The Giants sent an early message that they would return to their former dominating selves right from the outset, as they took the opening drive 80 yards in 16 plays, consuming 9:13, to lead 7-0 on a three-yard touchdown run by running back Ahmad Bradshaw (9 carries, 61 yards, 2 TD).
And, there was no looking back from there.
“We felt we can play at that caliber that we were playing at the beginning of the year. We came out fired up,” Bradshaw said. “This was a must-win. I told everybody before we went out, I need the whole team to come with us. And that’s how we played… together.”
The Giants scored on their first four possessions, and on six of nine times overall, punting just twice and simply running out the clock the final time they had the ball.
Meanwhile, the Redskins couldn’t get anything going offensively in that half while the Giants continued to move the ball and put points on the board.
The one saving grace for Washington might have been its defense, but even the Redskins’ biggest strength failed them against a determined Giants team.
Coming into the game, New York ranked 26th in red zone offense and was going against the NFL’s top red zone defense. Yet, the Giants scored on all four trips into the red zone, getting touchdowns on three occasions.
The Giants forced a three and out on Washington’s first possession, which included a third-down sack by defensive end Justin Tuck, the first of five different New York sacks which were recorded by five different Giants.
Big Blue then drove right down the field again, going 63 yards on 11 plays in 5 minutes, for 14-0 lead, as Bradshaw scored again, on a four-yard touchdown run 39 seconds into the second quarter.
The Giants then went 27 yards, settling for a 38-yard Lawrence Tynes field goal, and on their next possession, they struck quickly, going 56 yards on just four plays in 2:05, scoring on a six-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning (19-26, 268 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT) to wide receiver Steve Smith, to take a commanding 24-0 lead with 4:36 left in the first half.
With 1:55 left in the half and each team having had for possessions, the Giants had run 40 plays to the Redskins’ 15, and New York had outgained Washington 226-6.
Though he certainly did his own part, Manning gave credit to the Giants’ defense for contributing to the Giants’ offensive success. “They came out ready, and played awesome,” he said. “They kept giving us the ball and we kept going down and scoring. We just set the mood for the night very early.”
Washington finally looked good at the start of the third quarter, taking the opening possession of the period 86 yards on eight plays, in 4:20, scoring on an 11-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jason Campbell (15-28, 192 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT) to tight end Fred Davis 4½ minutes into the quarter.
The extra point was missed however, the Redskins still trailed 24-6, and the Giants weren’t through lighting up the scoreboard themselves.
New York answered Washington’s first score of the game with a seven-play, 77-yard drive in 4:08, capped by a 23-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to wide receiver Derek Hagan, to lead 31-6, with 6:21 left in the third quarter.
Just fourteen seconds later, it started to get embarrassingly bad for the Redskins.
Cornerback Terrell Thomas intercepted Campbell and scored on a 14-yard return to make the score 38-6, and made Giants fans think back to the first five weeks of the season when Big Blue was considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender prior to its mid-season swoon.
Redskins’ running back Quentin Ganther scored on a one-yard touchdown run with nine seconds left in the third quarter to at least get Washington to double digits, but an ensuing two-point try failed, and the Giants maintained a healthy 38-12 lead heading into the final quarter.
Before taking the bench later in the fourth quarter, Manning led one more scoring drive, taking the Giants 64 yards on five plays, in 2:14, finding wide receiver Mario Manningham on a 25-yard touchdown pass to close out the scoring with 12:48 left in the game.
Most importantly, the win keeps New York one game behind Dallas and Green Bay — who are each 9-5 overall — in the race for the two NFC wild-card playoff spots, with two weeks remaining in the regular season. The Cowboys and Packers are each 7-3 in NFC games, while the Giants improved to 6-4 within the conference. However, based on their season sweep over Dallas, the Giants need only to tie (not pass) the Cowboys in a potential two-team tie involving New York and Dallas. The Giants and Packers have not met this season, and do not play each other over the final two weeks of the regular season.
Secondarily, should the Giants find their way into the playoffs, and do so by playing in the next two weeks they way they played in Washington, they may look back to their victory over the Redskins as another crucial turning point in their season, and something on which to build a successful playoff run the way the 2007 Giants rode a 10-6 regular season to a Super Bowl title.
Thus, as Giants head coach Tom Coughlin pointed out, a greater sense of urgency such as the one on display in D.C., will be needed henceforth from the Giants this season.
“We were the team that had more at stake, obviously, and [we] played that way,” Coughlin said. “We always talk about being the team that demonstrates greater purpose. And we did… we ascended tonight, and we have to continue to do that.”