Under the backdrop of the tenth anniversary of the worst attacks ever on American soil, there couldn’t have been a more fitting matchup for what has become America’s new national past time.
For the New York Giants (0-1), it was a disappointing ending as New York lost its 2011 season opener to the Washington Redskins, 28-14, at Fed Ex Field, in a contest pitting two of the NFL’s oldest franchises, each representing areas that were the primary targets of the horrific day that Americans nationwide, paused to remember on Sunday.
Not far from the nation’s capital, players from each team held an American flag that covered the entire field as fans in attendance shouted “U-S-A!” chants in Landover, Maryland before the Redskins eventually scored the final 21 points to win.
Washington (1-0) was led by rookie linebacker Ryan Kerrigan (who broke an early third-quarter tie on a third-quarter interception return) and quarterback Rex Grossman (21-34, 305 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, 4 sacks), who posted only his fourth career 300-yard game against New York’s injury-depleted secondary and weakened pass rush (sans injured starting defensive end Justin Tuck) as the Giants’ sputtering offense was blanked after halftime.
Things looked far more promising for New York in the opening half before the game later unraveled for the Giants due in part to some costly second-half miscues.
Quarterback Eli Manning (18-32, 268 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 4 sacks) helped the Giants score first, on their second possession of the game, connecting on a 68-yard pass to wide receiver Hakeem Nicks up the right side, to set up a two-yard touchdown run by Manning (his first rushing touchdown in three seasons) giving New York a 7-0 lead with 9:53 left in the opening quarter.
But, two Redskins’ possessions later (after kicker Graham Gano missed a 39-yard field goal on Washington’s previous drive), the home team tied the game, 7-7, with 11:25 left in the first half, capping an 11-play, 67-yard march on a one-yard touchdown run by running back Tim Hightower (24 carries, 50 yards).
The drive was kept alive by a ten-yard, 4th-and-5 completion from Giants’ 37-yard line by Grossman to wide receiver Santana Moss (6 catches, 76 yards), and just moments later, on a sensational outstretched, diving catch at the New York 1-yard line by wide receiver Anthony Armstrong 2 catches, 24 yards), a second-year Texas native from Division II West Texas A&M.
After the teams traded punts, Manning again led the Giants to a seven-point lead, completing all four of his passes (for a total of 58 yards) while setting up New York’s running backs to pound the ball in the end zone.
A 14-yard run up the middle by running back Brandon Jacobs (6 carries, 29 yards) preceded fellow backfield mate a six-yard touchdown run to the right by Ahmad Bradshaw (13 carries, 44 yards), to give the Giants a short-lived 14-7 lead 2:48 before halftime.
Washington immediately answered with Grossman (a former first round pick, playing in only his 43rd game, starting his ninth season) completing five straight passes – including a 39-yard connection to wide receiver Jabar Gaffney (3 catches, 54 yards) – on a five-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a six-yard touchdown pass along the left side from Grossman to Armstrong, to tie the game, 14-14, with 37 seconds left in the half.
Former first-round draft pick, cornerback Aaron Ross, pressed into tougher coverage duty this season with talented cornerback Terrell Thomas out for the season, was badly exposed on the drive. Ross was turned around on Gaffney’s reception (as help arrived late from safety Deon Grant) before allowing Armstrong to beat him for the Redskins’ second touchdown.
In all, the Giants were beaten for 15 passes of double digit yardage (nine in the first half), including six of over 20 yards (three in each half).
Much of the big play damage was done by tight end Fred Davis, who had four catches of more than 20 yards to finish with five receptions for a team-high 105 yards (second only to Giants’ wide receiver Hakeem Nicks’ game-high 122 yards on seven receptions).
The game turned for good on the third play of the second half when Kerrigan, playing in his first NFL game, fought off a low block from right tackle Kareem McKenzie to tip, intercept, and return a Manning pass nine yards for what proved to be the winning score just 1:57 into the third quarter.
That gave Washington a 21-14 lead, an advantage the Redskins would sit on until Grossman completed five of six passes during a ten-play, 68-yard drive that closed the scoring with 5:04 left in the game.
The Giants might have forced a three-and-out early in the same drive, and they could have had the ball back with a chance for a game-tying drive, but safety Antrel Rolle was flagged for a late hit after a seven-yard reception by Davis that would have set up a 4th-and-2 and a Washington punt from the New York 48-yard line.
On the prior drive, trailing by seven, New York opted to run Bradshaw to the right on 3rd-and-1, but Bradshaw was stopped for a two-yard loss, leading to a fourth-down blocked field goal attempt by kicker Lawrence Tynes.
To come away with nothing at that point was particularly disheartening for New York considering the fortunate break they received just before taking possession.
The Giants had the ball at the Redskins’ 27-yard line with 13:02 remaining after linebacker Michael Boley returned a Grossman fumble (caused on a sack by defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul) 13 yards.
New York had just one good drive (for 60 yards on seven plays) in the second half, but that one ended on downs late in the third quarter. The Giants’ other six second-half possessions totaled just 32 yards.
It was a tough defeat for sure, but given the timing and circumstances surrounding the game, even the Giants would admit that the loss could be put into its proper perspective, especially considering that head coach Tom Coughlin’s son Tim survived the World Trade Center attacks in New York ten years earlier.
In that sense, the Giants will try to learn from the resilient spirit of New Yorkers and other Americans, and apply that to football when they host the St. Louis Rams (0-1) in their home opener on Monday Night Football at 8:30 pm ET next week.