For a brief moment, it looked like the Washington Redskins had the New York Giants’ number yet again on Sunday.
But, the Giants’ potent combination of Eli Manning and Victor Cruz produced a 77-yard touchdown to give New York a stirring 27-23 victory at MetLife Stadium moments after rookie sensation Robert Griffin III put Washington ahead on his own late touchdown throw.
Cruz’s score, with 1:13 remaining, prevented the Redskins (3-4) from keeping an unlikely hold on the Giants (5-2) over the past two seasons.
Prior to Griffin’s arrival, Washington, just 5-11 a year ago, swept a two-game, home-and-home series with decisive wins by 14 and 13 points against New York last year, and the Redskins were poised to win a third straight game against their division rivals, even though the defending Super Bowl champion and NFC-East leading Giants were a touchdown favorite at home in the teams’ latest meeting.
The recent competitiveness between the teams didn’t surprise New York head coach Tom Coughlin, who said “In the division, we knew it was going to be a struggle right until the very end, and it certainly was.”
Although the two-time, Super Bowl MVP Manning (26-for-40) outgained Griffin (20-for-28), the second overall pick in this year’s NFL draft, through the air (337-258), Manning through two interceptions and the lone touchdown pass to Cruz while Griffin threw just one pick and a pair of touchdown passes.
And, behind another rookie, sixth-round selection, running back Alfred Morris (22 carries for a game-high and career-high 120 yards), the Redskins dominated the Giants on the ground, 248-64.
Yet, it was the momentary hero, 12-year veteran wide receiver Santana Moss (three catches, 67 yards, two touchdowns), who despite catching a go-ahead 30-yard touchdown pass from Griffin with 1:32 to go, ended his team’s hopes with a costly fumble near midfield with 43 seconds left.
Before that, it was a back-and-forth contest, one that was tied twice and which saw Washington lead four different times and New York three.
After a false start penalty on right offensive tackle Sean Locklear (during the game’s opening drive) forced the Giants to abandon plans to go for a fourth-and-one at the Redskins’ 36-yard line, Washington embarked on a long 17-play, 93-yard drive that lasted more than nine minutes, to lead 3-0 lead on a 20-yard field goal by undrafted rookie kicker Kai Forbath, with 2:13 left in the first quarter.
Six plays earlier, an illegal shift by tight end Fred Davis (one catch, 13 yards) wiped out a 35-yard touchdown pass by Griffin, and later in the same possession, Davis, the Redskins’ leading receiver, and a player who hurt the Giants often in each of Washngton’s victories over New York last year, was lost for the rest the season due to a torn left Achilles tendon.
Wasting no time, Manning answered Forbath’s kick right away, directing New York on a 12-play, 80-yard trip, hitting tight end Martellus Bennett (five catches, career-high 79 yards), who made a terrific outstretched, diving 31-yard reception on the fourth play of the drive.
Running back Andre Brown (five carries, 17 yards, one touchdown) finished the possession with one-yard touchdown dive over the top, on which he was met by linebacker London Fletcher (the NFL’s reigning active iron-man with 231 games played), before falling into the end zone to give the Giants their first lead, 7-3, with 12:41 left before halftime.
The teams traded scores on the next four drives, making it six possessions in a row with points being scored after New York’s punt to open the game.
Griffin finished an eight-play, 80-yard possession with a 26-yard touchdown pass to Moss to regain a 10-7 lead for the Redskins with 8:45 to go in the half, but Manning completed three straight passes and scrambled for a first down deep in Washington territory on third-and-four, to eventually set up a 27-yard field goal by kicker Lawrence Tynes, who tied the game 10-10, with 3:53 remaining in the half.
A 30-yard run by Morris followed a 28-yard scamper by Griffin and had the Redskins on the move again, but a third-down sack by defensive end Justin Tuck (one of three for New York) held Washington to a 43-yard field goal by Forbath that put the visitors back on top, 13-10, just 1:49 before intermission.
Answering that kick, Manning completed twice to Bennett, and then connected on consecutive passes to Cruz of 13 and 14 yards to let Tynes even the game at 13 apiece a 39-yard field goal two seconds before the half expired.
Both offenses slowed down in the third quarter, with each team starting the period with a punt and then a turnover, as Morris fumbled before Manning was intercepted at the Redskins’ nine-yard line when he badly threw behind Cruz.
However, safety Stevie Brown, who entered his third NFL season without a pick, returned the favor by intercepting an overthrown pass from Griffin at the New York 24-yard line. Brown brought the ball back 41 yards to the Washington 35-yard line.
From there, Manning completed a 15–yard pass to wide receiver Domenik Hixon (three catches, 32 yards), and five plays later, running back Ahmad Bradshaw (12 carries, 43 yards, one touchdown) scored from a yard out, 2:05 into the final quarter, to put the Giants ahead 20-13.
Once again, the teams traded turnovers, as Griffin fumbled and Manning was intercepted, looking for wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (five catches, 53 yards).
That put the Redskins just 32 yards from tying the game, but after just three plays, Washington could only manage a 45-yard field goal by Forbath that trimmed New York’s advantage to 20-16 with 5:21 left in the game.
Taking accountability for his mistakes while recognizing a great ability to overcome them when games are on the line, Manning said, “That’s something that I’ve got to fix and get better and make sure that I’m not putting us in a bad situation. But, something that we’ve been really good at over the years is the two-minute drive when the game is on the line and making plays when we need to make plays.”
That success has mostly been due to Manning and his leadership in those situations, even if the humble quarterback didn’t acknowledge that fact.
Following a Giants punt, Griffin threw seven straight times, completing five, to lead a 77-play drive that ended with his touchdown throw to Moss, who beat rookie cornerback Jayron Hosley to give the Redskins a 23-20 lead.
While Griffin, quite possibly a great quarterback-to-be, did very well to put his team in a good position to win, the cool, tested veteran and current league master at leading late-game comeback victories, needed just two plays to pull off his eighth game-winning drive in the past two years – the most in the NFL over that time.
Spotting the speedy Cruz getting behind the Washington secondary, Manning lofted a perfect pass that Cruz caught in stride at the Redskins’ 43-yard line – ironically, the same place where Moss fumbled the game away for Washington on its last drive.
Using a stadium video board as his rear-view mirror, Cruz outran cornerback Josh Wilson and safety Madieu Williams for yet another big score, the type of which has become a habit for the receiver who in his first professional season last year, had a single season Super Bowl-era record five touchdowns of at least 65 yards.
After making the throw under pressure, Manning was on the ground and didn’t see Cruz make the catch, but the 81,352 fans in attendance let him know what happened.
“I had to throw it probably a little bit before I wanted to,” Manning said. “I didn’t see the ball get caught. I just kind of heard the cheer and said, ‘That’s probably a good sign,’ and I got up in time and saw him run into the end zone.”
“Looking at the back of [Cruz’s uniform number] 80’s heels there at the end… what a great feeling that was,” added a relieved Coughlin.
Never doubting their ability to rally for the win, Cruz said, “We just have a lot of confidence in each other and in Eli.”
By winning its first division game in three tries this season, New York got some much-needed breathing room atop the NFC East over the idle Philadelphia Eagles (3-3) and Dallas Cowboys (3-3), who coming off of a win in Carolina on Sunday, will host the Giants next Sunday, at 4:25 pm ET.
Dallas will be seeking a sweep of the season series with New York after winning at the Meadowlands on the league’s opening night, on September 5th. Doing so would be a form of payback after the Giants swept the Cowboys last year, including a win at the Meadowlands in the regular season finale with the NFC East title at stake.