For another week, we can stare holes through the playoff scenarios trying to figure out how the Giants can thread the needle and surge just ahead of Dallas and Philadelphia at the wire in the NFC East race.
The Giants held their tenuous position in the division-title battle with a 24-17 victory at Washington on Sunday. With the win, they remain two games behind the Cowboys and Eagles, who are both 7-5 after their own victories this week.
However, with another week passing without gaining any ground, the Giants are in worse shape than they were a week ago. Still, they are still hanging around, and their escape at Washington was noteworthy in its grit and skill. In overcoming a 14-0 first-half deficit, the Giants got strong play from two stalwarts — defensive end Justin Tuck and quarterback Eli Manning.
A free agent at season’s end, the 30-year-old Tuck was dominant, sacking Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III four times, all in the second half. Tuck, whose legacy will be favorably defined by his excellent play in two Giants Super Bowl victories, reached back and found his highest level of performance on Sunday night.
Similarly, Manning was sharp, completing 22-of-28 passes for 235 yards. He wasn’t perfect — he was picked off once, and he was sacked three times — but like Tuck, the 32-year-old Manning showed flashes of his best play.
After surrendering the game’s first two TDs, the Giants were clearly superior to Washington, whose defense was first stressed by Big Blue’s ground game and then had problems with New York’s passing game. The Giants' defense deserves a lot of credit; it dug in after the slow start. Middle linebacker Jon Beason, who continues to thrive with the Giants, recorded a game-high 17 tackles, 13 in the first half.
Also, the Redskins’ offense couldn’t sustain its early form, mustering just a second-half field goal after the Manning interception. Overall, the Giants allowed just 96 yards on 30 plays in the final two quarters.
Slowly but surely, Washington began to come undone, particularly in the passing game. As the numbers suggest, Griffin (24-of-32 passing, 202 yards, one TD, no interceptions) played well on balance, but he did not fare well in the face of the pass rush. That said, he didn’t much help from his receiving corps. Drops were a problem, with top target Pierre Garcon’s inability to hold onto the ball on the final drive especially glaring.
In defeat, Washington looked like a club that may struggle to win another game. That would be good news for the Giants, who host Washington in the regular-season finale.
We’ll soon know whether the Week 17 meeting between Washington and New York will have any playoff ramifications. The Giants have to continue taking care of their own business, with next Sunday’s matchup at San Diego the next hurdle. The Giants also need the Cowboys and Eagles to start losing. Both teams have potentially challenging matchups next week, with Dallas visiting desperate Chicago and Philadelphia hosting NFC North-leading Detroit.
On Sunday night, the Giants looked like they could be competitive in a wild-card game. When a team passes well and rushes the opposing passer, a team can dream a little bit about better days. The Giants can tell you all about it.
They have the jewelry to prove it.