The ending to the NFL's wildest game of the young 2016 season felt oddly inevitable. Jay Gruden and the Washington Redskins had a gutless third-and-3 run with two minutes remaining and the New York Giants holding their full compliment of timeouts. They were stuffed, the Giants “burned” one of those three timeouts and Washington had to kick a field to take a 29-27 lead – the fifth lead change of the second half – with 1:51 remaining.
Too many games and too many situations foreshadowed what was to come. Given all that time (practically an eternity that wouldn't require the Giants to even break a sweat between plays), Eli Manning, who has the ninth-most fourth-quarter comebacks since the NFL began tracking the stat in 1960 (and the second-most amongs active players) was going to march down the field, hitting Odell Beckham Jr. once or twice, Victor Cruz and Sterling Shepherd once or twice more and get the ball close enough for a chip-shot field goal for Josh Brown. Sure, Eli has the “bad Eli” rep because he's Eli, the little brother, and plays in New York, all of which make him an easy target, but in reality, he's far better in these situations than his reputation suggests.
Not on Sunday, however. The Giants' final drive started out as expected: Manning easily connected with Cruz on a third-and-18 that put the Giants 25 yards away from makable field-goal range with 1:10 left. But then, after a timeout, the quarterback underthrew a check down pass to Shane Vereen and it was easily picked off by Washington's Su'a Cravens. (Look at the screenshot. Vereen was smothered. Eli had time. What was he thinking?)
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And thus, because Eli Manning made a bad pass and Su'a Cravens has better hands than a number of his offensive teammates, what looked like the start of a death rattle for Gruden, Cousins and the soon-to-be 0-3 Redskins instead became a possible jumping-off point for a 1-2 team in a wide-open division. If Beckham, who angrily lost a shoving match with an inanimate kicking stand earlier, had to be calmed down by Manning while crying during the game one can only imagine what happened immediately after the game inside New York's locker room.
On one hand, the Redskins didn't deserve the help. That final-drive run, as mentioned above, was gutless but worse than that, it was predictable. The Giants had no doubt what was coming. It would have been one thing to keep the clock moving if the Giants didn't have any timeouts (or maybe even one). But given that Gruden's attempt to play it safe meant New York would just be burning their first timeout after a stopped running play, time was completely immaterial. Giving the ball to Eli Manning with 1:51 and two timeouts is barely different than giving it to him with 1:51 and three timeouts.
The 'Skins also kicked five field goals, three from the red zone, including one that featured the following run of plays starting from first-and-goal at the four: Pitch to backup running back on short side of field, a fade pass to a speed receiver who's Tom Cruise tall and a quarterback draw by a quarterback who is Kirk Cousins. Last week, the Redskins threw three fades to taller receivers and they were as successful as Sunday's. Fool me once.
They also were the beneficiary of countless mental breakdowns by the Giants including four personal fouls (two by center Weston Richburg who became the first player to be ejected because of a new rule put in place largely because of Beckham and Josh Norman's dual last season – they were far better behaved this season), multiple turnovers and falling for a fake punt that succeeded thanks to a pass by 'Skins punter Tress Way that was as picturesque as anything from Cousins or Manning.
On the other hand, the Giants caught some breaks too. There was another interception in the end zone that wasn't awarded despite Mike Periera, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman (and pretty much anyone watching) believing the refs should have overturned the incompletion call. Some of those Redskins' red-zone fails were self-inflicted but others were behind the strength of the Giants defense.
Then there was the end of the first half – the one that would have been the focus of attention in a Redskins defeat and been front-page headlines in Washington, talked about as much tomorrow morning as that night's presidential debate. Showing more issues with two-minute drill timeouts, Gruden and the Redskins were in the New York red zone with time winding down in the first half, down five points. With 30 seconds left, Cousins connected with Jordan Reed on a third-and-10 that put the Redskins at New York's four yard-line. Even though your average Madden player would have known to call timeout instead of racing to the line with time ticking down in the half, the Redskins didn't.
What should have been a first-and-goal with 22 seconds was instead a second-and-goal with 11 seconds after Cousins finally got to the line and spiked the ball. Then, after a failed second-down play, Cousins took the snap on third and saw nothing open in the end zone. Rather than quickly throw the ball out of play to have the opportunity to kick a field goal, Cousins rolled out for reasons unknown and was sacked as time expired. The Redskins had failed to score when they had could have had first-and-goal from the four with 22 seconds left. And worst of all, that timeout they didn't call? They went into halftime with that in their pocket.
The concerns remain but in a much different light after the 29-27 win. If you put those crazy 60 minutes out of mind, the Giants are 2-1 and the Redskins are 1-2. With 13 games left, there's plenty of time for Washington to implode or the Giants to pull away from the pack or vice-versa. Winning Sunday just ensured the Redskins won't go 0-16.
But with the Browns going to FedEx Field next Sunday and the Redskins taking a 20-minute drive for a road trip to Baltimore the next, suddenly the team that was a play or two from being out of it before the calendar hit October is very much alive and riding a wave of momentum created by Eli Manning and the New York Giants. All Washington had to do was catch it and hold on.