The New York Giants didn’t find a replacement for Plaxico Burress in opening defense of their NFC East title.
They added something just as valuable, a healthy Osi Umenyiora, and he’s as good ever.
Returning from a major knee injury that wiped out his 2008 season, Umenyiora scored on a 37-yard fumble return after knocking a ball loose on a sack in leading the Giants to a 23-17 win over the Washington Redskins on Sunday.
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“It was unbelievable and now all that is in the past,” Umenyiora said after his first meaningful game since the Super Bowl in February 2008. “I can’t even explain it to you, when something like that is taken away from you. Last year I missed it. I was happy I was able to come back in there.”
So were the Giants, who once again had no problem handling the Redskins, even with their addition of $100 million defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. They swept both games last season and again dominated.
The Giants jumped out to a 17-0 first-half lead and were never threatened by the NFL’s so-called best last-place team.
Eli Manning threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Mario Manningham and Lawrence Tynes added three field goals, including a 45-yarder in the fourth quarter that was set up by an offside penalty by Haynesworth, who stuffed the middle of the line but did little else in his Washington debut.
The game-breaking play was Umenyiora’s second-quarter return. The two-time Pro Bowler beat tackle Chris Samuels with an outside speed rush, knocked the ball out of Jason Campbell‘s hands and then picked it up and pranced his way to the end zone.
“To be honest, I don’t know what happened,” Umenyiora said. “That’s the way most plays are made. You just go out there and sometimes good things happen. They always get on me about knocking the ball out and not picking it up. When I saw it, I just picked it up.”
“Osi made a great play on the ball,” said Campbell, who was 19 of 26 for 211 yards and an interception. “It’s something you have to understand as a quarterback you have to feel it more or slide up in the pocket.”
Campbell held it too long, and Umenyiora made him and the Redskins pay.
Washington, which trailed all game, drew within 23-17 with 1:30 to play on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Campbell to Chris Cooley. Steve Smith recovered the onside kick and New York ran out the clock.
Washington also got an 8-yard touchdown run from punter Hunter Smith on a fake field goal late in the first half and a 27-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham in the third quarter.
“Not only was it a W, but it was against an NFC East opponent,” Umenyiora said. “It was a great game.”
The Giants came into the game wondering whether they could replace Burress and Amani Toomer at receiver, and whether the defense could dominate under new coordinator Bill Sheridan, who took over when Steve Spagnuolo became the Rams head coach.
There are still questions to be answered with the receivers, especially with top draft pick Hakeem Nicks spraining his left foot in the second half. However, Manning (20 of 29 for 256) spread the ball around, connecting with Steve Smith six times for 80 yards.
The defense was outstanding, limiting Washington to 272 yards, forcing two turnovers and getting three sacks. Washington’s two touchdowns were on the gadget play and one late one after Tynes kicked his third field goal for a 23-10 lead in the closing minutes.
Tynes’ 28-yard field goal gave New York an early 3-0 lead and Manningham personally stretched it to 10-0 after taking a short pass from Manning. The second-year receiver deked Fred Smoot at the line of scrimmage, avoided a pushout attempt near the sideline by Andre Carter at the 20 and stopped short to avoid a tackle by DeAngelo Hall for his first NFL score.
Washington, which ran itself out of a scoring opportunity on its opening series with an ill-advised gadget play, used one to get on the board with 21 seconds left in the half. Faced with a fourth-and-goal at the Giants 8, coach Jim Zorn went with a fake and it caught New York by surprise, allowing Smith to jog in for a touchdown.
“It was really neat, but it would have been neater had we been able to capitalize and win the game,” Smith said.
Suisham’s short field goal was set up by Hall’s interception of Manning deep in New York territory.
“Not getting seven on that hurt us,” said Clinton Portis, who finished with 62 yards rushing on 16 carries.
NOTES: Hunter Smith‘s touchdown run was the second of his career. He had one with Indianapolis on a fake field goal in 2003. … Giants backup halfback Danny Ware dislocated his left elbow returning the opening kickoff. He watched the second half wearing a sling. … Manning lost a second-quarter fumble on a play with Carter grabbing his facemask. No call was made. … With Aaron Ross and Kevin Dockery out, the Giants played with three cornerbacks. Corey Webster, who got into a scuffle with Santana Moss, had an interception.