New York Giants finally hold onto fourth quarter lead

Eli Manning’s side learn not to dread final quarter and see out game against Redskins

New York Giants 32 Washington Redskins 21

Entering the fourth quarter Thursday night, the New York Giants led the Washington Redskins by 12 points. The home crowd at MetLife Stadium would have been forgiven for feeling a sense of dread. Twice in games this season, the Giants had squandered significant fourth-quarter leads and turned probable victories into devastating defeats. Facing an 0-3 start to the season, the Giants must have sensed the haunting possibility of a third consecutive collapse.

As it turns out, roughly 24 hours earlier, during a team meeting, the Giants had confronted their fears. "You can't dread the fourth quarter," quarterback Eli Manning said. "Coach Coughlin challenged us to be excited about the opportunity. And to win it." As the final quarter began, players on the Giants' sideline raised their index fingers as a signal, Manning said, that they would raise their intensity for the rest of the game. Three plays later, Manning lofted a pass in the direction of Odell Beckham Jr., who leapt forward to snatch the ball out of the air for a 30-yard touchdown that elicited the first late-game smiles on the Giants' sideline this season. Beckham's play was the breakthrough score in a 32-21 victory, a game in which the Giants used a combination of skilled offense, strong secondary play and adept special teams to control the Redskins (1-2) for most of the contest.

The game did have a zany conclusion, with late three touchdowns - two by Washington - in 32 seconds. The Giants nonetheless escaped, and they showed their relief afterward. "You just want a win so you can stop talking about losses and get on with the rest of the season," said wide receiver Rueben Randle, who had seven receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown. "There's a long way to go this season, but now it will be easier to see it that way."


Coach Tom Coughlin said he was especially gratified for the players. “I feel so badly for them because in truth we could have won two games,” Coughlin said. “And they didn’t get the reinforcement of a victory to build on. I’m glad we now have that.” Although the Giants never trailed, the game’s defining sequence was Beckham’s lightning-quick touchdown. Manning saw that the Washington safety on Beckham’s side of the field had inched relatively close to the line of scrimmage. “The safety got antsy, and anytime you have the safety not real deep with Odell out there, that’s a big alert,” Manning said.

The ball was soon sailing toward Beckham, who reached out to seize it in front of his body before his defender could jostle it from him. Beckham finished with seven receptions for 79 yards. As much as Beckham's touchdown calmed the Giants' budding worries, Washington did mount another drive minutes later, and the Redskins even appeared to score a touchdown that would have once again cut the lead to 12 points or fewer. But as Redskins running back Matt Jones was diving into the end zone, his grasp on the football was slipping. It was ruled that he had fumbled while he was in the air at the 2-yard line. When the ball ricocheted off him and out of bounds in the end zone, it was a touchback, with the ball turned over to the Giants.

That sealed the Giants’ victory, even though the Redskins added a touchdown and a 2-point conversation with 3:40 remaining. The Giants countered with a final touchdown of their own, a 41-yard pass to Randle from Manning, who completed 23 of 32 passes for 279 yards. Then Washington’s Rashad Ross returned a kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown with 3:08 left. The Redskins barely advanced into Giants territory after that.

The Giants had dominated most of the first half and the early moments of the third quarter. After leading by nine at halftime, the Giants took the ball on their first possession of the third quarter and kept it 15 plays. They settled for a Josh Brown field goal, as they did at the end of two other drives, but the Giants' lead seemed comfortable because Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins rarely appeared in sync and the Redskins' vaunted running game was being held in check.

The Giants’ defence had been far from perfect, but it had exhibited good timing when it came to forcing turnovers. Late in the third quarter, linebacker Uani Unga stalled any potential Washington rally by intercepting Cousins, who completed 30 of 49 passes for 316 yards.

Beckham's touchdown came at the conclusion of the ensuing Giants possession. The game was only minutes old when the Giants took their first lead. Starting running back Rashad Jennings, who is something of a punt-blocking savant, got a hand on Washington punter Tress Way's kick after the game's opening series. When the ball bounded over the sideline in the end zone, the Giants had a safety and a 2-0 lead.

On the Redskins' next series, Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara and safety Landon Collins switched at the line of scrimmage just before a second-down play, with Amukamara shifting into deeper coverage and Collins manning Amukamara's usual line-of-scrimmage post.

The move may have confused Cousins, who threw a pass over the middle and apparently did not see a lurking Amukamara, who charged forward to make an interception at the 20-yard line. Four plays later, the Giants were at the Washington 1. With good blocking from left tackle Justin Pugh, left guard John Jerry and fullback Nikita Whitlock, running back Andre Williams bulled into the end zone for the touchdown that put the Giants ahead, 9-0.

Defensively, the Giants did a good job against the Washington running game. Devon Kennard, who is emerging as the star of the linebacking corps, was in the backfield frequently, as was defensive lineman Kerry Wynn. To pester Cousins, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo often called for various blitzes. Some did not work, but others did, hurrying Cousins into poor throws.

Two field goals by Dustin Hopkins were all Washington could muster offensively in the first half, reducing the Giants' lead at intermission to 15-6. "We've been playing pretty good football," Manning said later in the locker room. "It's not like last year's first two games. We're not getting beaten badly. It's good now to turn it around and have something to look forward to."

(New York Times service)