There was Joe Judge giving it to his defense on the sideline. It looked like the same old, same old rinse-and-repeat was going down, this time at FedEx Field, with the first-year head coach exhorting his players to somehow, some way flip this horror script.
The tidy 17-point halftime lead the Giants fashioned was nearly all gone Sunday, shriveled to three points early in the fourth quarter. Perhaps the Giants might not score again. And so, Judge loudly and vociferously implored the guys who get paid to prevent points to do just that, this one time.
“He just challenged us,’’ safety Jabrill Peppers said. “We know what he expects from us, and we know the standard. He challenged us, and we stepped up to the challenge and closed out the game for him. That’s the type of coach Joe is, he’s going to get the best out of you one way or another.’’
One way or another is how the Giants prevailed. Indeed, they had all the points they would get on this day, with the best that could be said of Daniel Jones on the final two offensive series is that twice, he held onto the ball while getting sacked.
It was the responsibility of the defense to either close this out or experience another late-game meltdown. Peppers intercepted Washington quarterback Alex Smith with 2:18 remaining, but that did not end it. Finally, Logan Ryan completed an emotionally wrenching week with an interception with 1:15 left on a play defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, installed the previous night. The Giants held on and won, 23-20, hitting pause, at least for a week, on their mind-numbing tendency to fall apart down the stretch.
“For us, the whole message was ‘finish,’ ’’ Judge said.
The Giants (2-7) have been here before. They beat Washington in Week 6 to actually pull within a game of first place in the moribund NFC East. Then they promptly lost two straight. Lo and behold, the Giants face the Eagles (3-4-1) next and are within hailing distance of — yeah, we know we should not be saying this aloud — first place.
“We still have a lot to fight for and you can really feel the energy,’’ defensive tackle Leonard Williams said. “I’m not just saying it to make it a good answer.’’
Thank goodness for Washington (2-6). The Giants are 2-0 against this team in 2020 and 0-7 against everyone else. Jones, for only the second time in 21 starts, did not commit a single turnover — the only other time coming against Washington last season. Jones is 4-0 against Washington (and 1-16 when facing everyone else), making him not a very popular fellow in and around the District of Columbia
The Giants forced five turnovers — four on defense, one on special teams. They forced Kyle Allen (dislocated ankle) out of the game late in the first quarter on an inadvertent leg whip by Peppers. Smith, who made a miraculous return this season from severe leg injuries, threw for 325 yards and when he hit Terry McLaurin on a 68-yard hookup, Washington was within three points. Smith, though, also threw three interceptions.
A muffed punt was recovered by Madre Harper on the Washington 16, setting up Wayne Gallman’s untouched 2-yard touchdown run for a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. Jones’ 16-yard bullet turned into a fingertip touchdown grab by Evan Engram and it was 20-3 late in the second quarter. Blake Martinez’s interception in the final minute of the first half ensured the Giants would go in at the break in comfortable shape.
This being the Giants, though, comfort is overrated. They produced only three points in the second half, and Smith suddenly began torching the pass defense.
The key moment came on third down from midfield, the Giants clinging to a three-point lead, when Washington safety Kamren Curl came screaming in on a blitz and hit Jones squarely in the back, a blind-side hit that often separates Jones from the ball. This time, it did not, and the 7-yard sack just before the two-minute warning, while not ideal, at least allowed the Giants to punt the ball away rather than cough it up after a lousy offensive possession that took only 16 seconds off the clock.
“I’m always trying to hold onto the ball and do my best to secure it,’’ Jones said. “I guess right there I was able to do it.’’
The game-saving interception by Ryan capped a rough week for the veteran. His wife, Ashley, lost an ectopic pregnancy and the couple believes heeding the advice from Giants trainer Justin Maher to go to the emergency room in Florida might have saved her life.
“No one really knows what I went through all week emotionally, but the team supported me great and I definitely wanted to do something for my wife and kids in that situation,’’ Ryan said of his game-sealing play. “That ball is for her, she told me to bring one home for her, so I was able to do that.’’
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