The Giants need this victory, just their 13th in their last 54 games, and they needed it so badly that you could almost squint away what nearly happened at MetLife Stadium.
But, well, let’s face it: They were thisclose to dropped a home heartbreaker to a one-win Washington Football team with a woeful Kyle Allen at quarterback. They were thisclose to dropping to 0-6 on the season and, sizing up the schedule, legitimate discussion about when — or even if — they would take that bagel off their record.
They were thisclose to another week focused on a killer Daniel Jones turnover, another game when the offense looked downright Jet-esque, another collapse from a retooled defense that still can’t hold onto leads.
Washington scored with less than a minute left with a touchdown could/should have tied the game, but Ron Rivera — Riverboat Ron, as he’s called for a reason — decided to go for two. Allen rolled to his left, passed up a chance at running for the conversion, and threw meekly to the turf as the Giants swarmed him.
I get why Rivera would go for it there, given that his offense stinks. But the play call and execution was terrible. This was a gift from Washington. There’s a reason why the team without a nickname is 1-5 after this one.
So are the Giants, but it’s hard to feel much better about them than you did before this 20-19 victory began. Yes, Joe Judge has his first career victory, and that will take the edge off another rough start to the season for this franchise.
But to win, they needed a 43-yard Tae Crowder fumble recovery for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, and they needed Rivera’s charity after the defense failed to keep Allen and this Washington offense from answer that mistake with a late touchdown.
So now what? The NFC East is so lousy that the Giants are still in contention for the division title. They need to build on this one now that they enter their easiest stretch of the schedule and prove that it wasn’t a fluke. Because they were thisclose to something ugly.
Here are five observations from the Giants’ game against Washington:
1. RUN, DANIEL, RUN
Daniel Jones, leading rusher, are not four words the Giants wanted to see in the same sentence this season. But with Saquon Barkley’s injury and the struggle to replace the team’s offense star with a productive running back, that was the statistical reality heading into the their sixth game. Jones had a team-high 130 yards.
But that doesn’t mean that Jones’ feet aren’t a weapon that offensive coordinator Jason Garrett needs to use more often, and a perfectly executed 49-yard run in the second quarter is more proof. The play fake to Devonta Freeman was so good that it even fooled Fox’s cameras for several seconds — by the time they caught up, Jones had split three Washington defenders and was off and running.
The downside, of course, is the wear-and-tear on Jones’ body. He twice picked up 15-yard penalties for taking late hits — good in the short term for a struggling offense that needs all the yardage it can get, bad in the long term if one of those hits leads to an injury.
2. ANOTHER KILLER JONES TURNOVER, BUT …
Jones looked like he was on his way to his second career game without a turnover — the first and only came last season against Washington — when he made one of those head-scratching decisions that have defined his young career so far.
On first and goal from the Washington 7-yard line, Jones should have thrown his pass into the third row at MetLife Stadium when his receivers were covered. Instead, he left the ball in a position where Washington cornerback Kendall Fuller could make a diving interception to kill a 14-play, 73-yard Giants drive.
Replays, however, showed that Fuller’s elbow appeared to land out of bounds. That the referees failed to overturn the call was a bad call and a bad break, but it doesn’t excuse the decision from Jones. To give up the ball that deep in Washington territory, and to do it on first down on a drive when the offense looked dominant, was a killer.
3. SCARY MOMENT WITH SLAYTON
When Darius Slayton, the Giants’ best — maybe only? — reliable playmaker, limped off the field in the third quarter, it set up the depth chart from hell for this team. The only two healthy available wide receivers were Austin Mack and Golden Tate.
Slayton shook off the injury, apparently to his left leg, and returned to the game. Still, the moment crystalizes one of the biggest weaknesses for this Dave Gettleman roster. It doesn’t have nearly enough quality playmakers to compete in today’s NFL. Slayton, as good a find as he was in the sixth round, is nobody’s idea of a No. 1 receiver. Yet he’s irreplaceable.
4. LEONARD WILLIAMS, SACK MACHINE?
No Gettleman move has received as much scrutiny/criticism as the decision to trade two draft picks for defensive lineman Leonard Williams. That Gettleman couldn’t sign him in the offseason and instead had to slap the franchise tag on the USC product, giving him $16.1 million this season after amassing just a half-sack in 15 games last season.
In short: This is GM malpractice.
But, through six games, at least Williams is starting to look like a top-level defensive lineman. He had his third sack when he dragged Kyle Allen down for a drive-killing 14-yard loss in the second quarter, following that up with a great play to shed a tackle and stop running back J.D. McKissic for no gain. It was a promising sign.
5. JUDGE SENDS A BIG MESSAGE
If you’re looking for positive signs about the rookie head coach, this was a good day. Joe Judge benched No. 4 overall pick Andrew Thomas after four straight lousy games, ignoring the massive investment in draft capital that his boss used to acquire the left tackle and replaced him with rookie Matt Peart.
That should send the right message to the rest of the team that, if you fail to perform, you’re going to take a seat. Peart seemed to play well against a good Washington defensive line, but really, that’s besides the point. Judge is trying to build a culture, and the move echoes one a week earlier by the man on the other sideline. (Thomas, meanwhile, did return in the second quarter and seemed to play somewhat better.)
Ron Rivera, in his first season with Washington, benched quarterback Dwayne Haskins after a poor start to his second season. Given that Haskins was reported hand picked by owner Daniel Snyder — and that replacement Kyle Allen is dreadful — that was a pretty big statement of who’s calling the shots for that team.
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