Early surge fuels Giants past Redskins in finale
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Giants ended a turbulent season on a positive note.
New York scored two touchdowns in just over two minutes and topped the Washington Redskins 18-10 in the regular-season finale Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
The Giants’ first score came when running back Orleans Darkwa scampered 75 yards for a touchdown on the second play of the opening drive. However, the ensuing point-after attempt by Aldrick Rosas was blocked.
“That first play was huge for us,” said center Brett Jones. “You see him break it open and it really set the tone for us and got us off on the right foot.”
The Giants then got an interception by linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, who picked off Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins’ pass intended for receiver Josh Doctson. Sheppard returned the interception 12 yards to give the Giants the ball on the Washington 19-yard line.
Two plays later, Eli Manning connected with receiver Hunter Sharp for a 16-yard touchdown to make it 12-0 after the two-point conversion fell short. Manning was making his 216th appearance, which ties Hall-of-Fame defensive end Michael Strahan’s franchise record for the most games played in a Giants uniform.
The Giants, who have struggled to run the ball all year, finished with a season-high 260 rushing yards, 154 of which were recorded by Darkwa on 20 carries with rookie Wayne Gallman adding another 89 yards on 15 carries.
Perhaps even more impressive was that the Giants were able to accomplish that behind their ninth different starting offensive line combination which, by game’s end, had turned into combination No. 10 when left guard John Jerry, the only member of the offensive line who managed to play in each of the team’s 16 games, had to leave with a concussion.
“We just had a lot of fun today,” said Jones, who has started every game at center for the Giants since Week 5.
“It’s been frustrating all year, but we came out today and got the run game going against a division opponent that knew what we were going to do and still execute our game plan, so it was a lot of fun and everyone embraced each other.”
Washington (7-9) finally got on the board thanks to a turnover by linebacker Preston Smith, who picked off Manning’s screen pass intended for running back Gallman. Two plays later, Cousins scored on a 12-yard naked bootleg to trim the Giants’ lead to 12-7.
The Giants and the Redskins exchanged first-half field goals, a 23-yarder by Rosas with 4:49 left in the first quarter, and a 49-yarder by Washington’s Dustin Hopkins with four seconds left in the half, which cut New York’s lead to 15-10.
Hopkins missed a 47-yard field-goal attempt in the third quarter while Rosas hit a 29-yarder at the start of the fourth quarter to extend the Giants lead to 18-10.
Cousins, who is likely headed to free agency barring a last-minute contract extension from Washington, certainly didn’t end his 2017 season the way he hoped, completing 20-of-37 pass attempts for 158 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions.
Washington head coach Jay Gruden agreed that Cousins might have been pressing a little too hard this week to make something happen.
“Yeah, I think sometimes that happens when things aren’t going well, you try to force the issue sometimes a little bit and he wanted to give receivers an opportunity to make some plays and unfortunately it didn’t happen,” Gruden said. “So, trying to force a big play sometimes makes matters worse and that’s something that happened today.”
Cousins admitted that he was probably a little too aggressive with his passes because he was trying to make something happen to help catch the Giants in the scoring column.
“The short answer is yes, I was aggressive. The first INT was a protection issue where I sent the line and tried to have an educated guess as to where the pressure was coming from and ended up being incorrect.
“The second was a play-action pass that I would have normally checked it down, but I was too aggressive in the moment. ... so I left it short intentionally. I was trying to be aggressive and manufacture something in the game.”
Despite Cousins’ shaky season-ending performance, Gruden said he’d be happy to have the quarterback back under center next season.
“We have to have stability at that position somehow some way,” he said. “When you have (a quarterback), you’d like to keep one, but we’ll have to make that decision pretty soon. It’s not totally up to us — Kirk will have to buy in as well — but we also have 18, 19 other free agents we’d like to take care of also.”
For Cousins, the offseason of uncertainty is nothing new.
“I’ve been in this position for three years,” he said, declining to get specific as to his current thought process. “There will be a lot of weeks leading up to free agency to talk about it, but it’s all about winning.”
The Giants (3-13) finish with a 1-5 mark against the NFC East and have locked up the No. 2 overall pick in the draft thanks to the Indianapolis Colts’ 22-13 win over the Houston Texans.
They will also be facing an offseason of uncertainty as new general manager Dave Gettleman, hired last week, works through the process of finding a new head coach and figuring out how to reshape a roster that started out with so much promise, but which also vastly underachieved.
“The season is over and the organization has to get rolling,” said interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo, who will have an opportunity to interview for the permanent head coaching position if he wants it.
“We’ll see what unwinds. We got the exit physicals tomorrow from eight to 12, got a team meeting at 12 o’clock. I know Dave wants to address the team, which is what you do. We’ll lay out what we have to do going forward and then we’ll take it day by day.”
NOTES: The Giants have won the last three games against Washington in games played in December and have split the season series with their NFC East foes in each of the last three seasons. ... Giants starting LG John Jerry was ruled out of the game with a concussion in the first quarter. He was replaced by John Greco. Also, reserve DT Jay Bromley left the game with an ankle injury and did not return. ... Washington RB Samaje Perine suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter and did not return. Also, Redskins LT Ty Nsekhe did not return after suffering a knee injury in the first half. ... Washington OLB Ryan Kerrigan finished with 4.0 sacks this season against the Giants. He has now has 9.0 career sacks against them.