The New York Giants limped into FedEx Field on Sunday certain they would be without one of their most feared pass rushers, one starting cornerback, another promising rookie corner and their starting middle linebacker. Then shortly before kickoff, team doctors determined two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Justin Tuck shouldn’t play either because of a neck injury.
The absence of skill and depth contributed significantly to the Giants’ demise in the season opener, but no one in the somber New York locker room afterward was about to offer that as an alibi for a unit that at the most meaningful junctures was severely out of position and guilty of errors in judgment.
“We’re not going to blame it on that,” said cornerback Antrel Rolle, whose helmet-to-helmet hit on tight end Fred Davis in the fourth quarter drew an unnecessary roughness penalty that allowed the Redskins to extend a scoring drive. “If the outside is going to blame it on that, they can, but we’re a football team at the end of the day. We still have 15 games to go. We’ve got to run it with the guys we have. We can’t worry about who’s here, who’s not here.”
The Giants yielded 332 yards of offense in a 28-14 loss, but more pressing was members of the defensive backfield allowing too much separation on a pair of Rex Grossman touchdown passes. The most damaging came with 5 minutes 11 seconds left in the game and the Giants still well within reach.
On third down and goal from the 4, Redskins wide receiver Jabar Gaffney ran a slant into the middle of the end zone with Corey Webster in coverage. The starting cornerback wound up steps behind Gaffney after the first-year Redskins wide receiver made his cut, and Grossman delivered a strike that all but settled the outcome.
It was during that series in which Rolle committed the most costly infraction of the game. Facing third down and nine from the Washington 45, Grossman completed a pass to Davis for seven yards. Rolle led with his helmet on the tackle, though, drawing a flag that moved the ball to the Giants 33.
Redskins rookie running back Roy Helu ran for two yards and first down before Davis caught a 22-yard pass down the right sideline and was heading for the end zone. Strong safety Kenny Phillips arrived to shove him out of bounds at the 9.
“I don’t even know the cushion we played with,” reserve safety Deon Grant said. “All I know is we didn’t get off the field when we needed to get off the field.”
The New York secondary appeared just as helpless during the Redskins’ touchdown drive that tied the game at 14 with 37 second left until halftime. Grossman completed five consecutive passes comprising the entire possession that ended when wide receiver Anthony Armstrong caught an end zone fade at the left boundary.
This time starting cornerback Aaron Ross was the culprit, allowing Armstrong enough room to catch Grossman’s offering in the clear. The long gain during the series that lasted just 2:11 was for 39 yards to Gaffney, and it could have gone for more had Grant not arrived to make the tackle.
“As a DB we’ve got to have short-term memory,” Webster said. “We’ve already got to move on. We don’t want this one week to affect next week.”
What may affect the Giants’ fortunes down the road is the availability of Tuck and starting defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who is week-to-week after surgery on his knee. With those stalwarts out, New York relied on Jason Pierre-Paul and Dave Tollefson as the bookend starters.
The secondary, though, is limited for the season without starting cornerback Terrell Thomas, who tore ligaments in his knee. First-round draft pick Prince Amakamara is out indefinitely as well with a broken foot.
“That’s not acceptable at all,” Giants Coach Tom Coughlin said when asked if injuries impacted the result. “We don’t make any excuses about that.”