By Michael Wilbon
Monday, October 9, 2006
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.
Sometimes a loss isn't a window to a bigger picture. Sometimes there's no greater meaning to draw from an athletic event than the result of the day. And the Washington Redskins' 19-3 loss to the Giants on Sunday is probably such a case in point.
The Redskins' offense, which had averaged 488 yards and 33.5 points per game the last two weeks, ran into a talented and stout defense that had been soul-searching for two weeks. The New York Giants, a team with legitimate Super Bowl ambitions, desperately needed to beat the Redskins and did. The Giants, if they wanted to avoid having their season start slip-sliding away one month in, had to win. The Redskins, much as they wanted to, did not. And the result was rather predictable, actually.
The Giants, coming off a bye week, moved the ball efficiently enough to score one touchdown and four field goals. Meantime, the Redskins' offense, analyzed to death by the Giants, found blue jerseys in the way all afternoon. It was as if the Giants knew exactly what was coming. Perhaps they did. "Pretty good defense for a guy they say doesn't know anything," said former Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington, who had claimed to have taken the Redskins' playbook when he left town, with a wink as he left the Giants' locker room.
Clinton Portis had a decent enough day, rushing 19 times for 76 yards. But he never broke off a long one, never had any real room to operate. And the Redskins, once they were down two scores, had to throw the ball. But the Giants had the answers for that, too, holding Mark Brunell to 12 completions in 22 attempts for a measly 109 yards.
"We couldn't get anything going," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "We couldn't find a spark. We couldn't get a big play on offense. We couldn't hold the ball [for long drives]. We couldn't make third downs. We never got anything going on offense. We needed a big play to spark the offense, and we couldn't get it."
The Redskins weren't facing the Houston Texans this week. They weren't facing a good defense playing for the second straight week on the road, as was the case last week when Jacksonville visited Washington.
This week, the Redskins were trying to move the ball against the New York Football Giants, who'd been embarrassed in their previous game. They're a division rival that plays prideful defense and walked into Giants Stadium fully aware that a loss at home would have at least opened the door to potential catastrophe.
The Giants should have beaten the Redskins and did.
This is the way it's likely to go in the NFC East all season. Push and pull, up and down, give and take.
The Redskins have lost division games this season at Dallas and at New York. When the Cowboys and Giants come to Washington, the Redskins have to exact retribution. "At New York and at Dallas, those are two tough deals," Gibbs said. "It's extremely tough to play them at their place. We would love to try and get one on the road."
The point is, if you play in the NFC East, you cannot afford to drop a division game at home. "This is the toughest division in football," Giants defensive end Michael Strahan said. "It's a very scary division; God knows who's going to win it."
The Giants knew that to avoid dropping to 1-3, they had to stop the Redskins' offense from doing what it did against the Texans and Jaguars. A big Redskins lead would have forced Eli Manning to throw the ball all over the lot and the Giants knew they would get nowhere with that strategy.
"We didn't want to make our offense have to come out throwing it, trying to catch up," Strahan said.
So, the Giants decided early in the week to gang up on Portis, whom both teams know is the catalyst for the Redskins' offense. "Santana Moss is just running by everybody," Strahan said. "But Portis, we felt we had to shut him down. He's not the biggest guy, but he's so tough and fast as lightning. We couldn't let their offense get energized and their linemen just feel like they could pound us."
So, the Giants got the lead, 6-3, then 9-3, then 16-3. The three sacks of Brunell (one by Strahan on a beautiful outside speed move) only begin to tell the story of the pressure the Giants applied. You're not going to complete 22 straight passes in Giants Stadium when the Giants are playing as if their season is on the line, which it might have been.
Tiki Barber, the 10-year veteran who just improves every season, rushed 23 times for 123 yards and promptly credited his team's defense with providing consistently good field position and "letting our offense function in a normal Giants way." That means letting Barber run -- he averaged 5.3 yards per carry -- and keeping Manning (23 of 33 for 256 yards and one touchdown) out of the third-and-long, must-throw situations that led to turnovers and abbreviated drives the first three games.
And the Redskins couldn't counteract what the Giants were doing, not on this day. Gibbs was clearly annoyed with the Redskins' defense giving up a couple of deep balls over the middle. But 19 points isn't an exorbitant amount to allow to the Giants at home. It's the three points the offense scored that will send people back to the drawing board at Redskins Park. Now, it's the Redskins who go back into Code Red, and it's the Tennessee Titans, not a division opponent, coming to Washington.
What was fascinating after the game was listening to the Giants talk about how they put aside a humiliating beat-down out in Seattle a couple of weeks ago. The Giants' leaders, Strahan and Barber, stepped forward after the loss. Strahan said it was imperative for the players to "stand up and take ownership of how we play. We had to play better. Had to."
And Barber, just before the Giants ran onto the field, reminded his teammates, "We are not entitled. We need to all be accountable."
It's in this environment Arrington now plays and perhaps will thrive. He admitted to some trash talking during the game, more than usual. "But, you know, I'm going to take the high road," said Arrington, still stung from a very public shot from Redskins linebackers coach Dale Lindsey.
"Some people," Arrington said, "would clearly love me to say something that would separate me from Washington, D.C. and from the community of people I grew to love there. And I'm not going to do it even though they insult my intelligence. I'm not going to do what they want me to do. I love Washington.
"It doesn't matter how they got me up out of there. I will continue to love Washington. I will continue to do my community service there. I will continue to live there. It's not like I'm jumping ship. I'm not going to stand here and say, 'See, I told you.' The New York Giants needed this victory today more than I needed to beat the Redskins. The Giants needed to beat the Redskins Sunday, and that's the story."