Free safety Percy Ellsworth said it was all his fault. No, quarterback Kerry Collins insisted, he was to blame. And other unhappy New York Giants, most notably linebacker Jessie Armstead, also were pointing an accusatory finger at game officials after the Washington Redskins posted a 23-13 victory and defeated them for a second time this season.
Ellsworth made one of the game's biggest blunders with about 3 1/2 minutes remaining yesterday at FedEx Field. Trailing by seven points, the Giants had just tackled Redskins quarterback Brad Johnson for a one-yard loss on third and three at the Redskins 46, ostensibly forcing a punt and providing a chance to tie the game.
But Ellsworth, believing he had been the victim of an after-the-whistle hit by Redskins rookie tackle Jon Jansen, jumped on Jansen's back right in front of an official.
Ellsworth was called for a personal foul, the Giants were penalized 15 yards and the Redskins retained possession. They kept the ball until Brett Conway kicked a 37-yard field goal for a 10-point lead with 21 seconds left, and the outcome was sealed.
"I owe my team," Ellsworth said. "I can't make those kind of mistakes. You can't do that. I apologize to the whole organization. . . . I'm one of the ones the team counted on. I didn't make enough plays to help us win, and I made a play to help us lose. It's a championship game, and I didn't bring my A-game."
Ellsworth said there was "no question" that Jansen had come in late and low from behind to hit him and "there was just a lot of stuff going on out there. My foot is killing me, and I'm tired of getting hit late."
Other Giants said that two flags should have been thrown on the play, resulting in offsetting penalties that would have forced the Redskins to punt the ball away.
"They were taking cheap shots all day--just call the game fairly," Armstead said. "I don't think the referees made too many good calls today. . . . Their quarterback threw the ball at Michael Strahan's head, but no flag was thrown. Percy didn't do anything stupid. He got hit after the play and he just hit back. The guy came in there and went after him, so throw two flags. He [Jansen] did something wrong. Percy did something wrong. Throw it on both of them."
The Giants did plenty of other things wrong yesterday, including dropping a half-dozen passes, and committing five turnovers and seven penalties for 97 yards.
Collins blamed himself for another game-turning disaster. He had replaced starting quarterback Kent Graham with 7 minutes 2 seconds remaining in the second quarter after the starter suffered a mild concussion.
Collins did light a spark under the Giants, getting them within seven points on a nine-play, 71-yard touchdown drive with 10:26 remaining. The Giants got the ball again with 6:07 left, and were moving smartly into scoring position with a first down at the Washington 27 when he also helped douse a building flame.
From the 27, Collins stepped away from center a bit early and the exchange from Brian Williams went awry. The ball squirted away and was recovered by Kenard Lang at the Redskins 39. That last, fatal turnover set up Conway's field goal for the final margin.
"It was me--I pulled out early," Collins said. "There's no excuse for that. You can't do those things in the fourth quarter. . . . It's even more frustrating when it ends up like it is. We're moving the ball, and that happens. It's a matter of executing and doing fundamental stuff. Fumbling the snap is not what you do."
Collins's performance--he completed 13 of 21 passes for 221 yards--may well have earned him a start next week when the Giants host the Arizona Cardinals.
Giants Coach Jim Fassel said he will look at tape of the game, listen to the medical report on Graham and make a decision as soon as today.
"I thought our team was ready to play. I thought we came in with the right attitude," Fassel said. "There were just way too many self-inflicted wounds. . . . It was very frustrating. . . . We had a talk with the team last night and put things into perspective. The last thing I told them was that we had to be a smart football team."