Needing a win to all but assure themselves of a playoff berth, the Washington Redskins delivered a performance in their regular season finale that was lacking in every facet.
Against a New York Giants team with little to play for but pride, having already secured its playoff spot, the Redskins’ offense misfired, the defense was porous and discipline was lacking. Rather than heart and intensity, the Redskins brought empty burgundy-and-gold uniforms to FedEx Field and were handed a 19-10 humiliation that was topped by jeers from fans who expected so much more.
After getting roundly outplayed through the first three-and-a-half quarters, the Redskins had a chance at a comeback. But with 72 seconds remaining, quarterback Kirk Cousins threw haltingly to wide receiver Pierre Garcon and was intercepted for a second time by cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who made a perfectly timed leap into the ball’s path.
The defeat scuttled the Redskins’ playoffs hopes, leaving them with an 8-7-1 record that is a half-game back and a world away from the 9-7 mark that last season won them the NFC East.
Sunday’s defeat, before a dispirited crowd of 79,471, not only ended the Redskins’ season but also raised questions about Coach Jay Gruden’s ability to prepare his team — both tactically and emotionally — for their most important game of the season. Just two weeks earlier, Gruden’s Redskins had a chance to clinch a playoff spot on their home field but got manhandled instead by a Carolina Panthers team that, like the Giants, had far less at stake.
Asked Sunday night whether he felt he had the Redskins ready to compete, Gruden said: “I like to think so, but obviously the results say otherwise, so what can you say?”
Sunday’s defeat had no turning point. There was no single play or crucial drive when things started going awry for the Redskins, who were favored by a touchdown. The Redskins were poor from the start in every way.
Their third-ranked offense, which was averaging 411.3 yards, was stymied by the Giants’ aggressive front seven. Protecting Cousins had been a strength all season, with the offensive line allowing just 19 sacks through 15 games. On Sunday, Cousins was sacked four times by early in the third quarter. And Cousins played throughout as if pass rushers were converging from all corners.
Forced to punt on their first five possessions, the Redskins were held scoreless in the first half for the first time all season. A last-ditch effort to avoid the shutout — a 57-yard field goal attempt by Dustin Hopkins — sailed left of the uprights, leaving the Redskins to trudge to the locker room trailing 10-0.
The third quarter was well underway before the Redskins got on the scoreboard, with Hopkins knocking through a 32-yard field goal.
Cousins, however, didn’t settle in until the fourth quarter, when he finally managed to sustain a drive. Garcon, who topped the 1,000-yard single-season receiving mark during the game, turned a short pass into a 21-yard gain that took the ball to the New York 3-yard line. Cousins’s quick strike to tight end Jordan Reed knotted the game at 10 apiece with 8:13 remaining.
“Hail to the Redskins” broke out for the first time all afternoon, and the crowd momentarily forgave all.
The Giants (11-5) got a go-ahead, 40-yard field goal with 2:13 remaining. But what looked like a potentially game-winning subsequent drive for Washington ended on Cousins’s second interception, with Rodgers-Cromartie playing the villain again. Earlier, he had picked off a ball intended for Maurice Harris, who lost his footing in pursuit.
In a subdued Redskins locker room afterward, disbelief prevailed. Not a player questioned the talent on the roster; instead, they questioned how so much talent could produce such flat starts and poor results.
“That irks the life out of me,” defensive end Ricky Jean Francois said. “It’s mind-boggling to know what type of offense we have and what we have on defense and what we can do. We just go out here, and we just keep dropping the ball when the lights get bright.”
Said linebacker Ryan Kerrigan: “The talent we have on our roster and the talent we have on our coaching staff, we shouldn’t be done right now. We should be going to the playoffs.”
Cousins finished 22 for 35 for 287 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, faulting himself for throwing a bit behind Garcon on the second interception. Garcon, for his part, faulted himself for not more aggressively denying Rodgers-Cromartie.
Asked how he would handle an offseason to reflect on the fact that he had brought an abrupt end to the season, Cousins said he was no stranger to adversity and predicted that his mistakes Sunday would give him an edge that would stoke his hunger to improve.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who played the full game, was 17 for 27 for 180 yards. Odell Beckham Jr., the Giants’ franchise wide receiver, bowed out early in the second half, having caught five passes and goaded Redskins cornerback Josh Norman into two personal fouls.
As promised, the Giants’ first-year head coach, Ben McAdoo, played the majority of his starters the full game, even after taking the 10-0 halftime lead. McAdoo said he knew only one way to compete — to win. And he and his defense did just that, rattling Cousins and nullifying the Redskins’ running game, which managed just 38 yards.
After both offenses went three and out to start, Cousins was sacked for a 10-yard loss by Damon Harrison, one of three high-priced free agents the Giants added in a $200 million offseason upgrade of their defense, which then forced a Washington punt after another three-and-out.
Although the Giants’ running game has sputtered all season, Paul Perkins (102 yards) had little trouble boring past Redskins defenders.
Giants field goal kicker Robbie Gould hit from 22 yards for a 3-0 lead, while the Redskins’ offense didn’t get a first down until 90 seconds remained in the first quarter.
After Beckham’s third catch on one series, Norman was called for a late, out-of-bounds hit on the wide receiver. Soon after, running back Rashad Jennings skipped two yards into the end zone to extend the Giants’ lead to 10-0.
A futile Giants possession gave the Redskins’ offense 39 seconds to avoid a first-half shutout. They got close enough for Hopkins to try the 57-yarder but not to get on the board.
As a result, the team that needed helped from all quarters to mount any semblance of a comeback headed to the locker room amid boos.
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