EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Early in the second quarter, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning heaved a pass downfield. Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher threw up his hands and managed to bat the ball in the air.
For much of the season, that was the kind of ball that fell to the ground. Or maybe into the arms of an opposing receiver. Instead, the Redskins pulled down a key interception, which set up the touchdown that blew open Sunday's game.
The Redskins not only received a few fortunate bounces in their 23-10 win over their division rivals, they also came up with key stops, important turnovers and several big plays in one of their best defensive performances of the season.
“We got to focus on performing this way week in and week out,” said nose tackle Barry Cofield, “and we can beat anybody.”
In the opening minutes of the second quarter, the Redskins held a 10-0 lead. Manning faced first down and the Giants were in shotgun formation from their 35-yard line. Washington called a safety blitz, sending Reed Doughty after Manning. That left Fletcher alone with Giants running back D.J. Ware, who was running a deep route down the right side.
Fletcher’s back was to Manning, but he could hear the crowd get loud. He saw Ware’s eyes get big. And he knew the ball was coming.
“I didn’t want to turn around and risk losing him,” Fletcher said.
The veteran linebacker threw his hands in the air and successfully deflected the pass. Before the ball hit the ground, a diving Oshiomogho Atogwe snatched it at the Redskins 33-yard line, popped to his feet and returned the interception 26 yards.
“The ball just hung in the air a little bit,” Atogwe said. “By God’s grace, I was able to get my hand underneath it and scoop it in and secure the pick.”
Nine plays later,Darrel Young ran in a six-yard touchdown to give Washington a 17-0 lead.
Atogwe’s was one of three key interceptions Sunday by a secondary that had managed only six picks in the previous 13 games. Not only was the Redskins’ output a season high for the defense, but Sunday’s game was only the second time Washington had more than one pick. It is also the only time this year the Redskins won the turnover battle against an opponent.
While Atogwe’s interception set up a touchdown, Josh Wilson’s in the fourth quarter might have prevented a score by the Giants and DeAngelo Hall’s pick in the third set the stage for one of Graham Gano’s three field goals.
“We’ve been having a tough time getting our hands on the ball,” Hall said. “I guess it shows that we can catch.”
Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said Sunday’s game was probably his team’s best defensive performance of the season.
“Because they had a lot at stake,” he said. “Obviously, we didn’t. But I was pleased with the way the guys focused and played the way they did.”
Shanahan praised his unit for a solid all-around performance. They made big stops, like New York’s three-and-out after Washington’s Rex Grossman opened the game by throwing an interception. And they made big plays, like linebacker Ryan Kerrigan’s fourth-quarter sack when Manning faced fourth and goal from the Redskins 12-yard line.
The Giants converted just 3 of 9 third-down attempts and were held to only three points on their first three trips inside the Washington 20-yard line. When the Redskins switched to a prevent defense late in the game to protect a 20-point lead — the team’s largest since 2009 — the Giants managed to pad their stats. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw scored New York’s lone touchdown of the day with just 33 seconds remaining in the game.
The win marked the first time since 1999 the Redskins managed to sweep the Giants, and the defense played a key role both times. In the season opener, Kerrigan intercepted a pass and scored a touchdown.
“If we don’t turn the ball over, if we can win the turnover battle sometimes, things like that, those are key for us,” Cofield said. “. . . We got this type of performance in us. We just got to find a way to show it week in and week out.”