And each time they played, the Redskins, who were last in the NFC East, thoroughly outperformed the division winners. It was clear. It also doesn’t matter.
Take those results for what they were worth: a couple of victories in Washington’s five-win season. It’s still unknown whether the Redskins are making progress, or if Coach Mike Shanahan’s plan will ultimately succeed. But they’re definitely not close to catching the Giants.
Sure, Washington could possibly close the gap. There’s a chance it might even overtake the league’s top franchise someday. For that to happen, however, the Redskins must make many obvious improvements — starting where everything does in their league.
At the game’s most important position, the Giants have an overwhelming advantage. Eli Manning played about as well as a quarterback could, silencing his critics while setting a new standard for fourth-quarter effectiveness throughout the season.
Manning solidified his status as a future Hall of Famer. He backed up his preseason assertion that he’s in the same class as the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady, a notion that was widely ridiculed. But after Manning defeated Brady and the Patriots in the Super Bowl for the second time in five seasons, who can argue now?
But what Manning gives the Giants is more than gaudy statistics or personal accolades. The stability Manning provides, and the belief he inspires in his teammates and coaches, is the foundation of the Giants’ success. Toughness, durability, clutch plays — the Giants rely on Manning to provide it all.
Manning is also right there with Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers and Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints. Pick any quarterback doing something great these days. Then add Manning’s name to the conversation. He belongs in it. He has earned that.
Manning’s steady ascent in eight seasons strengthens the argument that the moment has arrived for the Redskins to make a big play for a potential franchise quarterback. Stop wasting time believing coaching will overcome the deficiencies of failed starters and journeymen.
Shanahan can’t afford another mistake at quarterback. He needs a long-term fit to fix Washington’s longtime problem. No more rentals. Investing like the Giants did is the best way. During the 2004 draft, the Giants gave up a lot to acquire Manning. They gambled. And they’ve won big.
After watching the group make so many dynamic plays in the postseason, I would imagine Shanahan and his trusted lieutenant, Morocco Brown, Redskins director of pro personnel, are thinking of ways to add more sizzle to a receiving corps that hasn’t had much in recent memory.
Could anyone really envision a Redskins receiver dominating the way Nicks did in the Giants’ first two playoff wins? Or how about Cruz’s big show in the NFC championship game victory at San Francisco?
Manningham, the Giants’ No. 3 wideout, applies more pressure to defenses than anyone the Redskins have, too. His clutch 38-yard catch late in the fourth quarter Sunday against New England ranks among the best in Super Bowl history.
With Cruz, Nicks and Manningham, the Giants have the potential for one-, two- or three-play drives from anywhere on the field. As the Redskins have proven for years, it’s difficult to consistently score touchdowns if it takes 15 plays every time. Sometimes, it has to be easy.
Washington just isn’t capable of regularly accomplishing big stuff on offense. They haven’t had two viable threats at wideouts, let alone three, since Joe Gibbs left the first time.
Then there’s offensive line stability. Again, the Giants feel good about their group. The Redskins are simply hoping left tackle Trent Williams, the first pick of Shanahan’s regime, won’t flunk any more NFL tests for recreational drugs.
The Giants’ defensive line is the best in the business. The team’s roster is talented and deep. It had to be for New York to win the Super Bowl after a nightmarish preseason in which many key players suffered major injuries.
General Manager Jerry Reese gets the credit. Although Reese is a proven talent evaluator, conviction is his best attribute. Criticized by fans and the media before the season for making few significant moves, Reese expressed confidence in the Giants’ plan. Blasted again during a four-game midseason losing streak, Reese stayed on message.
A lot of executives do that. Reese was actually right.
Washington doesn’t have anyone with Reese’s pedigree of roster building. They lack players who are as good as the Giants’ best ones. There’s a lot separating the Redskins and Giants. And a couple of victories won’t change that.
For Jason Reid’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/reid.