The New York Giants technically didn’t have anything to play for in their regular season finale. They were already locked in to the NFC’s fifth seed regardless of Sunday’s outcome against the Washington Redskins, needing just to walk away from FedEx Field without a significant injury before their first-round playoff matchup next week.
So they found reasons to make this game meaningful. Facing a division opponent seeking a victory that would all but clinch the sixth seed, the Giants — not the Redskins — were the aggressors. They found enough reasons to play their best, despite the absence of any postseason implications.
New York, not its opponent, looked like the desperate team in its 19-10 victory over Washington. It rested wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. for most of the second half in what Giants Coach Ben McAdoo explained as a “coach’s decision” after the game, yet McAdoo didn’t rest too many other starters at all.
He kept quarterback Eli Manning in the game. He kept defensive end Olivier Vernon in the game. He kept safety Landon Collins in the game. And he got the result he wanted from a Giants team that has suffered four of its five losses this season on the road.
“Physical, hard-nosed win on the road,” McAdoo called it afterward. “That’s exactly what we needed coming in here. Zero turnovers, two takeaways, ran the football, stopped the run. We used all 46 [players] on special teams, and now we move on.”
The Giants didn’t want to enter the playoffs having lost consecutive games — both on the road, after falling to the Philadelphia Eagles last week, and knowing that a playoff path involving a home game as a wild-card team will be unlikely. Plus, they had lost their previous two matchups against the Redskins, including a two-point loss in Week 3 that started a three-game losing streak.
“You want to have some momentum, number one,” linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. “Number two, they beat us already. We’re 7-1 at home at MetLife [Stadium], and they were the only team that beat us. That says a lot. It’s a division opponent, so we play them twice a year. So we’re gonna have to play them twice again.
“For them to beat us at the end of the year would’ve been a lot of momentum for them, and then when we’re watching film next year, we’ve got to watch two games that we lost to Washington. That’s not a good feeling.”
The Giants’ defense was energetic and disruptive, bottling up an explosive offense with aggressive blitzes. It held Washington to just 284 total yards and sacked Kirk Cousins four times. New York’s own offense was bland, punting to end eight of its 12 drives, but it mustered up enough to get the job done. The Giants coasted on the 10-0 lead they established in the first half, built upon running back Rashad Jennings’s two-yard touchdown run with 9:20 left in the second quarter. Once the Redskins roared back to tie the game, the Giants regained the lead late on place kicker Robbie Gould’s 40-yard field goal with 2:12 remaining to go up by 13-10.
“It is good and does feel good to get this win,” Beckham said. “Now that team can’t be in the playoffs. They had an opportunity tonight with maybe some other teams losing or whatever the case may be. It’s good for us to be able to put a team away and play the way we played.”
What’s even more satisfying for the Giants? They played well without sacrificing anything through a significant injury.
And the mood in the locker room after they had posted their best regular season record since 2008, when they went 12-4? Business as usual.
“I don’t think anybody thought about an injury,” defensive tackle Damon Harrison said. “We were just playing to win. We played the same guys that we always played. Obviously, it was a little deeper rotation than it normally is, but we weren’t worried about injuries. That’s just our defense. We weren’t going to come in here and change it up because obviously some people say that it’s a meaningless game. It wasn’t to us at all.”
It’s what the players and coaches expected, and wanted, out of this game. It’s also why the Giants will enter the playoffs as one of the most dangerous teams in the NFC — and why the Redskins will be watching from home.