New York Giants  

 

New York Giants save season ... for now; plus Week 3 subplots

Print

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In the jubilant locker room after the New York Giants had beaten -- survived? -- the Washington Redskins, linebacker Jon Beason stood in a back corner and rained ever so slightly on what most certainly should not be construed as anything like a Super Bowl parade.

"We need to know how to finish," he said. "The finish was still not there."

Teams sometimes need someone to take a pin to their balloon, and that's why Beason is a team captain. He was on the field for the first time this season Thursday night and he brought just enough reason to tame any irrational exuberance. This was, almost certainly, the most uncomfortable a win could still be. It was a victory that still created pits in stomachs.

The Giants had just saved their season -- and that's not an exaggeration -- with a messy 32-21 victory that might have revealed much more about Washington's weaknesses (Kirk Cousins most obvious among them) than it did about Big Blue's strengths. But one of the truisms of the NFL is that it is a lot easier to make corrections after a victory. So the botched late kickoff coverage, the maddening lack of a pass rush, the inefficient offensive play in the red zone -- those are issues that can now be addressed while the Giants peek ever so slightly from behind the dark cloud that was already hovering over them after they let two double-digit, fourth-quarter leads evaporate in the season's opening fortnight.

"We won! So smile!" Tom Coughlin commanded a group of reporters to start his press conference, with a huge grin on his face. "I'm happy to win. That's the bottom line."

So is this: A third loss would have meant a long, painful slog to January for Coughlin and the Giants, even in the atrocious NFC East. The Giants are not the type of franchise to hastily fire coaches three weeks into a season, and Coughlin is held in great regard by the organization -- those two Lombardi Trophies buy a very long gangplank. Nobody wants to give him an unceremonious exit. But this is a win-or-else season for everybody with the Giants -- and Coughlin knows it. In his regular interview with the Giants' website this week, Coughlin offered a rare soul-baring look at the toll losing takes on him. He spoke of having cut himself off from the outside, and admitted he had to stop reading or listening to anything to fight off all the negative feedback that was already engulfing the Giants.

"Our whole deal was it's the fourth quarter, we're going to take it up another notch, take it to another level," Coughlin said after the game. "Spend all the gas in the tank in the fourth quarter trying to get a win."

They did that, but the fact that they had to -- and that holding on is still such a trial for them -- probably doesn't portend good things for the rest of the season. Maybe the imminent return of receiver Victor Cruz does that. Perhaps defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo can construct a pass rush in the coming weeks. Teams evolve over the season -- the Giants started 0-2 in 2007, a season which ended with a Super Bowl title -- but an 0-3 start would have made any subsequent developments irrelevant. The relief the Giants felt Thursday night was an indicator not just of where they might be headed now, but where they feared they were going.

"Thank God we made a huge play," Beason said of a 41-yard touchdown pass to Rueben Randle that gave the Giants their final points with 3:21 remaining. "We needed that extra cushion."

That they needed an extra cushion against a team as deeply flawed as the Redskins is problematic. It suggests that a better team -- one more of the Cowboys' or Falcons' ilk, or next week's opponent, the Bills -- would have beaten them.

But the Giants have life, and Coughlin was delighted that the players got the positive reinforcement he thought they desperately needed for their work. The Giants can look around the NFL and think a few things:

» Thank goodness the Redskins exist, because their dysfunction remains the dysfunctionest of all. The Redskins have been saving Giants seasons for years. The Giants are 12-3 against them since 2008 and 5-0 since the start of 2013. Their season might best be summed up by the scene that played out in the tunnel after the game, when Robert Griffin III, alone, was looking for the team bus.

Every game, all season

» Despite the "don't-score" brain freeze that cost them the game against the Cowboys, the Giants now possess the best quarterbacking situation in the division by a lot. Coughlin praised how in control of the game Eli Manning was Thursday and he threw some beautiful passes -- to Odell Beckham Jr., of course, and to the "Where you been?" receiver, Rueben Randle. Manning has taken a battering over the losses, both of which came after mistakes he made, but when Washington was threatening to creep back into the game heading into the fourth quarter, Manning constructed an eight-play, 73-yard drive that ended with a 30-yard strike to Beckham that gave the Giants a 19-point cushion. Until Tony Romo returns from a broken clavicle in about two months, Manning won't have any competition as the NFC East quarterback you'd be most comfortable staking your season on.

» The defense looked unexpectedly good, especially considering the injuries that already are piling up. There is still no pass rush, but the Giants stuffed the running game that had powered those fleeting, now hilarious-sounding thoughts that the Redskins might be the best team in the division. The Redskins had just 88 yards rushing, compared to their average of 171.5 rushing yards in the first two weeks.

It was all enough to leave an exuberant Coughlin slapping his lectern and joking that he probably will get fined for criticizing the officiating. But back in Beason's corner a few minutes later, the grind-it-out reality of the win had settled back in. The Giants had escaped from another bad team and little more than that.

"I don't want to take away from a victory," he said. "We think we have a chance to be pretty great. You have to be your toughest critic."

Three more things to watch around the NFL in Week 3:

1) Let's hope Jason Witten is encased in bubble wrap Sunday, because the Dallas Cowboys can't afford to lose any more top players. Since the start of the 2013 season, the Cowboys have run just 62 plays without Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, but the first game of what will be two months without them is Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. The Cowboys' superb offensive line will be charged with protecting Brandon Weeden from Dan Quinn's pass rush and creating holes for the running back committee upon which the offense will rely. But the bigger problem might be who -- with cornerback Orlando Scandrick out for the season -- can stop Julio Jones, who's tied for the league lead in receptions and has caught 22 of 26 passes intended for him in the first two weeks.

2) The Indianapolis Colts are one of the most surprising of the nine 0-2 teams remaining. The offense has scored on just three of 21 drives in the first two games, and Andrew Luck has turned the ball over six times. Are the Tennessee Titans the balm? They have allowed fewer than 275 yards of offense in each of their first two games, but while opponents will blitz until the Colts' offensive line improves at picking it up, the Titans are unlikely to be able to put the kind of pressure on Luck on Sunday that the Bills and Jets did. With a banged-up secondary -- while Vontae Davis has been cleared after suffering a concussion against the Jets, Greg Toler and Darius Butler have been dealing with injury issues -- the Colts will have to rely on their pass rush to harass Marcus Mariota, who has been sacked nine times but thrown six touchdowns and no interceptions. The frustration and tension was obvious when Colts coach Chuck Pagano, himself in the hot seat, was publicly critical of Luck's turnovers earlier this week. Imagine if they drop to 0-3.

3) The Eagles' offense was going to struggle to break out of its slump this week against the Jets' defense anyway, and that was before DeMarco Murray left practice early Wednesday with a hamstring injury. Murray, who was the league's leading rusher a season ago, has tallied just 11 yards in two games, and the Eagles' running game -- at the heart of Chip Kelly's offensive plans -- ranks at or near the bottom in nearly every important statistical category. Sam Bradford has been slow to release the ball and seems to be showing the rust from his two injury-shortened seasons and lack of preseason work with four interceptions. That could be bad news against the Jets, who have 10 takeaways and 18 quarterback knockdowns.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop