EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -– There was a sequence after Washington fell behind the Giants 21-9 in the second quarter Sunday where DeSean Jackson caught a pass, scampered to the sideline, met head coach Jay Gruden, grabbed him around the waist and, eye-to-eye, gave him an earful.
"I was telling him to get me the ball some more," Jackson said. "Sometimes I wish I could throw myself the ball."
Gruden said later: "These guys have no idea what quarterbacks go through."
Rookie safety Su’a Cravens, who in the final seconds generated the eminent play of the game, snapped: "Every football game is a long story. Everyone at home just tends to see the final product."
Not quite. It was easy to see how much Washington fought within before combating the Giants in a 29-27 victory on Sunday here at MetLife Stadium that illustrated why Washington won the NFC East last year and how it avoided an 0-3 start this year.
This team lets loose. This team is not politically correct. You got something to say on this team, you say it. You want to get into a teammate’s face, you do it. You want to call out a coach, you bring it. Gruden lets the entire gang be who they are, battle within, bark till they drop –- as long as the fight against the opponent supersedes the fight within.
That’s what happened against the Giants. Having lost to Pittsburgh and Dallas, Washington arrived here 0-2, disgruntled, snarky, and vexed that their season was already on the brink.
"Let’s face it, we’ve had a rocky start, we were dead last in the division already," tight end Vernon Davis said. "The questions we were asking ourselves and we had to answer were this: Do we have the perseverance not to give up? Do we have the integrity within ourselves to not give up? That’s exactly what we have."
That’s exactly what they showed.
They looked shook, down 21-9 with 4:12 left before halftime. Jackson ignited with a 44-yard touchdown catch 32 seconds later. Receiver Jamison Crowder opened the second-half scoring with a 55-yard scoring catch. Quickly, Washington was up 23-21.
Twice afterward, they surrendered the lead. Twice they took it back.
They kept losing key players to injury. None of it sapped their fight.
"We got into a hole in this game and were looking at a 0-3 hole for the season, but that was when we put together our best fight," tight end Jordan Reed said.
"You get into this type of situation," said Crowder, "and you have to ask yourself ‘What can I do?’ We had to show we can play. We had to prove we can keep competing."
It was the running of back Matt Jones that helped stabilize everything. He rushed 17 times for 65 yards, a lot of it late, most of it tough, inside, powering stuff that helped keep the game physical and bruising. It set the tone for the way Washington played all around, in each others’ faces and smack into the Giants’ faces.
Of course, the Giants did not help themselves by committing 11 penalties for 132 yards, with Eli Manning’s two interceptions, and by their lack of aggressiveness in confronting Washington’s weakness. Once Washington’s injuries in the secondary forced backups to enter and then backups to those backups to emerge all across the back end, the Giants should have gone exclusively to five-receiver sets and incessantly bludgeoned the weakest link.
Inexplicably, they did not.
But Washington found its core. Jones kept hammering. All 6’2, 232 pounds of him.
"This is what they pay you for, to run the ball hard and run that clock at the end," Jones said. "The Giants defensive line is pretty solid. We wanted to spread them, make them run outside a lot early, get the big boys tired and then run at them. For a running back, it’s just pure will. As a running back, you want to get fed the ball and then you start to feel it, you get in the flow. I like putting my body on people. It’s a way of making a team back down. I loved that about this game for us – nobody let anybody down."
Especially Cravens, the rookie from USC.
He had earlier batted a likely interception away from his own teammate, safety David Bruton.
He had earlier left Giants running back Shane Vereen wide open on a wheel route but escaped when Vereen wasn’t thrown the ball.
With 1:02 left and the Giants at their own 39 driving for at least a winning field goal, Cravens was ready for the wheel route this time. He re-routed Vereen as the back made the curl on the route. It threw off Manning’s timing. Manning pumped. Then threw. Cravens stepped in front and made the game-saving pick.
It was an athletic, extraordinary play.
The kind of heroic effort that put Washington on pace to smash the wobbly 0-3 Cleveland Browns at home next Sunday and get to 2-2 and send the Giants (2-1) to the Minnesota Vikings (3-0) next Monday night with a touch of confidence wilted.
"I messed up on that pick Bruton could have had and I let the back get free before, so, I had some making up to do," Cravens said. "The back looked to pivot early but I got him. It was sort of like backyard ball. I took the inside route. I squeezed that ball like I never have before."
Gruden laughed when he was told Cravens’ analysis.
"He’s a rookie and he probably has no clue what he’s talking about," Gruden said, proudly, having fun, trash talking, giving it just as good as his players give it. "Really, though, this kid is an extravagant guy. He’s fun to be around. You just feel his presence. He shows up in games. He’s like the rest of us. We fight. It isn’t pretty all the time. Our sideline is not a place of perfect peace. But everybody stays in it."
The Giants imploded. You can say Washington did, too.
For the Giants, like for most teams, that spells doom. For Washington, it’s normal business. It’s status quo. It’s a good thing. It’s how they spark their will within.
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