By Curt Macysyn
The New York Football Giants are happy their season is over, but not because the team is tired of competing. Instead, moving forward, a plethora of injuries would have made it incredibly difficult for Big Blue to remain competitive in the NFL. With 12 players already on injured reserve, and losing four more offensive starters to injury during this game, the G-men somehow mustered enough strength to upend the Washington Redskins 20-6 in windy and rainy MetLife Stadium.
This contest was a tale of two franchises; one team playing to the bitter end for its coach, while the other throwing in the towel. Playing without quarterback Robert Griffin III, the Redskins had difficulty sustaining a drive due to the Giants defense and poor weather conditions. Washington could only muster two first half Kai Forbath field goals (31 and 49 yards) on the afternoon, in what appears to be the swan song for embattled coach Mike Shanahan.
Meanwhile, even after losing more players to injury, the Giants gutted out a victory as a demonstration of support for head coach Tom Coughlin. Unfortunately for New York, the victory came at a price. It was only a matter of time before the leaky offensive line burst like a weakened dam in a flood, and quarterback Eli Manning was the recipient of several hurries and knockdowns during the first half. But right before halftime, Josh Wilson intercepted Manning on another deflected pass, and Manning left the game with an apparent ankle injury.
Prior to departing due to injury, Manning connected with new favorite target Jerrel Jernigan on a 25-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, and with a 34-yard Josh Brown field goal, New York led Washington 10-6 at intermission. Not only was Manning a sitting duck in the pocket; he continued to lose targets along the way. Rueben Randle’s sore knee sent him to the sidelines in the first half, and Hakeem Nicks hurt his ankle as well and did not return. Pro Bowl wide receiver Victor Cruz was also in street clothes after undergoing knee surgery last week.
In the second half that seemed like it took forever to play; Jernigan took an end around to the end zone from 49 yards out, and Josh Brown added a 38-yard field goal to give New York its 20-6 margin of victory. Giants left tackle Will Beatty left the game in the second half with a gruesome leg injury. Early reports indicated that Beatty had broken his leg on a play, where butterfingered Louis Murphy could not hang onto a catchable pass, and Beatty rushed over to assist with a possible recovery.
Offense Grade: C
With so many injuries causing such major disruptions in the unit, as well as the poor conditions, the offense is being graded on a curve. Based purely on statistics in this game, the group would have been given a “F” for today.
In this week’s edition of offensive line roulette, reserve Dallas Reynolds was thrust into duty for James Brewer at left guard. Last week, Reynolds came in at right guard when Brandon Mosley got hurt. The Giants may take a long look at Reynolds in the off season, as well as mini-camp to see what they have. In what may be his final game as a New York Giant, or perhaps even in the NFL, David Diehl struggled with the Redskins pass rush that was missing its top player, linebacker Brian Orakpo.
Giants general manager Jerry Reese must put together an offensive line that can stay on the field. Justin Pugh had a solid rookie campaign and will be looked upon as one of the few solid links in the unit. Other linemen like Diehl, Chris Snee, David Baas, Brandon Mosley, Jim Cordle and James Brewer all battled injuries this season. Reese may bring back versatile Kevin Boothe only through a reasonable contract, but the biggest question mark is Snee, who has undergone two hip surgeries in the past two years.
Jerrel Jernigan, not only passed his audition with New York, the receiver from Troy put himself in the offensive arsenal for next season with his play the past two weeks. Jernigan had a touchdown catch in the first half and a touchdown run the second half.
On the other hand, Hakeem Nicks did not catch a touchdown pass this season, and in this contest, Nicks had two catches for 50 yards. Nicks, who is an unrestricted free agent, may have played his last game for Big Blue.
Rueben Randle’s season started with so much promise and went out with a whimper. Randle was nursing a sore knee all week, gave it a go against Washington, but did not finish the first half. Randle did not record a catch.
Before he departed Eli Manning was 10-24 for 152 yards passing, which was actually better than his counterpart Kirk Cousins. Manning had his weekly deflected pass interception, which makes one wonder how the chemistry between QB and receivers could be so bad.
Running back Peyton Hillis was thrust into action after Andre Brown fumbled in the first half. Hillis churned out 56 yards rushing as the Redskins employed eight and nine men fronts throughout the second half, daring replacement QB Curtis Painter to throw. Hillis has earned the opportunity to compete for a roster spot in 2014.
Defense Grade: B
Trumaine McBride had two interceptions for New York in the game, and he appears to be a keeper at one cornerback spot for 2014. McBride also broke up six passes on the day. Safety Antrel Rolle just missed on his seventh interception of the season late in the fourth quarter and finished the game with five tackles.
Middle linebacker Jon Beason had nine tackles on the afternoon, and the Giants should attempt to lure him back next year at the right price. Beason has been an effective leader for a defensive unit searching for an identity. The linebacking position overall could use upgrading, however.
Hopefully the G-men and soon-to-be free agent Justin Tuck can get together on a contract. Tuck has bled Giants blue his entire career, and he had another outstanding game against the Redskins. The veteran defensive end had two quarterback sacks, one led to a Cousins’ fumble. For good measure, Tuck had six tackles on the afternoon.
The defensive unit held running back Alfred Morris to 62 yards on the ground and also caused Morris to fumble deep in Redskins territory. Keeping Morris’ yards per carry average under four (3.9) was a big key to stopping Washington on the afternoon. In the wind and rain, neither quarterback could be counted on to put up big numbers, so thwarting the ground attack became paramount.
Redskins record-setting wideout Pierre Garcon had six catches for 56 yards, which was not too damaging to New York’s cause.
Special Teams Grade: B
Head coach Tom Coughlin made the wrong decision to have Josh Brown attempt a 50-yard field goal in the first half. Brown missed, and Washington got possession on the 40-yard line. The veteran kicker did convert his other two attempts (34, 38). Steve Weatherford averaged 44.0 yards on eight punts in the game, and four of his punts were inside the 20-yard line.
The kickoff and punt coverage teams were aggressive and enthusiastic. Reserve linebacker Mark Herzlich put a hard lick on Redskins return specialist Nick Williams on a kickoff. Cornerback Charles James stayed on his block that caused a frustration penalty on the Redskins who were called for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Jayron Hosley returned punts after Randle left the game, but neither player is the long-term answer there. Michael Cox had a nice 32-yard kickoff return to start the second half for New York.
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Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past two seasons for Examiner.com. Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Curt has followed and covered the New York Metropolitan sports scene for 35 years. He attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, NJ and is a graduate of Rutgers University, New Brunswick. His work can be found on Examiner.com.