EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Jim Fassel had warned his club all week that the winless Redskins were going to be a tough opponent. Apparently just enough of the Giants got the message. It was too close for comfort Sunday, but New York emerged with a 23-9 victory in front of 78,651 fans at Giants Stadium.
"I told this team that they were going to be a different Washington Redskins team coming in here today," Head Coach Jim Fassel said. "Those guys played hard. They never lost their toughness or ability to come after us. We had to play a full 60 minutes."
"This is the sign of a mature team that knows how to win," SS Sam Garnes said. "You couldn't say that a few years ago, but I think after the Detroit game and the St. Louis game last year, we learned it takes a bit more to win games. It's not only about Xs and Os, it's how you go out there and play."
New York began the game already missing RB Tiki Barber and LG Glenn Parker from the starting line-up. By halftime, you could add another key offensive name to the injury list: RB Ron Dayne, who sprained his neck after gaining 39 yards on 16 carries. Not to worry, as Damon Washington came off the bench and posted 90 rushing yards in his first extensive playing time in the NFL.
"Damon, I always thought that he was going to be a good running back," Fassel said. "I was worried that he was going to get tired; he hasn't played that much." "I didn't envision that I was going to be the guy today," Washington said. "I was ready to go there and do whatever I had to do."
New York's third-string halfback made sure that the Giants, 14-point favorites coming into the contest, didn't repeat recent history. On Nov. 1, 1998, the Giants headed to the nation's capital with a 3-4 mark, but heavily favored over a winless ‘Skins team with seven losses. New York fell on the wrong side of a 21-14 decision, something that Fassel warned his troops about all week. This was an ugly contest, as the teams combined for nine turnovers and 14 penalties. New York fumbled the ball away twice and was also penalized seven times. The Giants offense, which finished the game with 309 total yards, was slow out of the gate.
"It definitely didn't look pretty, but eventually we came out with the win," said MLB Micheal Barrow, who again led the Giants in tackles, this time with eight. "Offensively, it was like a ‘Rocky' movie. We kept hitting them with body blows and finally a rib cracked."
Barrow and Fassel were also pleased with the defense, which held the ‘Skins out of the end zone, forced five turnovers and pressured Washington QB Tony Banks quite a bit all afternoon. "Our defense was outstanding," Fassel said. "I think defensively we were 75 percent of where we needed to be coming into this game," Barrow said. "I saw things today that will help us move closer to that next level. We were forcing turnovers and scoring."
CB Jason Sehorn provided the defensive points when he returned a Banks interception 34 yards for New York's final points of the afternoon. "He played an outstanding game," DBs Coach Johnnie Lynn said. "You can't ask for more than that." Sehorn again flourished as the nickel back when New York faced three receivers. Instead of being in his usual outside position, Sehorn now plays the inside slot receiver, something that Lynn believes benefits him greatly. "When he's there, he's a lot closer to the ball and he can do a better job on guys," Lynn said. "Plus on third downs, a lot of times, he may be on the other team's best receiver."
And the Giants are able to leave Sehorn inside because they have faith in their two rookie corners, Will Allen and Will Peterson. "We took advantage of their athletic ability," Sehorn said. "It allows us to do more things. [Defensive Coordinator John] Fox gives them the freedom to man up, which allows me to man up on my guy."
The Giants received solid play from their front four all afternoon, as both LDT Cornelius Griffin (7 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and RDE Kenny Holmes (4 tackles, fumble recovery) played their best games of the season. Additionally, LDE Michael Strahan (1.5 sacks, forced fumble) and RDT Keith Hamilton (1 sack) were outstanding. "We used a lot of seven-man drops," SS Sam Garnes said. "Our front four was really putting pressure on them. "Banks looked a little rattled, but I don't blame him. I'd be scared if I saw those guys coming for me, too."
The first quarter offered an exchange of field goals. New York got the first one, as Morten Andersen hammered through a 50-yarder to cap a 29-yard drive. Andersen's kick had plenty of distance to spare. The ‘Skins answered back with a 35-yarder from Brett Conway. Redskins LB Antonio Pierce fell on Amani Toomer's fumble, giving Washington the ball at the New York 20-yard line. Toomer, of course, was filling in on punts for Barber, out with a hamstring injury. The much-anticipated Bruce Smith/Lomas Brown match-up never materialized as Smith suffered a separated right shoulder on New York's first play from scrimmage.
The Giants got a break late in the first quarter after Ike Hilliard dropped a third down pass. Redskins RB Ki-Jana Carter partially blocked Rodney Williams' punt. The loose ball bounced around, hit Redskins DB Central McClellion and was recovered by Emmanuel McDaniel. But New York couldn't capitalize, and had to punt the ball away. But the defense rose up and made a big play to help stake New York to a 6-3 lead. Strahan blew past nemesis Jon Jansen and blasted Banks, knocking the ball free. Before the loose ball hit the turf, Holmes was there to catch it, giving the Giants possession at the Washington 14. Andersen knocked through a 26-yarder to regain New York's edge early in the second period. Conway answered with a 55-yarder, tying the score with 11:25 to play in the opening half.
The Redskins got the ball back shortly afterward when DE Kenard Lang just simply stole the ball from Washington on a third-down run. The Giants continued the turnover exchange, as Barrow forced a fumble on Redskins WR Rod Gardner, with Allen recovering the free ball at the Giants 31. The Giants marched 66 yards to the Redskins 3-yard line before settling for a 22-yard Andersen field goal and a 9-6 halftime lead.
Things didn't get any prettier in the third quarter. QB Kerry Collins had a pass picked off by Redskins S Sam Shade, before Redskins S Keith Lyle sacked the signal-caller on a fourth-and-five play. Fassel opted to go for the first down instead of trying a 45-yard field goal into the wind. The ‘Skins took over, drove 40 yards and got a 41-yard Conway field goal to tie matters at 9 late in the third quarter. Then the Giants marched to the offense's only touchdown, a one-yard catch by TE Dan Campbell. New York moved 71 yards in 10 plays, using 5:30 off the clock. A scrambling Collins found the Giants tight end, who was wide open in the back of the end zone.
"I don't get many of those opportunities so I have to make the most of them," Campbell said. The play call was 3-92, F-spot. "It's a good play because it has a lot of options," Campbell said. Redskins LB Antonio Pierce was pressing Campbell at the line. Pierce bumped into the defender that was covering FB Greg Comella and the two picked each other out of the play.
"I felt the guy get picked," Campbell said. "I saw Kerry rolling right and knew that he saw me right away." The score was set up by a 20-yard catch-and-run from Comella and a 22-yard Washington gallop that moved the ball to the one-yard line. The ‘Skins bounced right back after New York's TD when Banks connected with Gardner deep for a 52-yard gain. But New York dodged a bullet when Sehorn recorded his first INT on a pass to Redskins WR Kevin Lockett in the end zone. Banks overthrew the receiver and Sehorn jumped to gather in the INT.
Big Blue tried to salt the game away, but another Collins interception thwarted the march. Redskins S Ifeanyi Ohalete picked off Collins' pass deep in Washington territory. But again the defense held. The Giants would call on their defense one more time, and again the cry for help was answered. With 2:57 to play, Sehorn picked off a Banks pass and returned it 34 yards for the score, increasing New York's cushion to 23-9. The Giants expected a dogfight from their struggling division rivals, got it, and were up to the task.
"We're just a gritty bunch, we find a way to win all the time," said Toomer, who caught seven passes for 97 yards. "Sometimes it doesn't look pretty, but we always do it. "That's one thing when you're playing us; we can look pretty if we need to and we can look bad if we need to, the bottom line is we're going to win."