Dec 23, 2005, 9:07 AM EDT
Speaking of an upcoming Super Bowl, iconoclastic Dallas running back Duane Thomas once said, “If it’s the biggest game of all time, why are they going to play another one next year?”
A similar question could be asked this week. If last week’s game against Dallas was the biggest ever at FedEx Field, what do you call the one against the Giants this Saturday?
It’s not the elimination game that we saw last week with the loser being virtually out of the realistic playoff picture. The Redskins could lose and still qualify for the playoffs with a win the next week in Philadelphia with some help that is not too far-fetched (basically, having Dallas, Atlanta, and Minnesota do no better than split their final two games). Even if the Giants lose, they will still be in control of their own destiny as a win the next week in Oakland would clinch the NFC East for them regardless of the outcome on Saturday.
Despite the absence of desperation, there is a lot at stake here. The Redskins have pulled themselves up from a 5-6 mark at the beginning of December to having their playoff destiny in their own hands and they don’t want to relinquish their grip on the postseason spot and the potential for a division title. New York would like to clinch the division early and aim towards a possible first-round bye.
And then there’s that little matter of 36-0. The Redskins simply can’t afford to let a statement like that stand, especially since it’s likely that their opponents in the first round of the playoffs would be none other than the New York Giants.
One the defensive side, it’s pretty simple—don’t let Tiki Barber beat you. Eli Manning was over hyped in the beginning of the year but now that’s fading because his performance is. In three December games, Manning’s quarterback rating is a dismal 54. He is, however, managing the games well; the Giants are 3-0 in those games.
Managing the game isn’t too hard when that consists of handing the ball off to Barber. The 30-year-old back has averaged 150 yards a game in December and has gone over 100 yards rushing in each of his last five games. Everyone remembers his performance against the Redskins in October when he rushed for 206 and set the tone for the rout by tearing off a 57-yard run on New York’s first play. Don’t forget that he racked up those yards in about three quarters of work. Like Kobie Bryant the other night, he put up his number and declined to pile it on in the late going with the game well in hand, preferring to rest to fight another day.
One thing that the Redskins have in their favor is that Barber is a better running on turf than he is on grass. He averaged 5.4 yards a carry on the fake stuff and just 3.8 a pop on real grass. There is a chance that both of their starting offensive tackles will miss the game, but neither played last week and that bothered Barber so much that he only ran for 220 yards against the Chiefs. The Redskins can give Tiki his 100, but every yard over that will diminish the Redskins’ chances.
The Giants will have a similar goal; they need to stop Clinton Portis. The Redskins’ three-game winning streak has coincided with a return to an emphasis on the ground game.
As Mark Brunell’s pass attempts have gone down, his quarterback rating has gone up. Other than the ugly 34 caused by the three interceptions in Arizona, he hasn’t been below a 96.8 rating in the past four games. Jon Jansen and Chris Samuels will make it their personal challenges to keep Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora off of Brunell’s back, something they failed to do last time around.
It’s difficult to imagine the Redskins posting a second easy win in a row, just as it’s hard to believe that the Giants will dominate to anywhere near the extent they did last time. The Giants are the slightly better team. They have won two more games than Washington against a similar schedule. The Redskins have the home field. The noise helped force about a half dozen false starts by Dallas last week and the crowd could have come up with a few more had the game been competitive in the second half.
And the Giants just aren’t a good road team. Their only wins away from the Meadowlands (their game against the Saints in Giants Stadium is officially a “road” game) have been in San Francisco and Philly. They haven’t been successful in an atmosphere like they will encounter in FedEx Field all year.
Barber will get his yards and New York will put up some points, about half of what they put up in the Meadowlands. Manning will throw for a touchdown or two but he’ll also toss up a couple of interceptions. Brunell will get knocked around some but Portis will be effective enough to keep his pass attempts around 20. The Redskins will score midway through the fourth quarter to take the lead, but the Giants will battle back. A couple of false starts will push back a field goal attempt and the Redskins will survive.
Redskins 20, Giants 17
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