Week 16: Redskins 35 - Giants 20
I had been looking forward to this pilgrimage for quite some time. My father, my brother and I headed down to D.C. to take in the Giants-Skins game, the second to last game of the regular season and a potential division clincher on the day of Christmas Eve. The day got an early start; my brother’s girlfriend Suzanne’s family lives in the DC area, and because Suzanne’s father owns the RV company CruiseAmerica, we were able to procure one of those puppies for what was sure to be a professional quality tailgate. For the 1:00 game, we left the DC area at around 8:30 a.m.. My brother, my father, myself, and even Suzanne were clad in Giants gear. Suzanne’s brother, Bart, and his friend, Chris, Redskins fans both, wore Shaun Taylor and Clinton Portis jerseys, respectively. Suzanne’s mother stayed neutral.
The tailgate was legit. To go along with the RV, we had all sorts of chips with all sorts of dips, a nice mini-grill, brews and brats galore, and a semi-deflated football that we were able to catch with one-hand (beer in the other) after running three-quarter speed patterns. Despite the time of year, the sun came out and gave us gorgeous, 60 degree weather. A few of Bart’s friends rolled up at some point, clad in all sorts of ‘Skins gear, bearing the gifts of more beers and some hamburgers. We were joined by a fellow Giants fan – a friend of Suzanne’s mom – and his daughter, also a G-Men partisan, and for a solid three hours we sat around, tossed the pigskin around, grubbed, and drank beers in the sun.
I had described the tailgate before as “professional quality,” and perhaps it was, but it paled in comparison to some of the displays that surrounded us in the RV parking lot. Six feet high inflatable Redskin dolls, T.V.’s tuned in to NFL countdown, twelve-foot long grills, chairs emblazoned with the ‘Skins logo – they don’t fuck around here in FedEx Field, these guys were for real. But they were friendly too, for the most part, it seemed. We were approached by some fans of both persuasions, the Giants fans glad to have found an ally and the Redskins fans wishing us a good-natured good-luck and commending us for our die-hardness. This one guy, clad in Redskins garb, told us that the Giants sucked, but then went out of his way to complement my brother for his old-school Logo 7, LT 56 jersey. We made our way to the stadium and this big NFC East game.
FedEx Field is huge, the biggest stadium in the professional football, seating over 90,000 people, many of tem crammed into the towering, enormous upper deck. All football games are spectacles, but the Redskins famously ham it up: During warm-ups, the marching band blared out an extended version of “Hail to the Redskins” while their impressive cheerleading brigade kicked in rhythm.
I took it all in, and as the stadium filled out, and as people clapped their hands to the old, great, corny fight song, I felt myself taken in by the anticipatory good cheer. But then I turned to the Giants, my Giants, clad in blue and grimly going through their warm-ups, utterly alienated from the FedEx pageantry, the villains, the visiting team, the obstruction to a happy ending for all of these people. But I was with them, and as game time approached, the charm of this Redskins-fest turned, in my mind, into something hostile and ominous. And as an awesome crescendo cascaded down from the massive upper deck to ring in John Hall’s kickoff, I steeled myself to spend the next few hours in enemy territory.
But Chad Morton, who has been in a nice little groove with his returns, is able to sneak through a seam and scamper all the way to midfield before he is run out of bounds, quieting both the crowd and my nerves a bit as the Giants offense takes the field. On the first play from scrimmage, Eli Manning fakes a handoff to Tiki Barber, freeing up Plaxico Burress in single coverage. Eli unleashes a long, arcing toss towards the endzone, but Plaxico, battling the sun, fails to haul it in as the ball bounces off his hands and falls incomplete. An opportunity squandered, and after the Redskins take over for their first possession, they are able to move downfield with the help of a few Giants penalties. They convert a 3rd and 4, another 3rd and 4, and then a 3rd and 5 as Mark Brunell looks solid early on, and from 2nd and 10 from the NYG 17, Brunell hits Santana Moss on a quick wide receiver screen, who loops to the inside to evade Will Allen and then cuts upfield with lightning quickness to avoid the Giants pursuit, jetting 17 yards before diving into the endzone for the score. Small fire works go off, the stadium shrieks, and I stay in my seat.
The crowd stays amped as the kickoff teamers trot out, and the Redskins players implore the crowd, stalking the field, ominously bobbing their heads to the interlude music, and making violent, explosive, full-body movements to gird themselves for the collisions ahead. As I watch the kickoff, I am reminded once again of the gladiatory nature of this crazy sport. These guys are huge, remarkably fast, and are able to concentrate their weight to generate an ungodly amount of violent force. From my seat – squarely behind the endzone on the mezzanine level – I am able to get a very acute sense of this. Perhaps the most amazing thing is their utter disregard that they pay to their safety; concussive blows and disfigured limbs lurk in every collision, but these guys willingly fly into it all with perverse gusto, relishing every bit of pain. Perhaps my apprehension of football's violence at this moment is made more acute by the fact that my Giants have just been utterly marched on and outphysicalled. When you're winning, football is benignly rough, but when you're losing, and contending with a stadium full of rabid Redskins fans, who, decent as many of them probably are at all other times, are barbarically screaming at a terrifying pitch, the game seems brutal.
But the Giants move across midfield on this series and into the outer edge of Jay Feely field goal range, and Feely, ignoring the taunts of the Redskins fans, knocks a 47-yarder down the pipe, giving the Giants some points and mercifully quieting the crowd. I find my brother, who is actually sitting in another, adjacent section, and we exchange a small but sincere fist-pump, and then I locate some other Giants fans in my section and flash similar gestures of encouragement. My dad captures our feeling of relief: "Good. We needed some traction."
Indeed, all us Giants fans were looking for was some sort of foothold to get into this game, but a couple of plays later, we get much more. On 2nd down, Mark Brunell drops back to pass, steps up, and throws confidently, but somehow fails to see linebacker Chase Blackburn dropped into his pass coverage. Blackburn makes the too-easy pick while still in his backpedal, then gathers his momentum and thunders 31 untouched yards into the endzone for the sudden, amazing touchdown. A wonderful break, and now it is our turn to yell and hug and slap hands with strangers sitting two rows back, and to find every Giant fan in sight and point at them and triumphantly pump our fists, making sure that these Redskins fans sees and hears everything, and after Jay Feely knocks in the extra point, it's 10-7 Giants.
But very quickly, the momentum swings back to the Redskins. On 3rd and 9, Brunell eludes pressure and dumps a pass for Clinton Portis, who cuts and darts past the first-down marker. And on the next play, from the Washington 40, Brunell fakes a handoff to Portis and bootlegs around to the left, giving him plenty of time and space to heave a bomb downfield to a wide, wide open Santana Moss. The throw is considerably underthrown, however, potentially giving the severely burnt Will Allen time to recover, but Allen's desperate, flailing attempt to break up the pass is doomed because he is never able to locate the ball: He sprints towards Moss with his back to the quarterback, and the nifty Moss easily outmaneuvers him, corralling the pass and trotting into the endzone for the 59 yard touchdown. So much for the small comfort afforded by that small lead. It's certainly been eventful so far, and there's still 13 seconds to go in the game's opening quarter.
As the teams switch sides for the second quarter, the frantic, back-and-forth pace slows down, as the crowd calms down a bit from its early-game raucousness. The Giants punt, the Redskins punt, the Giants punt, the Redskins punt, and now we're down to 6:13 remaining in the half, the Giants with the ball.
They pick up a first down to move close to midfield, but two plays later, Jeremy Shockey's curl route is rudely interrupted by Redskins linebacker Lemar Marshall, who bumps and grabs Shockey all the while. Indignant over Marshall's flagrant infraction, Shockey turns to the referee to plea for a penalty flag while the play is still going on, and is in mid-complaint when Eli's pass sails past him and into the hands of Marshall, who then whizzes past Shockey and rumbles down to the Giants 20 before going down. The crowd erupts as the Redskins take over in great field position. Shortly after this infuriating play, I get two text messages. The first is from my friend Wong, who is watching at home in New York: "Shockey was raped before the pick." And then, seconds later, from my brother: "Benching-worthy play by Shockey."
But alas, 'Skins ball from the 20, and on their second play, Clinton Portis takes a toss right, hesitates a bit, and then lofts a soft-little halfback pass endzone-wards for an open Chris Cooley, who runs underneath it for the Redskins touchdown. It was Will Allen, it appears, who was responsible for covering that side of the field, and who bought the Portis fake-run hook, line, and sinker, the second time this game that he's been victimized by Washington deception. Quite a turn of events, and with 3:21 remaining in the half, the Redskins have opened up a 21-10 lead.
Things look pretty grim when the Giants take over; to be down 11 on the road against a tough opponent is a highly undesirable predicament. The FedEx crowd has fully re-awakened, and at this point, we are looking at quite the worst-case-scenario.
But in the waning moments of the half, the G-Men put together a timely, gritty, and most importantly, lucky drive. The big plays: An Eli Manning 17-yard seam pass to Visanthe Shiancoe (in for a nicked-up Shockey), a highly questionable personal foul call on Washington’s Walt Harris, and an 11-yard first-down toss to Amani Toomer that brings the Giants down to the Washington 25, before Eli's square-in to Plaxico Burress bounces off his hands, but then is fortuitously grabbed by a diving Amani Toomer off the deflection for the touchdown. And after Jay Feely boots in the PAT, the aisles of FedEx field empty out for the half and my dad and I reconvene with my brother and his girlfriend, who this year, has adopted the G-Men and grown to love them as immediately and unconditionally as Mr. Drummond grew to love Arnold and Willis. "Luckiest drive ever," says my brother, and we all agree that given everything, the Giants are lucky to be down by only 4 points.
Most of halftime was spent waiting on line for the bathroom, an extremely unpleasant experience. Drunk assholes in Redskins jerseys, simultaneously emboldened but frustrated by their four-point lead, were getting awfully chippy, seeking out Big Blue partisans and, as my high school football coach would say, "running their mouths." This one guy in a Joe Theisman jersey was particularly bad, cursing and spraying up a vile storm and acting every bit the thwarted, former High School jock asshole whose life hasn't lived up to the promise of those Friday nights of lore, rather actual or embellished. As luck would have it, it was I who found himself next to him on the urinal lines, and as we both approached our respective pissers at the same time, he broke out with something that I had been expecting since four urinators ago: "Hey everyone," said Theisman. "How 'bout we all piss on the Giants fan! Hey everyone, let's all piss on the Giants fan!" Some laughs, and some semi-embarrassed chortle/sneers (snortles?), and from the lizzard-draining Giants fan, a dismissive eye-roll. What else can one do?
He finished before I did, then zipped up and preposterously mimed a pee-on. At this point his jig was up for most of the onlookers, except for this one asshole a couple of spots in back of me who had been egging Theisman on, and who laughed obnoxiously in approbation of Theisman's joke before following with one of his own: "Hurry up Tiki," said Shithead #2, noting the extended duration of my piss. "This isn't New York... Some of us have a train to catch!" He was referencing the transit strike, and although it didn't quite make sense, I applauded him for his topical humor, zipped up, and made my way out of the bathroom and back to my seat for the second half.
Redskins ball to begin the half, and the Giants D holds them three-and-out. The Giants get the ball back and start moving, converting a couple of third and shorts -- including a nicely timed, 10-yard scramble by Eli -- to find themselves with 1st and 10 at the Washington 19 Although they fail to pick up a first down from here, Jay Feely trots out to attempt a 29-yard chip shot, which would pull the Giants within 1, a very palatable outcome. But Feely's kick is shockingly blocked, and the crowd erupts as the Redskins take over unscathed. This latest Giants special-teams misadventure begs the question that I pose to my friend Wong, watching from home, in a text message: "Jfs fault?"
"Mad low," Wong replies. Apparently, Feely isn't out of the psychological woods just yet.
When the Redskins resume possession, second-stringer Patrick Ramsey takes the helm at Quarterback; Mark Brunnel, it turns out, was injured while being sacked on the last series. But as long as the 'Skins have the electrifying Santana Moss at their disposal against the woeful Giants secondary -- which is being exposed because Washington's outstanding offensive tackles have contained Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora, the Giants Pro-Bowl defensive end duo -- it really doesn't matter who is playing quarterback. After picking up a close but crucial first down, Ramsey drops back and finds Moss in single coverage against Will Allen. He guns a pass to Moss that is a little high, but Moss leaps to snare it as Allen falls by the wayside, and with the ball in his hands and an open patch of green in his vision, Moss takes it the remainder of the distance for the 72-yard touchdown. Only moments after the Giants appeared well-position to take the lead, or al least pull within a point, Moss's third touchdown of the day -- and the fourth touchdown at least partially at Allen's expense -- gives the 'Skins an authoritative 28-17 lead. An annoying family of Redskins fans sitting right in front of us exchanges squealing screams and hugs. The lone guy in the family, a schmuck with a hickish, twangy voice, a crewneck Redskins sweatshirt, and his stringy hair overtaking the adjuster on his Redskins cap, turns to my dad and I and does a bird dance: For what reason, I do not know. "Can you do the bird?!" asks the jubilant douchebag. "Can you do the bird?!" Pissed, but humbled, my dad and I have no answer.
But just when things seem bleakest, something goes the Giants way on their next possession when Redskins cornerback Shawn Springs gets flagged for a 41-yard pass interference, a call that looked a tad ticky-tacky from my vantage. And after a clutch 11-yard first down catch by the reinserted Jeremy Shockey, and then an easy out to Plaxico Burress, the Giants find themselves with a 2nd and 3 from the Redskins 9 yard line, knocking on the door yet again. But a Redskins blitz forces Eli into an unnaceptable 11-yard sack, and the Giants must frustratingly settle for a Jay Feely field goal, which moves them within 8, at 28-20, with three minutes remaining in the third.
It must be mentioned that this is an extremely frustrating state of affairs for the Giants at this point: Since the second half began, they have outplayed the Redskins on a play-to-play basis, but their red-zone inefficiency -- an enduring problem this year -- the blocked kick, and Moss's big play have conspired to keep the Redskins in the lead. But the it's not as if the Giants haven't had their chances.
On their next series, however, Washington sees to it that the Giants won't have any more. Feeding Clinton Portis, their quick and sturdy running back, and playing some old-school, ball-control offense, the 'Skins put together a series of first downs as the third quarter gives way to the fourth. On 3rd and 2 from the Giant 19, Portis surges ahead for two, barely picking up the first down, and on the next play, he bounces his run outside, eluding contain-man Will Allen (!) and darts to the corner for the backbreaking score. 35-20 Washington, as the band strikes up "Hail to the Redskins."
The Giants would have a couple more chances to draw close, but their inability to convert in big situations proved to be their undoing. On their next series, they quickly move down to the Washington 29, but then just as quickly find themselves facing a 4th and 6. Needing 15 points in the remaining 11 minutes, Coughlin elects to go for it, but a horrific Manning pass thwarts the Giants and gives the ball back to the 'Skins. The Giants resume possession in short time and again move down into Redskins territory, and with 6:25 left, complete an over-the-top touchdown pass to Amani Toomer which appears to draw them within eight. It might not be over quite yet, and we Giants fans rejoice -- we're still breathing! But a holding penalty on Chris Snee nullifies the touchdown, which gives the Redskins and their fans the last, best laugh of the day. "Bad holding call," texts Wong from his TV vantage, but that doesn't do the Giants any good, and a couple plays later, they again fail to convert a 4th down, giving the 'Skins the ball and the game.
The rest was a mere formality: Portis for 6 -- which puts him over 100 yards for the day -- Portis for 2, and then Portis for 4 and the official, clinching first down as he trots off to a standing ovation. For our part, we've had enough, and we leave FedEx to a chorus of taunts, some more good natured than others. I keep my Tiki jersey on through the gauntlet, gamely responding to the abuse by saying, "See you guys in the playoffs," evoking our still superior record to the Redskins.
We get back to the RV and re-unite with Bart, Suzanne's brother and a Redskins fan. He is classy in victory and attempts to lift our spirits by making small-talk about some of the more exciting plays, but we are beyond consolation. And when he meets back up with his Redskin-fan friends, they exchange hearty guy-hugs and hoots and hollers. It could have been us, but it wasn't, and the divisional champagne will have to stay on ice.