(AP) The Giants did everything they could to give their Week 7 matchup with the Washington Commanders away, but Wink Martindale’s defense wouldn’t it happen.
Nearly squandering a two-touchdown halftime lead, the Giants’ defense — which posted a season-high six sacks — stopped the Washington Commanders on a 4th-&-5 just seven yards away from the equalizing score with 1:01 to go in the game to secure a 14-7 victory. Commanders receiver Jahan Dotson dropped quarterback Sam Howell’s pass at the 2-yard line, securing the Giants’ (2-5) first victory since Week 2.
Outside of the defense, though, costly mistakes nearly derailed a game that saw New York dominate the first half — mainly a muffed punt by Sterling Shepard in the third quarter that led to Washington’s lone score and Saquon Barkley’s lost fumble with an opportunity to ice the game deep in enemy territory that sparked the Commanders’ final drive that nearly tied things up.
Up 14-7 with just under eight minutes remaining in the game on the Washington 10-yard line, Barkley was stripped of the football, which was recovered by the Commanders (1-6). The visitors proceeded to mount a 17-play, 85-yard drive that came up empty.
While the Giants’ offense led by backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor (18-of-29, 279 yards, two touchdowns) with Daniel Jones still on the shelf was the best it’s been in weeks, a quiet second half left an active defense out to dry on their best showing of the season. Entering Week 7 with an NFL-worst five sacks on the season, they took down Howell six times, including five in the first half.
It was their second sack of the day, though, with just under five minutes to go in the first quarter, that helped turn things around. Following a missed Graham Gano field goal, a 3rd-&-4 sack on the Giants’ 38-yard line with four minutes left in the first quarter sparked New York toward their first offensive touchdown since the third quarter of their Week 3 loss to the San Francisco 49ers when Taylor hit Darren Waller (seven catches, 98 yards) for a 15-yard score 48 seconds into the second quarter. It was also New York’s first first-half touchdown and home touchdown of the season.
The score, which came after a Justin Pugh hold moved New York back 10 yards to create a 3rd-&-Goal from the 15, saw Waller run a vertical straight through the middle of Washington’s defense. Taylor hit him with a back-shoulder throw in between two defenders after a quick four-step drop.
Meanwhile, the Giants defense kept feasting early on Howell. After Jason Pinnock picked up the team’s third sack of the half on Washington’s first drive of the second quarter, rookie cornerback Deonte Banks intercepted his first career pass on the ensuing drive when he reeled in an underthrown floater intended for Dotson on the New York 35-yard line.
Two plays later, the Giants were in the end zone again as Barkley (77 rushing yards, 41 receiving yards, one touchdown) rumbled home from 32 yards out on a screen pass.
It was the fifth play of 20-plus yards that the New York offense posted in the first half. They had just 14 such plays through the first six games of the season.
That two-touchdown advantage carried into the break as the Giants picked up two more sacks to double their season total in two quarters while forcing the Commanders to punt seven times and holding them to just 46 yards of total offense.
While the Giants’ defense picked up their sixth sack of the day at the start of the second half, Sterling Shepard cracked the door open for the Commanders out of nothing to get back in it.
Stepping in for Eric Gray, who injured his calf and fumbled a punt return, Shepard muffed a punt return of his own two minutes into the third quarter. This time, though, the Commanders were able to pounce on it to get possession at the Giants’ 21-yard-line.
Brian Robinson powered in a four-yard rush to get the visitors on the board and cut New York’s deficit to seven with 10:21 to go in the quarter — and with it came the evaporation of any Giants momentum.
Kayvon Thibodeaux, who had 1.5 sacks on the day, had a chance to effectively end the game late in the third when Howell threw up a floating prayer to avoid a safety. Thibodeaux was the only player within a 10-yard radius and would’ve had an easy pick-six but he dropped it.
The Giants punted on their ensuing possession and looked poised to give up at least three, but the defense continued to hang in there.
After a 31-yard reception to Terry McLaurin down the left sideline put the Commanders in field goal range, Joey Slye’s 27-yard field goal to cut it to four was blocked by Leonard Williams a minute-and-a-half into the fourth quarter. It was the first blocked Giants field goal in six years, ending the NFL’s longest active drought of 98 straight games without a block.
The Giants had every opportunity to ice it, especially when a 42-yard completion to rookie Jalin Hyatt (two catches, 75 yards) down the right sideline made more points an easily attainable option on the table. But Barkley’s fumble derailed such a hope to set up a nervy finish at MetLife Stadium.
Saquon Barkley AP Photo/John Munson