By Justin Henry (@cynicjrh)
NFC East Beat Writer/Letting Jim Washburn sleep in his garage
And just like that, the NFC East picture gets interesting.
Through October 28, this very author declared the New York Giants to be division champions once more, as the league's reigning title holders climbed to 6-2. Philadelphia and Dallas were both 3-4, and Washington slumped to 3-5, leaving a fairly smooth road for the G-Men to resume their title defense unabated.
Then November happened. By month's end, the Giants were 7-4 after some bumpy turns, and Washington and Dallas each climbed to 5-6.
After the first weekend in December, the Giants are 7-5, and their closest nemeses are 6-6, meaning all bets are off.
The most recent twist was a result of the Washington Redskins' 17-16 victory on Monday Night Football over the Giants at FedEx Field.
This time, there would be no Victor Cruz catch-and-streak to bail out the boys in blue.
And speaking of bailing out, the Giants are now in a position where they need to start hoping the Bears and Seahawks crumble.
If Dallas or Washington jumps ahead of the them in the East, even getting a wildcard isn't guaranteed.
Here are five things we learned:
1. Washington Won By Eliminating Mistakes
The bane of Washington's existence in their October 21 battle with New York wasn't just Cruz's game-changing touchdown, but four turnovers that stalled ambitious drives.
Not only did Robert Griffin III throw an interception, but he, Alfred Morris, and Santana Moss each coughed up a fumble, with Moss' loss epitaphing the game.
This time around, Washington only turned the ball over once: an Alfred Morris fumble forced by a deft Chase Blackburn strike midway through the third quarter, which led to a wild scrum and a pair of personal fumbles in the chaos.
Three and a half minutes later, Lawrence Tynes nailed a field goal to make it 16-10 Giants.
But to paraphrase the stentorian icon himself, John Facenda, modifying a few words, the Giants would score, no more, this evening (more on that in the next point).
For his part, RG3 did fumble on a wild dash in the first quarter, but the ball was snagged in midair by Joshua Morgan, who ran the remaining 13 yards, giving Washington an early 7-3 lead.
In other words, Griffin's lone flaw ended up netting points.....for his team
In his first 12 career games, Robert Griffin III has avoided throwing interceptions in 8 of them. By comparison, Andrew Luck has only gone pickless 3 times in his first dozen starts.
2. The Giants Couldn't Finish Drives
New York scored only 4 times in the Monday night game, and 3 of those occurrences were field goals by Lawrence Tynes.
Tynes would also badly miss a 43 yarder that, with the benefit of hindsight, would have made all the difference, and given New York a 2 game lead. Alas.
The Giants averaged 27.7 PPG coming into Monday night, and 2.64 offensive touchdowns per game, be it passing or running.
The Giants dominated time of possession, holding the rock for 33:13, and avoided turnovers. Eli Manning was sacked but one time all night.
Manning threw for 280 yards, with 104 going to Cruz. Ahmad Bradshaw added 103 yards on the ground.
And despite all of that, the Giants only made it into Washington's red zone twice, netting 10 points on those trips. They made it inside Washington's 30 five times.
And yet, all they could get was one touchdown.
This is the second time this season, and the second time over the last 3 games, that the Giants were held to just one touchdown.
Before Monday night, the Giants boasted an impressive 13.32 yards for every point scored; the sixth best average in the league. Their average tonight was 24.38 YPPS. If they averaged 24.38 all season, they'd be the worst in the NFL.
3. Alfred Morris Owns The Giants Defense
With 124 yards on the ground on Monday night, Alfred Morris now holds the Redskins rookie record for most rushing yards in a season, surpassing Reggie Brooks' 1993 total of 1063.
Morris is one of only 42 players in NFL history to rush for over 1100 rushing yards in a rookie season.
With 1106 yards, Morris is tied with fellow rookie Doug Martin on the season. They share the no. 38 spot on the list of rushing yards in a rookie season, with icons like Terrell Davis, Corey Dillon, and Willis McGahee all within striking distance.
Monday's game marked Morris' fifth 100-yard game of his maiden season, the second against the Giants. The first time around, Morris had 120 yards, so 4 extra yards and a victory make it a double win.
Morris is only one of 4 players to run for 100 yards on the Giants this season, along with Isaac Redman (147), DeMarco Murray (131), and LeSean McCoy (123).
Morris has the distinction of doing it twice, taking advantage of the Giants 4.42 yards given up per rush this season; one of several major flaws.
RG3 gets all the glory, but Alfred Morris gives him a run for his money when it comes to Rookie of the Year nominees.
4. The Giants Defense Failed to Make an Impact
It wasn't just Alfred Morris that had a grand old time poking holes in Perry Fewell's defensive squadron. Washington stuck it to the Giants, and made the defending champions look as bumbling as their MetLife timesharing Jets at points.
Knowing that a victory would give them a two-game lead over the rest of the division, the Giants came up with just 1 turnover; Blackburn's fumble recovery. This is the fourth game this year that the Giants had either 0 or 1 turnovers.
The Giants were also unable to record a sack for the third time this season.
But more telling than the negative pass play situation is the time of possession comparison between the two teams.
New York possessed the ball for 33:13, and had 390 net yards. That equates to 5.11 seconds needed to gain a single yard, or about 11.7 yards a minute.
Washington, on the other hand, possessed for 26:47, and gained 370 net yards. The Redskins need just 4.34 seconds to get that hypothetical yard. That's 13.8 yards a minute.
The Redskins defense has made strides, giving up 25.9 PPG (it's better than what it was), but not many folks expected them to hold New York to 16 points, much less move the ball more efficiently against them.
5. The Road From Here is Interesting for Both Teams
The Giants hold a slightly better conference record (6-3 to Washington's 6-4), so winning their last 3 NFC games is imperative. Next up is a home game against New Orleans, who've lost two straight, and badly need a victory to keep their playoff hopes realistically alive.
The Saints have turned the ball over 7 times over those 2 losses, all on Drew Brees' picks (including 5 vs. Atlanta).
Washington, meanwhile, renews their quad-annual Beltway rivalry with the Ravens, who come off an embarrassing home loss to Charlie Batch and the Steelers.
Twice this year have the Ravens given up 200 yards on the ground, and 9 out of 12 times have they allowed 90+ rushing yards, so Griffin and Morris may be able to pull off a considerable upset.