NFL Preview - Washington (3-12) at NY Giants (6-9)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Two storied franchises close out their disappointing seasons Sunday night at MetLife Stadium when the New York Giants battle the NFC East-rival Washington Redskins.
The Giants will miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons and the future status of head coach Tom Coughlin is cloudy. Coughlin has a pair of Super Bowl titles under his belt with the Giants and they spoiled the postseason hopes of the Detroit Lions with Sunday's 23-20 win overtime.
Josh Brown booted a game-winning 45-yard field goal midway through the extra period and New York posted its second win in the last five weeks. Sunday's win was a far cry performance wise from a 23-0 home loss versus Seattle the week before and the players are coming together for pride and respect.
"Coach Coughlin always gives us lessons each week. People were talking about what we have to play for and all that, but the guys in this locker room, we are true fighters," Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks said. "We will fight to the end and we believe in one another. We won't punch out until it is time to punch out. We just have to take things for what it is and finish this last game strong."
The Giants played much better on defense and limited Lions all-world receiver Calvin Johnson to three catches for 43 yards. Lions QB Matthew Stafford passed for 222 yards and a pair of interceptions and the lone bright spot for the home team was running back Joique Bell, who ran for 91 yards and a score on 20 carries and caught 10 passes for 63 yards.
But shutting down "Megatron" was quite impressive.
"You have to have some ideas about what you're going to do against him. He hurt us with one big play earlier on that we saw coming and we just couldn't stop it," Coughlin said. "We did some good things in the red zone with our defensive structure to try to force the quarterback to not even think about going over there. Then in the field we had some circumstances where we able to have at least a guy or a guy-and-a-half or someone to cover over the top of him."
Giants linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka had both of New York's sacks, while linebacker Jon Beason and safety Ryan Mundy finished with 11 and 10 tackles, respectively. Safety Will Hill had the play of the game for the Giants by intercepting a pass and running it back 38 yards for a score to tie the game with less than five to go in regulation.
"I just saw the ball take off in the air and just took advantage of the situation in cover-four. I was overseeing three players and once I saw the ball tip off his hands I just saw daylight," Hill said after the G-men stopped a two-game slide and improved to 6-9 on the season.
The Giants will finish with their lowest win total since the 2003 squad finished 4-12, one year before Coughlin took over. Coughlin was 6-10 in his first year with the franchise.
Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan could be roaming the sidelines one last time Sunday. A year after ripping off seven straight wins for a 10-6 record and a division title, the Redskins are last in the NFC East with a 3-12 mark and almost sent the Dallas Cowboys home for the playoffs with Sunday's 24-23 loss.
Washington blew a a 23-14 lead and Tony Romo's 10-yard touchdown pass to DeMarco Murray with 1:08 to play was enough to lift the visitors to victory and set up a do-or-die matchup with Philadelphia this weekend.
"I'm disappointed we couldn't get it done," Shanahan said after a fourth loss in a row at home. "We had a number of opportunities."
The Redskins, who last won on Nov. 3 versus San Diego and have missed the playoffs five times in the last six years, have lost seven in a row and are 0-2 since Kirk Cousins took over under center after Robert Griffin III was shut down for the remainder of the season to rest and heal for 2014. Cousins threw for 197 yards with a touchdown pass and an interception. He wasn't sacked on the afternoon.
Wide receiver Pierre Garcon had 144 yards and a score on 11 receptions and his 107 receptions on the season set a new team record, surpassing Art Monk's 106- reception campaign back in 1984. Garcon had the first 1,000-yard season of his career and is one touchdown catch shy of matching his personal record of six established in both 2010 and 2011.
"He's been the guy for us," Redskins wideout Santana Moss said of Garcon. "He was brought here to be that guy. Every time they call his number, he seemed to show up. Even when we were in the dumps, we could always rely on No. 88."
The Redskins can rely on running back Alfred Morris, too. He ran for 88 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries Sunday. He has 20 or more carries in a game four times this season.
Losers of five straight on the road and the owners of a lowly 1-6 record away from FedEx Field, the Redskins are winless in division play (0-5) and 1-10 against teams from the NFC. They dropped a 24-17 decision to the Giants in the first meeting on Dec. 1 in Landover, MD. Griffin had 88 yards rushing and completed 24-of-32 passes for 207 yards and a score in that one.
Giants QB Eli Manning was 22-of-28 passing for 235 yards with a TD and INT. New York, which has played to a 2-3 division record and 3-4 mark at home, owns a 94-64-3 mark in the all-time series with Washington and has won 11 of the past 15 meetings between the NFC East inhabitants.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Manning will be able to put a rough season behind him Sunday. He had a touchdown pass and an interception against Detroit, and has been picked off nine times in the last four games. Manning set a franchise record with his 26th interception of the season with less than a minute to go in the fourth quarter at Ford Field.
"It was a bad throw. I thought they just kind of jumped the count a little bit on that right side with that right D-tackle," Manning explained. "I just didn't get to step in to the throw and we were kind of in a bind there and we had no timeouts and you just ran the ball. You're running out of time and you have to get a chunk of yardage to try to get in field-goal range with 20- something seconds left. You probably force that. That part, if I had probably made a better throw, I would have had a chance to get a guy open. It was a poor throw on my part there."
If the Giants commit a turnover versus Washington, they will finish with at least one in every game for the first time since 2007.
Giants young receiver Jerrel Jernigan finished with 80 yards and a touchdown on six receptions Sunday and saw extended time with Victor Cruz done for the season with a balky knee. Jernigan also caught a 15-yard pass on 4th-and-7 to keep the Giants' game-winning drive going.
"It meant a lot," Jernigan said of his big role Sunday. "I was at practice every day watching Cruz and taking tips from him and learning from him. That's the best thing you can do and people are always saying that my time is now or I haven't got my time, but I just take it as I'm out there practicing and learning from the best slot receiver in the game right now."
Washington hopes to close out the season on a high note. Cousins could be showcasing his talent for another team and needs another decent showing if the Redskins are asking for a big price tag for his services. Cousins hasn't impressed too much in his time out there.
What has been impressive is the career of Redskins veteran linebacker London Fletcher, who will call it quits after this season. Fletcher had six tackles Sunday for a defense that failed to apply pressure on Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo in crucial situations. Fletcher received a nice farewell from the home fans and even his teammates wanted his FedEx Field finale to be a good one.
"We've got a game next week," Redskins defensive end Kedric Golston said. "Obviously, this was the home game and you want to send him out in the right fashion for the home crowd. Tremendous amount of respect for London as a player, as a man. People see what he does in the season, but I see him in the offseason, I see him at practice, and I can only hope to be the professional that he is."
Fletcher, who won a Super Bowl title in St. Louis, chimed in on the end of his career and Sunday's game in New York.
"I couldn't imagine it being much tougher than this week just because this was the last time I get to wear the burgundy and gold in front of the fans here," Fletcher said. "Next week, I'll be emotional, but I think this one was more emotional because it was the last time I get to play in front of the home crowd."
In a NFC East rivalry that usually has more flair, Sunday's game between the Giants and Redskins is all about pride, respect and something to build on for next season. It is unknown if both Coughlin or Shanahan will be around for 2014, so it's important for both of them to end on a high note.
The Redskins are still a young team, at least on offense, while the Giants aren't getting any younger, especially on defense. New York's season was soiled by an inconsistent offense, turnovers and no running game.
Who knows how the Redskins would have fared had Griffin been healthier? Had he played half as well as last season the Redskins could be vying for an NFC East title for a second year in a row because it will take Week 17 to decide a winner.
New York doesn't want to end the season on a losing note in front of the home crowd and will finish with a respectable, yet disappointing, 7-9 record.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Giants 20, Redskins 14
12/27 14:30:19 ET