Friday September 26th, 2014

Thursday night has not been kind to the NFL so far this season. The New York Giants were the latest runaway winners, dropping the Washington Redskins 45-14 in Week 4.

That's a slight improvement over last Thursday's 56-14 Atlanta destruction of Tampa Bay, but it hardly constitutes must-see TV. The average margin of victory for the Thursday nighters in 2014? Thus far, 28.3 points.

A breakdown of the latest blowout:

1. Meet Larry Donnell

You're forgiven if this was your first Larry Donnell exposure. Undrafted in 2012, Donnell had all of three career receptions heading into 2014.

He had three touchdown catches in Thursday night's game, continuing a remarkable early-season emergence. Donnell entered Week 4 as the Giants' leader in targets (23) and receptions (18). Eli Manning looked almost exclusively for his 6-foot-6 tight end once the Giants crept into the red zone -- the pair nearly connected for a fourth touchdown but Donnell was unable to haul down a contested catch.

With Donnell creating matchup issues by sliding around New York's formations, Manning also was able to spread the ball more effectively to Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle. Each of those receivers saw 10 targets Thursday night, combining for 197 yards.

"We're trying to get the ball out quick, we're not trying to hold it real long," Manning said on the NFL Network postgame show. "We're going to find a completion. Spread 'em out, do a lot of no-huddle, get to the line and see what the defense is doing."

2. Washington's QB conundrum just got worse

The Kirk Cousins bandwagon might have a few seats available.

Cousins excelled in relief of an injured Robert Griffin III back in Week 2, then stood toe-to-toe with Nick Foles for much of a 37-34 loss in Philadelphia last Sunday. He crashed back to earth in disastrous fashion vs. the Giants, everything unraveling quickly as Cousins fired interceptions on four of five possessions in the second half. All that on top of an early fumble caused by a Tyler Polumbus blocking whiff at right tackle.

The first may have been at least partly on rookie WR Ryan Grant, who failed to battle Prince Amukamara for a slightly off-target throw. The other three fell on Cousins' shoulders: a bad overthrow deep followed by a pair of miscues directly into the arms of New York defenders.

Thursday marked Cousins' 11th NFL regular-season game and his sixth career start. He has committed 18 turnovers in that stretch (15 interceptions, three fumbles) and that's despite coughing it up just once in 2014 before his national-TV meltdown.

Griffin is still several weeks away from returning from the dislocated ankle he suffered on Sept. 14. The hope in D.C. was that by the time he was ready to go again, Cousins would have a stranglehold on the starting job. The 31-point loss all but put an end to that line of thinking.

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A struggling offensive line, which lost standout OT Trent Williams to an injury midway through Thursday's game, did Cousins no favors. Neither did a scary concussion suffered by Niles Paul, a favorite target of Cousins and Griffin over the opening few weeks.

It's hard to make too many excuses for what happened at QB, however. He made more than his fair share of bad decisions.

3. The Giants might be much better than we thought two weeks ago

The Giants opened the season with losses to Detroit and Arizona, two teams leading their respective divisions with a combined 5-1 record. Since then they've steamrolled Houston and Washington, which finished with the worst records in the league last season.

So perhaps we should proceed with caution no matter what conclusions are drawn about New York at this point. That said, these Giants of the past two weeks have looked mighty impressive on both sides of the ball.

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Of course, it starts at the quarterback spot, where Manning was a full 180 degrees removed from Cousins' showing. Manning finished Thursday's rout 28 of 39 for an even 300 yards and four touchdowns. He has completed 73.1 percent of his passes in New York's two wins, with six TDs and just one turnover. 

"His confidence has risen," head coach Tom Coughlin said of Manning, "and his confidence in his team has risen."

The defense was almost as sharp. While Cousins' horrendous night certainly helped, the Giants took advantage of almost every single one of Washington's miscues, forcing six turnovers (the five by Cousins plus one Logan Paulsen fumble).

Now riding a two-game win streak, the Giants host Atlanta next week before a road trip to Philadelphia and Dallas. Their identity might not be clear quite yet, but the coming schedule will help paint a picture. 

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