Just like that, the New York Giants are back in the NFC East mix.
While the wounded Cowboys are still in first place, the division's early developments certainly point toward a topsy-turvy race that extends deep into December. For the Giants to be a part of it, they badly needed the win they secured Thursday night, 32-21 over the visiting Washington Redskins.
Three thoughts on Week 3's opening act:
1. The Giants stayed on the throttle (for the most part)
It's not a stretch to say that the Giants easily could be 3-0 right now. They coughed away a 23-13 fourth-quarter lead in Week 1, thanks in no small part to the ill-fated miscommunication that led to them voluntarily avoiding a touchdown late. And then last weekend vs. Atlanta, they finished the game on a 25-minute, 43-second scoring drought—the Falcons erased a 20-10 deficit in the fourth quarter.
Mentally, those letdowns could have lingered into Thursday. New York led 12-0 after one quarter and 18-6 headed to the fourth. Instead of repeating their mistakes, though, the Giants grabbed a stranglehold on Thursday's games by grinding out two lengthy scoring drives.
The Giants ate up half of the third-quarter clock on a 15-play possession that ended with a field goal. They followed that up, after a pick of Kirk Cousins, with an 11-play, five-minute touchdown drive. Odell Beckham Jr. capped the latter with his latest highlight—a twisting TD catch behind Washington CB Bashaud Breeland.
“We needed a win bad, in the division, home game,” Eli Manning said in the postgame interview. “We've come off two close losses, haven't been able to hold on. Fourth quarter, we had to elevate our play, and I think we did that today.”
Things got a little scattered after that. Washington scored and nearly recovered the subsequent onside kick; New York scored but immediately allowed a 101-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
The Giants' lead was never threatened through all that—no doubt a relief after the season's first two Sundays.
2. Kirk Cousins again showed why he's a solid backup but a stretch as a starter
Cousins is exactly what NFL teams look for in their backup quarterbacks—experienced, solid locker-room presence, smart. But he is and always has been limited from a talent perspective, a truth that was on display numerous times Thursday night.
Both of Cousins's interceptions were ugly and preventable. On the first, he failed to spot the Giants' Prince Amukamara before trying to hit Pierre Garcon on a predetermined read. Later, under a bit of pressure, Cousins tried to fit one in to a covered Derek Carrier.
Worse yet, Cousins left several points on the field. Jordan Reed twice broke open deep during the first half—Cousins badly underthrew him on both occasions, though he did have an unblocked and blitzing Landon Collins in his grill on the second. He also missed a wide open Ryan Grant on a deep out toward the sideline, just after the first misfire Reed's way.
Cousins's passes consistently trailed behind their intended targets, no matter if he had a clean pocket or not. The lone positive in his performance came from the couple of times he escaped pressure and kept his eyes downfield, eventually spotting a receiver.
Those plays were few and far between.
But does Cousins's shoddy showing change anything for the Washington offense? Doubtful. Barring an unexpected shift back to Robert Griffin III, there's not much to be done—Colt McCoy is cut from a similar cloth to Cousins but is even more limited as a passer. Cousins also just had a 23-of-27, 203-yard outing in a win over St. Louis. He's certainly not the first (nor will he be the last) quarterback to go through the motions when faced with a short week of preparation.
That said, the Redskins simply cannot afford to have Cousins play so poorly, especially when they fall behind early. The combination allowed New York to pay even more attention to the Washington rushing attack, which in turn produced just 62 yards.
Even a so-called “game manager” quarterback has to be able to threaten a defense through the air. Cousins failed to do that Thursday.
3. Tom Coughlin followed through on his promise
“Offensively, [we] have to use all of our talents,” Coughlin, the Giants coach, told Michael Eisen of the Giants' website. “Rueben [Randle] has to get involved. We got [Shane] Vereen involved, but we have to get Rueben involved.”
Mission accomplished. Randle led all players with 116 yards receiving, capped by a juggling 41-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. The standout effort was more in line with his performances from Weeks 16 and 17 last season (132 yards and 158 yards, respectively) and a massive improvement on Weeks 1 and 2 this year (28 yards combined).
Randle's reemergence left more on the table for Manning, who had struggled to find anyone other than Beckham and RB Shane Vereen in the Giants' first two games.
It is potentially great news with Victor Cruz on the verge of return, too. Prior to his injury, Cruz had been one of the NFL's top slot receivers. Beckham and Randle helped fill that role in his stead, and the versatility all three can provide together should work to New York's benefit.