(top) spent the night in the Washington backfield, tallying four sacks. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Robert Griffin III completed a 13-yard pass on the game's first play Sunday, then hurried his team to the line and took off running on a read-option on snap No. 2. He completed his first 11 passes and 16-of-17 overall before halftime.
His counterpart, the Giants' Eli Manning, hit 10-of-12 passes before the break, matching Griffin's TD pass to Logan Paulsen with one of his own to Brandon Myers.
Washington and New York headed to the locker room tied at 14, their quarterbacks a combined 26-of-29 passing, in a game that at least resembled the heavyweight clash many people pegged it as when the NFL's 2013 schedule was released.
But then the second half happened.
What was a fairly well-played, entertaining game regressed into a comedy of errors befitting two teams well below .500. The Giants, for whatever it's worth, managed to come out on top, 24-17, with the help of a dominant performance from defensive end Justin Tuck.
The night overall, though, was more a reminder of what might have been for these two teams than a glimpse of any greatness to come. The Giants, now 5-7, maintained some shred of playoff hope with the victory -- they sit two games back of Dallas and Philadelphia in the NFC East with four games to play (though they lost both games they played against the Cowboys this season).
"We're still alive, and we kind of knew after last week's loss we probably were going to have to win five in a row and this is the first one," Giants QB Eli Manning told NBC's Michele Tafoya. "You can't win five in a row if you don't win the first one."
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Washington, meanwhile, slipped to 3-9 in a season that's spiraled so violently that even Sunday's bizarre finish did not seem all that out of place. With the Redskins down seven and nearing midfield, Griffin completed a second-and-five pass to Pierre Garcon. The chains on at least one side of the field moved forward after that play, indicating a first down, only for the Redskins to discover after an incompletion on the subsequent play that they actually were facing 4th-and-1 -- and had been facing a 3rd-and-1 on the previous play.
The game ended for all intents and purposes there, as Garcon had a short completion ripped out of his hands for a turnover by the Giants' Will Hill.
"Well, I said I wanted a measurement, and [an official] said, 'You don't have to, it's a first down,'" a perplexed Mike Shanahan explained in his postgame press conference. "I asked him when it was fourth down: 'You already told me it was first down and I wanted a measurement.'
"That was disappointing."
A moment to give Tuck his due, as he was by far the best player in Sunday night's mercurial contest. The veteran defensive end entered the game with 2.5 sacks on the season, then dropped Griffin four times to completely disrupt Washington's offense. That 4.0 sack total matched Tuck's entire 2012 season output.
"You know what, coach always says just keep pounding the rock," Tuck told NBC. "The numbers aren't there, but we rushed hard tonight and it just kind of came together for us. The secondary did a great job of giving Griffin some different reads, he had to hold the ball a little longer than in previous games, and I was able to capitalize."
Tuck's effort helped limit Washington to a mere three points in the second half, and that Kai Forbath field goal only occurred after Brandon Meriweather picked off a Manning pass and returned it to the Giants' 12.
The Manning INT was part of a five-minute stretch that also included Prince Amukamara dropping a clear interception of Griffin in the end zone, Washington WR Pierre Garcon being flagged on delay of game for kicking the football in frustration and the Giants partially blocking a punt after a poor snap.
When the dust finally settled on the messy third quarter, the Redskins held a tenuous 17-14 lead.
The Giants flipped the scoreboard, after that botched punt gave them the ball in Washington territory, on Andre Brown's second rushing touchdown of the night. A Josh Brown field goal and the final defensive stand, aided by the inexplicable officiating error, allowed New York to put the game in the win column.
"I thought there were any number of outstanding plays out there," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "A lot of outstanding contributors tonight. I'm just glad we could hang in there and get the win."
Had everything gone according to plan for New York and Washington this season, the Giants' victory Sunday night would have gone down as an absolutely critical one in the NFC East chase. Instead, the victory was more an endurance test of two teams' mettle.
There's no use kidding ourselves: This was, for the most part, ugly. And the frustration there lies in that both teams were supposed to be so much more this season -- heck, both teams were so much more Sunday, if only for a few brief moments.
Unfortunately, the overall product was a letdown capped by a controversial, ridiculous finish. Perhaps that was appropriate, given how New York and Washington have watched their seasons play out.