Giants' romp adds spice to playoff race; Zorn, 'Skins sink to new low

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1. The Giants responded to a must-win situation like a veteran team that still knows how to take care of business in big games. Week 15 in the NFL featured four games where a winning team fell to a losing club playing the spoiler role -- Oakland over Denver, Carolina over Minnesota, Atlanta over the Jets, and Pittsburgh over Green Bay -- but not for one second did the Giants come close to falling victim to that trend.

Eager to put that 45-38 home loss to Philly in the past, New York came out smoking and snuffed out any upset dreams that Washington (4-10) might have harbored. There was no messing around, and absolutely no hesitation. The Giants scored touchdowns on their first two drives, methodically churning out yardage and first downs. New York went 80 yards in 16 plays on its first possession, eating up 9:13, and used up five more minutes in marching 63 yards in 11 plays on drive No. 2.

It was the kind of complete and utter domination the Giants desperately needed, and might just launch them on the three-game winning streak they'll need to fight their way back into the NFC playoffs for a conference-best fifth consecutive year. New York led 24-0 after its first four drives, and you could almost see the confidence surging back into Tom Coughlin's players as the Giants' pass rush returned, the running game contributed a couple early touchdowns, and every one of offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride'scalls worked to near-perfection.

The Giants (8-6) can't win the NFC East, but they have more than a little life left. They're just a game behind Green Bay and Dallas (both 9-5) in the wild-card chase and only have to catch the Cowboys -- not pass them --because they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker, by virtue of sweeping Dallas. Realistically, New York has to win at home next week against Carolina (6-8) and at Minnesota (11-3) in Week 17, and hope the Cowboys lose once, either at Washington next Sunday night or at home against the Eagles on Jan. 3.

It's not an easy road that New York must travel, but in a game that plenty of people thought would be a struggle for the Giants, they proved they can still turn it on and put together a complete performance when necessary.

2. So much for the dawn of the Bruce Allen era providing the Redskins with a spark of sorts. If this was the start of the franchise's three-week audition before Washington's new general manager, I doubt he needs to see much more from the players and coaches he's inheriting, courtesy of recently deposed executive VinnyCerrato. Allen must already know he faces a sizable task in remaking the Redskins.

They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and just imagine what Allen must be thinking about now when it comes to doomed head coach Jim Zorn, or quarterback Jason Campbell, whose 50th career start in the NFL was perhaps his worst ever. Or the Redskins defense, which gave up more points to the Giants than any Washington team since 1968, and saw New York post its highest point total on the road in 55 years.

Somehow, the Redskins' embarrassing prime-time performance served as the perfect summation of Washington's lost decade. At least Allen is now fully aware of what he's presiding over -- a train wreck of a franchise that just locked down its fourth double-digit loss season of the decade, to go with just two playoff berths, one 10-win season, and two winning records in the past 10 years. Oh, and did we mention those six Redskins head coaches in the 2000s?

Allen, of course, was brought in by Redskins owner Daniel Snyder to hire the next Washington head coach, an effort that is expected to focus on Mike Shanahan and hopefully land him about five minutes after this miserable season in D.C. finally concludes.

You have to wonder if Shanahan has any second thoughts about Washington after watching Monday night's debacle? The former Broncos head coach has never lacked for confidence, but some rebuilding jobs are just more daunting than others. There must be a good reason no one has ever been able to work a quick fix of the Redskins during the Snyder era. If it is a team of Allen and Shanahan running things in Washington in 2010, will the story be substantially different? Call me skeptical.

3. The Giants running back who gives defenses the most headaches is Ahmad Bradshaw, not Brandon Jacobs. It was Bradshaw who provided New York an early jump-start against Washington, not Jacobs, the Giants lead rusher and starting tailback. Despite playing with a nagging ankle injury, Bradshaw looked quick and elusive in the first quarter, scoring on a 3-yard third-and-goal run on New York's first possession, and a 4-yard burst on the Giants' second drive.

Bradshaw kept up his good work throughout the game, finishing with a team-high 61 yards on just nine carries (almost 7 yards a pop), and adding three catches for 29 yards. His 90 total yards of offense was considerably more than Jacobs produced. The big guy lumbered for 52 yards on 16 carries, with a long gain of 10, and his only reception went for a mere two yards. Jacobs still doesn't have his dominating mojo of 2007-08, and Bradshaw is averaging about a yard more per carry than his celebrated teammate. With two more scores against Washington, Bradshaw also leads New York in rushing touchdowns with seven, two more than Jacobs.

With every game being essentially a playoff game from here on out for New York, look for the Giants to keep feeding Bradshaw the ball. His resume may not compare with Jacobs', but the third-year pro is getting it done better than anyone else in New York's backfield.

4. I'm afraid Jim Zorn deserves to lose his job based on just that stupefying fake field goal the Redskins ran on the last play before halftime. You saw it. It was arguably the worst play call in NFL history. Especially since it came after Washington had lined up in the same freaky field-goal formation, only to see Coughlin call a timeout to adjust his defense.

Even though the Redskins had the element of surprise removed by the Giants' timeout, that didn't seem to faze Zorn in the least. He went right back to it, and almost got poor Hunter Smith killed. With most of their players lined up to the extreme left side of the field in a swinging-gate formation, the Redskins left their punter almost completely unprotected while three Giants rushed him unabated.

Smith, who has already thrown a touchdown pass this season, took the snap and dropped back five yards or so as New York's rush closed in. Waiting as long as he could, Smith fired up a prayer that was more wounded duck than touchdown pass, and predictably it got picked off by Giants cornerback Bruce Johnson, who returned it to midfield.

Afterward, Zorn was asked about the call, and actually credited New York with "good defense'' on the play.

"That's what hurt that play,'' Zorn said, with a straight face. "I contemplated just going kicking the field goal after (Coughlin) called timeout. But the play was unique enough I didn't think they saw what we were going to do. But they smelled it out.''

They smelled it out all right. The stench was inescapable.

5. Lucky, lucky us. The NFC East race and the conference's wild-card battle is going the distance this year. At one point recently, I thought the plucky Redskins would have a say in deciding who from the NFC East was going to make the playoffs, given that Washington played host to the Giants and Cowboys in Weeks 15-16. But after watching the Redskins Monday night, you can give Dallas its 10th win next Sunday night at FedEx Field and forget Washington as a last-place power broker in the division.

Next week, the Giants will beat Carolina in what likely will be their emotional last game in Giants Stadium, the Cowboys will win at Washington, and the Eagles will hold serve at home against Denver. That means it'll come down to Week 17, and the outcome of two games:

In Minnesota, the Giants will close out the regular season for a second consecutive year at the Metrodome. Only this time, it'll probably be the Vikings who have little to play for and opting to rest many of their starters -- the exact opposite scenario that prevailed in last year's Giants-Vikings finale. So we'll give New York the win, and that will put it all on the outcome of Eagles at Cowboys game -- which could end up being moved into the Sunday night slot.

If Philly wins that one, they'll take the division title at 12-4, eliminate Dallas from the playoff field, and hand the wild-card berth to 10-6 New York. If Dallas is victorious, it wins the division at 11-5 based on sweeping the Eagles this season, and sends 10-6 New York home to ponder the what-ifs. Philly would be left to console itself with the wild card slot.

And yes, I know Green Bay (9-5) factors into the NFC wild-card race as well and could still falter enough to allow the Eagles, Cowboys and Giants to all make the playoff field. But why spoil the fun in the NFC East with that scenario? Let's just hope the three-team race in the East delivers the final week drama that seems destined to unfold.