One play by Robert Griffin III made believers of Giants
The ending of the Giants-Redskins game on Oct. 21 was one of the most exciting of the year. Two lead-changing touchdowns and a game-sealing turnover took place in the final 92 seconds of the Giants' 27-23 win.
It shouldn't have been like that.
At least it wouldn't have been like that had the Giants been able to stop Robert Griffin III from converting a fourth-and-10 from the Washington 23 just before the two-minute warning and effectively ended the game with a 20-16 victory over the Redskins.
Griffin wound up completing a 19-yard pass to Logan Paulsen to prolong the drive, but that tells only a fraction of the story of perhaps the most impressive play run against the Giants this season. And in the end, the Giants really had no way of stopping it.
"A great play," Giants middle linebacker Chase Blackburn said. "Above the X's-and-O's."
It started with 2:07 remaining and the ball on the Washington 23, the Redskins facing a do-or-die fourth down. Griffin took a shotgun snap and looked to throw it over the middle -- Paulsen was his initial read -- but Blackburn was dropping back into zone coverage to block that path.
"I was probably supposed to squeeze the tight end off," Blackburn said, and that's what he did.
Meanwhile, up front, the Giants rushed only three linemen to get extra defensive backs on the field. Justin Tuck kept containment on the left of the defense while Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora collaborated on a stunt. Griffin felt the pressure from Umenyiora, who was charging up the middle, and began running to his left with Pierre-Paul in chase mode. Pierre-Paul began closing in as Griffin approached the Giants' sideline. That's when Griffin did something strange.
"I was going for him, almost had him, trying to get him to the sideline, and he hit the brakes on me," Pierre-Paul said. "He broke me. He's a good quarterback, man. What more do you want me to say?"
Pierre-Paul's momentum kept him going toward the sideline. Umenyiora, meanwhile, was following behind but on the plane that Griffin initially had taken. So Griffin headed upfield and eluded Umenyiora. Two of the Giants' most athletic defensive linemen were left grasping at air.
"I wanted them to be off the field, but he extends the play with his legs," Pierre-Paul said. "When a quarterback can do that . . . it helps you to stay on the field and get that extra set of downs."
With Griffin running toward the line of scrimmage, decisions needed to be made in the secondary. Defensive players are taught to "plaster" their receivers, stick with them during scramble drills. With Griffin, who has world-class speed, that's easier said than done.
"You have to [peek]," safety Antrel Rolle said. "If you're human, that's what you have to do in order to play that game. You have to keep your head on a swivel and you have to read numerous different things."
Blackburn read run as the most dangerous threat, so he and cornerback Michael Coe converged on Griffin.
"It's better to make him make the throw than be able to walk for the first down," Blackburn said. "There was no one within 20 yards of him. At least if you make him throw back across the body, there's a chance that it can be incomplete. He probably gained about the same yardage. He probably gained about the same yardage as if he ran it."
That left safety Stevie Brown, the deep safety on the side of the field where the play developed, covering two players: Leonard Hankerson was running deep down the sideline and Paulsen now was open in what literally was the middle of the field, standing on the NFL shield at the 50-yard line.
"I could see him, I could see that's where he wanted to throw it to," Brown said, "but I couldn't give up the deep ball. I was trying to stay deep on that one. I saw him making people miss and then he found the open man and hit it."
While running toward the line of scrimmage, Griffin hit the brakes for a second time in the play, this time to launch the pass to Paulsen -- who was quickly tackled at the Washington 42, but not before the Redskins had converted the first down.
It left an impression on the Giants.
"That's just a playmaker making a play," Rolle said. "That's pretty much all that was. That's just him extending the play and he made a play. That wasn't a designed play."
"He stayed back there, kind of kept his eyes downfield and found a wide-open tight end after eluding myself, JPP, our whole D-line, it seemed like," Tuck said. "I think it talks to how in-the-moment he is and how poised he is in those moments, which is rare for a rookie quarterback."
Six seconds. A thousand micro-decisions. One fourth-down conversion that nearly cost the Giants the game.
Griffin then scrambled 24 yards to the Giants' 34. Two plays later, he hit Santana Moss for a 30-yard touchdown to give the Redskins a 23-20 lead with 1:32 left. Only a 77-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Victor Cruz with 1:13 left got the Giants off the hook.
What could they have done differently? What did they learn from that play that could help them Monday night against Griffin and the Redskins?
Not much. After the play that nearly cost the Giants the game, cameras caught defensive coordinator Perry Fewell on the sideline laughing, because there is no scheme for stopping something like that.
"We've looked at that play probably a dozen times," Fewell said. "You say you plaster your receivers more, and that's a point of emphasis, but then if you plaster your receivers more, he takes off and runs. I think that's the dual threat that he brings to the National Football League, that you can cover every receiver and have them locked down, and then he can go from 0-to-60 like that and get the first down."
Blackburn said all you can do after such a play is tip your hat to the quarterback.
"You correct it and you say you want to plaster and do this, but in reality you say, 'OK, he made a play,' " Blackburn said. "You can't always say you're going to win every battle."
Not against Griffin, the Giants learned on that one snap.