Landon Collins was on the Redskins’ sideline when the man who took his place and his number made the kind of play Collins used to make in this stadium. The kind of play Collins wanted to make for the rest of his career, which he had hoped would be with the Giants.
This time it was safety Jabrill Peppers — the new No. 21 for Big Blue — taking an interception to the house, picking off rookie Dwayne Haskins’ pass and returning it 32 yards for a touchdown that put a dagger in the heart of Collins’ new team.
But this latest indignity for Collins was made worse by the way Peppers reacted in the final moments of the game and then in an angry exchange as the two teams milled about the field after it was over.
Collins and Peppers went facemask-to-facemask and had to be separated after the Giants’ 24-3 win over Washington at MetLife Stadium.
“Honestly, before the game, I was happy for [Peppers],” Collins said. “He’s a young safety, he’s a safety that’s trying to become somebody. He took my number, so he’s got big shoes to fill.”
But Collins thought Peppers was out of line with his trash- talking near the end of the game and immediately afterward. They yelled at one another from the sidelines as the clock ticked down and then yelled some more as they confronted one another before heading to their locker rooms.
Peppers declined to go into what was said.
“I have the utmost respect for those guys, especially Landon. It’s all love,” Peppers said. “When you are playing football, you have to tap into another dimension so you can be the player your team needs you to be. I just didn’t turn it off quick enough and I don’t think he did, either. Nothing serious. It’s all love.”
Collins wasn’t having it. He replied “next question” twice during a session with several reporters at his locker.
Collins later confided to Newsday what was bothering him.
“He just started yapping,” Collins said. “I mean, you had a good game, so what’s your point of talking to me? You had a good game. Just go about your business. If I had a good game, I’m not going to sit there and trash-talk the opponent, especially a guy that’s been doing it way longer than you and better than you.”
Collins suggested that Peppers, who had been noticeably quiet on defense in his first three games with the Giants, should have held his fire.
“He made his first play today in four weeks?” Collins asked rhetorically. “I mean, I made plenty of plays in that jersey and I’m still making plays. He just started talking. You know I’m not that kind of person, so for me to get that way, you’ve got to start talking to me, and that’s what he did.”
It was a frustrating day all around for Collins, a second-round pick in 2015 who went on to make three Pro Bowls and earn first-team All-Pro honors in 2016. The Giants dominated from the start, and starter Case Keenum gave way to Haskins in the second quarter. And it was Peppers who provided the exclamation point with his pick-6 with 1:19 left in the third quarter to make it 24-3.
Collins was deemed expendable last season by Giants general manager Dave Gettleman, who chose not to re-sign him and instead acquired Peppers as part of the Odell Beckham trade with the Browns. Collins has expressed frustration with Gettleman and had suggested he might knock him over in pregame warm-ups when the teams met.
That didn’t happen Sunday.
“I didn’t see him on the field,” he said.
Does he want to speak with Gettleman?
Even though the Redskins are 0-4 and going nowhere, Collins insists he’s content. He got his money and he got his respect.
“I’m happy where I’m at, honestly,” said Collins, who signed a six-year, $84 million deal in the offseason. “I love these guys that I’m around. It’s fun. I’m myself. These guys here love me, they respect me, look at me as a captain and a role model. It’s awesome.”
He couldn’t be himself with the Giants?
“No,” Collins said.
“I can’t say that,” he replied.
Collins didn’t get revenge against his old team. Not this time, anyway. Peppers’ big play and the postgame tiff were the latest reminders that his time with the Giants is done.
It’s fine by him.
It’s also fine by the Giants, who found a player they believe is a worthy successor.