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Eli Manning’s late interception clinches Giants’ first loss

Eli Manning of the New York Giants looks

Eli Manning of the New York Giants looks on from the sidelines late in a game against the Washington Redskins at MetLife Stadium on Sept. 25, 2016 in East Rutherford, N.J. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

Even after all the gaffes, the Giants were in it.

Their defense held the Redskins to a field goal late in the game and gave the ball back to Eli Manning and the offense with plenty of time to erase all the penalties and miscues and turnovers, and even the ejection of a key offensive lineman.

“I thought for sure we were going to go down and kick a field goal and win the game,” guard Justin Pugh said. “There was no doubt in my mind we were going to win this game 30-29. I said it when we walked into the huddle.”

And yet . . .

“We’re sitting here now, 29-27 [losers],” Pugh said, “and I’m [ticked] off.”

The Giants have no one to blame but themselves. The coolness they displayed in their first two wins disappeared in this third game and suddenly a team that had established itself with an ability to finish close games became unwound. Manning was intercepted by Su’a Cravens on a pass intended for Shane Vereen with 1:02 left yesterday to end the Giants’ last chance.

“When you get penalties and a player ejected, that’s not good,” Manning said. “We’re not doing our job. We can’t afford to do that. We can’t afford to get out of our zone . . . Just too many self-inflicted mistakes put us in a bad position.”

“I don’t know if y’all paid close attention, but we beat ourselves,” running back Orleans Darkwa said. “I keep reiterating that but it’s the truth.”

The second half illustrated that.

Dustin Hopkins kicked a 37-yard field goal with 1:51 remaining as Washington erased a 27-26 deficit. That possession should have been buried deep in Washington territory when Kirk Cousins threw an incompletion on second-and-14 from his own 21, but Olivier Vernon was flagged for roughing the passer, giving Washington 15 yards and a first down to spark the drive.

The Giants (2-1) had numerous other chances to either get Washington off the field or score a touchdown to pull away. They did neither. Manning threw two fourth-quarter picks (Vereen fumbled in the first half to give the Giants three giveaways).

Washington (1-2) took its first lead on a screen pass that erupted for a 55-yard touchdown and a 23-21 edge on third-and-15 early in the third quarter.

The Giants reached Washington’s 5 in the fourth, but center Weston Richburg was penalized and ejected on a play, pushing them back to the 20 and setting up Manning’s first interception. The Giants even allowed a fake punt late in the third quarter.

“It’s disappointing, absolutely,” Ben McAdoo said, particularly perturbed by the 11 penalties for 128 yards. “We need to be better than that . . . ” McAdoo, though, disagreed with the suggestion that his team unraveled. “I don’t feel we lost our composure,” he said, “but I feel we can play more disciplined football.”

The Giants were in control early. Shane Vereen, Sterling Shepard and Darkwa all scored first-half touchdowns for a 21-9 lead. The Redskins scored their first TD on a 44-yard pass from Cousins to DeSean Jackson.

The season, of course, is far from finished. McAdoo stressed that it is just one game, one loss. But it was also an opportunity to establish the Giants as an early front-runner in the division and put Washington at 0-3.

“I don’t want to say it’s a step back, but this is a hurdle we have to overcome,” linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. “They are the NFC East defending champs. At the end of the day they have the title and we have to dethrone them. We did not do that today.”

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