LANDOVER, Md. - It would be a shame if the Giants team that played the way it did Monday night winds up being eliminated from playoff contention because of the Giants team that played the way it did in the previous two months.
But the fact remains that no matter how well the Giants play in their next two games - and Monday night's 45-12 rout of the Redskins was a good start - they need help to make it to the postseason.
"There's a chance [of not making the playoffs], but we only have ourselves to blame," center Shaun O'Hara said. "If we can play the way we played [Monday] for the next two weeks, we'll deserve a shot."
That uncertainty of the future didn't make it any less refreshing to at least see the Giants play like a playoff team. The offense rolled over the Redskins for scores on its first four possessions and the defense pounded away at a Washington offense that came into the game as a resurgent unit. The Giants pummeled it back to dysfunction.
The Giants (8-6) trail the Cowboys (9-5) and the Packers (9-5) by one game each for one of the two NFC wild cards. Even if the Giants win their next two games (at home against the Panthers on Sunday and at Minnesota in the regular-season finale), they'll need either of the teams just ahead of them to lose at least once to get into the tournament.
"We needed to buckle down knowing what the consequences were," Tom Coughlin said, a nod toward acknowledging that a loss essentially would have eliminated the Giants from playoff contention. "We played with greater purpose. We were the team with more at stake, and we played that way."
Eli Manning completed 19 of 26 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns. Ahmad Bradshaw scored two touchdowns and gained 61 yards on nine carries. Terrell Thomas returned an interception 14 yards for the Giants' other touchdown.
The Redskins (4-10) were the first team with a losing record that the Giants faced since the Raiders on Oct. 11. That also was the last game of the Giants' 5-0 start, in which they fattened up on inferiority and appeared to be a certainty to compete for a conference title. But they lost six of the next eight games before returning to the loser buffet line and piling up stats on their plate.
The maligned Giants defense allowed only 78 yards in the first half, 46 on one long pass from backup quarterback Todd Collins to Santana Moss. And when the Redskins tried an oddball fake field goal at the end of the half, sending eight men out to the left while holder Hunter Smith chucked a desperation pass toward the end zone, Bruce Johnson intercepted it and nearly returned it for a touchdown. He was pushed out of bounds near midfield and the Giants had to settle for a 24-0 halftime lead.
The Giants scored touchdowns on their first two drives, each capped by a short Bradshaw run against the NFL's best red-zone defense, totaling 143 yards on 27 plays and controlling the ball for 14:13 of the first 15:39. It was so bad that the Monday Night Football broadcast didn't have a chance to "introduce" the Giants' defense until the second quarter.
"It's always an emphasis to start fast," guard Chris Snee said. "We just haven't done that [since October]. It felt good to do that."
The first touchdown came on a 3-yard run by Bradshaw at the end of a methodical drive that converted four third downs (including the TD) and did not have a play longer than 14 yards.
The Giants had to settle for a field goal on their next drive but came back and found the end zone for a third time in the half on Manning's 7-yard pass to Steve Smith. It came one play after a 45-yard catch-and-run by Hakeem Nicks, who left the game after that play with a hamstring injury.
The Giants not only pounded out yardage but pounded quarterbacks. They sacked Jason Campbell five times, once by a blitzing Jonathan Goff, who came through the line so cleanly that he essentially beat Campell to the destination of his three-step drop. Osi Umenyiora flattened Campbell late in the second quarter and sent him to the sideline with a shoulder injury that brought Collins into the game.
"We didn't really change anything," Umenyiora said of the defense that had been wanting for sacks. "Everything just came together for us . . . We knew we were outstanding pass rushers. It was just a situation where we got to show it."
Campbell returned for the start of the second half and led the Redskins on two touchdown drives in the third quarter, but the Redskins still lost ground on the scoreboard.
After Washington made it 24-6 (Fred Robbins blocked the extra point), the Giants responded with another scoring drive that ended with a 23-yard TD pass to seldom-used receiver Derek Hagan. On the next play, Thomas intercepted a blind screen pass by Campbell, who threw to his right after pumping left, and returned it 14 yards for a 38-6 lead.
"That one was gift-wrapped," said Thomas, who dropped two earlier passes that could have been intercepted.
Two plays after Brandon Jacobs squared off with Albert Haynesworth and DeAngelo Hall - and appeared to throw a series of punches, although Haynesworth was the only player flagged - the Giants put another pile-driver on the Redskins with a 25-yard pass to Mario Manningham to make it 45-12.
"This was a must-win. We needed this one," Bradshaw said. "Things got a little off for our team and we felt that and we had to step up. We know what we can do. We've been in this position. We've had to win games at the end of the season just to get to where we wanted to be. That's just how we're playing."
But this time it's not only up to the Giants. They need help. Is that a concern?
"Not at all," Bradshaw said. "We want to win out and see where that takes us."