LANDOVER, Md. — Some players saw the ball go wide and began celebrating. Others saw the flag and began fretting. Moments later, all of the Giants were feeling the same thing.
In every sense of the word. Two blown leads in the final five minutes, the clock at 0:00 with the scoreboard showing them ahead by two points, and a gut-punching rekick on a game-winning field goal attempt by Washington after the first try had just sailed wide as time expired only to be expunged by Dexter Lawrence’s offside penalty.
Dustin Hopkins made good on his second chance at the winning points from 5 yards closer, a 43-yarder that gave Washington a 30-29 victory at FedEx Field on Thursday night.
"That’s a pretty tough one," wide receiver Sterling Shepard said. "Not a fun feeling at all."
He was talking about the final result and, in particular, the final series of plays. But he could have been talking about the entire game. It began with the Giants losing their steadiest and most versatile offensive lineman, Nick Gates, for the season with a fractured lower left leg. It included a touchdown run by Daniel Jones negated by a holding penalty against C.J. Board and a dropped pass in the end zone by a wide open Darius Slayton with the Giants having to settle for field goals each drive, a cumulative 8-point swing. And it also saw wide receiver Kenny Golladay barking at Jones on the sideline, upset about not getting the ball enough from the quarterback who played one of the best games of his career.
So yeah, not a fun feeling.
The Giants fell to 0-2 for the fifth straight year and the eighth time in nine years. None of those seasons resulted in a playoff berth. Jones completed 22 of 32 for 249 yards and also ran for a touchdown while playing without a turnover, but he suffered his first loss to Washington in his career after four straight victories.
The Giants took the lead in the third quarter, 20-14, when Jones hit Slayton on a beautiful pass for a 33-yard touchdown, and after the Slayton drop Graham Gano kicked a 55-yard field goal to put them ahead 26-20 with 4:50 remaining. Seventeen seconds later – seventeen seconds! – Washington retook that advantage on a two-play touchdown drive. Taylor Heinicke, starting in place of the injured Ryan Fitzpatrick, hit J.D. McKissic for a 56-yard gain over linebacker Tae Crowder and then found Ricky Seals-Jones in the end zone for a 19-yard score over Adoree’ Jackson to make it 27-26 with 4:33 left.
When the Giants punted with 3:13 remaining they knew they might not ever see the ball again, but Pro Bowl cornerback James Bradberry made sure they did. He jumped a route and picked off Heinicke to give the Giants the ball at the Washington 20 with 2:16 remaining.
That’s when the Giants started worrying more about the clock than a potential touchdown that might have sealed the win. They ran the ball twice and threw an incompletion before settling for a fifth Gano field goal to make it 29-27 with two minutes left.
They put the game in the hands of their vaunted defense, but that unit could not keep it in the team’s grasp. Heinicke led an 11-play, 50-yard drive with just one timeout to set up the game-winning field goal attempt… then needed the second attempt to earn the victory.
"Down the stretch they did more than we did to win the game," Joe Judge said. "In a game like this you can see the margin of error with the score. It’s a tight game and there are a lot of little things that add up over time."
Gates, who had started at left guard after spending every snap of the previous 17 games at center, was carted off the field in the first quarter and taken to Inova Fairfax Hospital where he remained overnight and was scheduled to have surgery to repair the fracture on Friday morning.
As for the other fracture, the one between Golladay and Jones, the quarterback said his newest target was "frustrated at the situation" and didn’t think it was aimed at him.
"We’re all good and I love Kenny," Jones said. "He played hard… I have to do a better job finding him in some places and we’ll work through it."
Shepard also said the perception that Golladay was ticked at Jones was "all mixed up."
"We all love each other," he said. "Stuff happens."
Yup. Thursday’s game certainly proved that.