LANDOVER, Md. -- The Giants were besieged by penalties. Five yards here, another 10 there. Then a huge 51-yard swing on a holding call. Big play after big play flagged and brought back. And finally, the ultimate penalty, enforced from the three-quarter mark of the regular season: A tight division race that could have been all but secured with a victory.
Instead, the Giants find themselves in a three-way sprint to the finish line in the NFC East. Monday night's 17-16 loss to the Redskins left the Giants still with a grasp on first place, but their once nearly insurmountable lead has dwindled to a single game over a pair of opponents. The Cowboys (6-6) and Redskins (6-6) both trail the Giants (7-5) by a game.
"It's highly competitive and it's going to be highly competitive," Tom Coughlin said of the race. "We had an opportunity here today.''
The three that haunted the Giants in the loss was not so much the Roman numeral at the end of Robert Griffin's name, but the trifecta of miscues that cost them in the fourth quarter. First was a holding call against Jim Cordle on a long David Wilson return across midfield that would have given the Giants a chance to retake a lead they had just surrendered. That cost the Giants 51 yards and pinned them at their 9.
"Just bad," Cordle said of his hold. "I could have not even blocked him and David could have still gotten outside me.''
The second sin was also a holding call, this one against Will Beatty on what turned out to be the Giants' final chance to score points. Eli Manning hit Martellus Bennett for 11 yards to convert a third-and-10, but the play was called back.
"It kind of [ticks] you off," Bennett said. " . . . I think we had too many penalties tonight."
The Giants came into the game having taken just 48 penalties for 368 yards in the first 11 games. Monday night they had nine for 73.
The third dagger was an inability of the defense to get the ball back in the hands of Manning and the offense after the Giants punted with 3:51 remaining.
"Terrible," Coughlin said of never getting another shot to win the game. Two plays after the Beatty hold, the Giants could have attempted to convert a fourth-and-11 from their 42 with 3:51 left after a running-into-the-punter penalty by former Giant Bryan Kehl. "I thought we could do that," Coughlin said. "I thought we could punt it down there [and get it back]."
They did not as the Redskins converted three first downs and ran out the clock for the victory.
"That's frustrating," Tuck said of not stopping the Redskins. "They just made a few more plays than we did."
That was particularly true in the second half when the Redskins ran for 151 of their 207 yards and erased a Giants lead that had reached 16-10.
"They outworked us," Jason Pierre-Paul said. "We got outworked in the second half.
"I don't know what happened in the second half," Coughlin said. "They certainly didn't come out and play."
The Giants did stop a third-quarter drive by the Redskins when Chase Blackburn forced a fumble by Alfred Morris near the 10-yard line and after a crazy melee it was recovered by Keith Rivers. But the Giants could only turn that turnover -- the only one of the game -- into a field goal and a 16-10 advantage. On the Redskins' next possession they took the lead for good with a massive 12-play, 86-yard drive capped by an 8-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon with 11:31 left.
The Giants forced an earlier fumble inside their 15, but this one wound up bouncing off Griffin and into the waiting arms of Josh Morgan who ran it the final 13 yards into the end zone. That gave the Redskins a 7-3 lead. A 4-yard touchdown pass to Bennett put the Giants ahead 10-7.
As close as the game was, the final four-game dash for the division is setting up to be even closer. And it's the Redskins, winners of three straight who are the hottest team in the group. An afterthought for nearly a decade, the Redskins are now a legitimate threat to the Giants.
"Sure, why not?" Tuck said when asked if he feels threatened by the Redskins. "They have a great opportunity to win the division just like we do. But we still hold our destiny in our hands and that's all we concern ourselves with. We let one slip away tonight, but if we take care of business we'll still win this division."