Many weren't convinced when Manning said he deserved consideration as one of the top quarterbacks in the league this past offseason. Several skeptics argued his bold claim after Manning threw 25 interceptions and failed to lead the Giants to the postseason last year. What a 180-degree turnaround it has been for the gunslinger, however, who's not only aiming to break Dan Marino's single-season passing record but is also trying to will New York to the playoffs.
Manning and the Giants' quests continue Sunday against the NFC East-rival Washington Redskins at the MetLife Stadium. The Giants control their own destiny for division supremacy, but only winning out would avoid any headaches within the playoff scenarios. Though they may be able to afford losing one of their final three games, the team still has the Dallas Cowboys chasing its coattails for NFC East bragging rights with the two rivals currently tied in the standings.
The Giants just defeated Dallas on the road this past Sunday night behind another strong performance from their offensive MVP. Manning threw for exactly 400 yards on 27-of-47 passing with two touchdowns and an interception, marking the third straight game in which he surpassed the 300-yard mark and third time this season he hit 400 yards. He is 979 yards shy of matching Marino's passing record of 5,084 yards set during the 1984 campaign, but is also one of four quarterbacks aiming for the former Miami star's mark, along with Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.
Manning is more focused on keeping the Giants on course for the playoffs and said the win over the Cowboys would matter little if the team fails to take care of business the rest of the way.
"It won't mean anything if we don't finish the season strong and win these next games," Manning said after the win. "That's the mindset. We can't relax now. We can't start feeling great about ourselves. We have three big games. [This] week, Washington is coming to New York and we have to win that game and go from there."
The Redskins, New York Jets and Cowboys remain on the upcoming schedule for the Giants, who were able to stop a four-game losing streak and avoid dropping five in a row for the first time since the 2004 campaign. New York now has to put the brakes on a two-game home losing streak this week in order to keep hope alive. The last time the Giants lost three in a row as the host was a four-game slide at the Meadowlands in 2007, a year in which they went on to win the franchise's third Super Bowl title.
Washington will finish the season with a record at .500 or below for a fourth straight campaign, and the losing ways continued with last Sunday's hard-fought 34-27 loss to the New England Patriots at FedEx Field.
The Redskins took Brady and the Patriots to the limit, but like many of their games this season, the ultimate result was not achieved. Quarterback Rex Grossman, who stated during the shortened offseason that the Redskins had a chance to win the NFC East, played fairly well with 252 yards passing, two touchdowns and an interception. The offense mustered just one touchdown in the second half, however, clearing a path for the Patriots and opening the door to possible changes under head coach Mike Shanahan.
"It's not just one person, it's everybody playing together," Shanahan said this week. "There aren't many quarterbacks who can be the quarterback without their supporting cast. You can't put all the pressure on one guy. Part of it is having that cohesive offensive line...running backs, wide receivers, tight ends.
"It gives the quarterback a chance to be pretty good. Sometimes, when those pieces aren't there, you go from looking at least pretty good to looking average."
Washington has been below average in losing two straight and eight of nine games since storming out of the gates with a 3-1 record. The Redskins headed into their bye week on Oct. 9 looking pretty good in keeping Grossman's prediction true, but a mixture of blowout losses and close defeats has the team peering down a 4-9 hole with the Giants, Minnesota and Philadelphia remaining.
The Redskins defeated New York in Week 1 by a 28-14 score thanks to 305 passing yards and two touchdowns from Grossman. Running back Tim Hightower was healthy back then and posted 72 yards and a score on 25 carries.
Grossman is still the quarterback after the Redskins had a brief experiment with John Beck at midseason, but now it's rookie running back Roy Helu's show now with Hightower done for the season with a torn ACL suffered in October.
The Giants have a 91-62-4 advantage in the all-time regular-season series with Washington and had won six straight meetings in the set prior to the Redskins' previously-noted victory in the 2011 opener. New York had recorded home-and- home sweeps of Washington in each of the previous three years, and the Redskins are 1-6 in their last seven games against the Giants as the visiting team, with the only positive result over that span a 22-10 decision behind then-backup quarterback Todd Collins during Week 15 of the 2007 campaign. Washington, which hasn't bested New York twice in the same season since 1999, was dealt a 31-7 defeat at MetLife Stadium in December of 2010.
These storied rivals have also split two postseason matchups, with the Giants' 17-0 triumph in the 1986 NFC Championship countering a 28-0 Washington win in a 1943 NFC Division Playoff.
Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is 12-6 against the Redskins all-time, including a 1-2 mark while with the Jacksonville Jaguars from 1995-2002. Shanahan is 2-4 versus New York over his head coaching career, having gone 1-2 while in charge of Washington and 1-2 during his 14-year run with the Denver Broncos from 1995-2008.
Shanahan and Coughlin have a significant shared history, with their respective teams opposing one another five times between 1995 and 1999 when Coughlin's Jaguars and Shanahan's Broncos were regularly near the top of the AFC. Shanahan was 3-2 against Coughlin in those games, including a loss to Jacksonville in the 1996 AFC Playoffs and a win in the 1997 postseason. Coughlin has gone 3-1 in head-to-head bouts with Shanahan since, with the Giants following up a 24-23 verdict over Denver in 2005 with last season's series sweep of the Redskins and the above-mentioned Week 1 loss.
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
Grossman (2,426 passing yards, 12 TD, 16 INT) hasn't enjoyed a rating of 100 or better since the Week 1 victory over the Giants (110.5), but has gotten close, having amassed a rating of 90 or higher in three of the past four weeks. The New York win was the only time this season Grossman did not throw an interception, as he has been picked off in every game he's played in since for a total of 16. He has thrown four interceptions in the past three games and has been sacked twice in each of the last two contests as well. Grossman also lost a fumble in the end zone last Sunday that New England recovered for a touchdown, while recovering another fumble in the recent setback. He hopes to get some solid protection this week. Sean Locklear and Willie Smith will battle for the starting left tackle spot much like they did before the New England game, with Locklear earning the starting nod before giving way to Smith. Tyler Polumbus started for Jammal Brown at right tackle last week and will get the nod again if Brown can't shake a groin injury. Helu (582 rushing yards, 2 TD) has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the past three weeks and had a career-best 126 yards on 27 carries versus New England.
Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (61 tackles, 13 sacks) is most likely headed to the Pro Bowl and has been a force along the interior line. He was the defensive hero in last Sunday's win at Dallas, as the athletic pass rusher led the Giants with eight tackles (six solo) and had two sacks, one of which resulted in a safety. Pierre-Paul also forced a fumble and secured the victory by blocking Dan Bailey's 47-yard field goal attempt with one second left. He has the most sacks by a Giants player since injured end Osi Umenyiora had 13 in 2007, and registered two of the team's four sacks against the Redskins in Week 1. Tackle Chris Canty (38 tackles) has two sacks this season, with one coming against the Redskins and the other generated last week in Dallas. New York's stop unit isn't that stout statistically, as evidenced by its 22nd-rated run defense, No. 27 ranking in points allowed and 29th-rated pass defense. The Giants are also 30th in total yards allowed (391.6 ypg). Washington hasn't been that tough running the football, but is 12th in passing (237.9 ypg). Dallas' Tony Romo threw four touchdown passes against New York in Week 14, and that could pose as a problem with Washington in town this week.
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
New York amassed 315 yards of offense in the first matchup with the Redskins and Manning (4,105 passing yards, 25 TD, 12 INT) was held in check. The ground game suffered as well, as evidenced by the 75 yards on the ground the team had in that loss. Leading rusher Ahmad Bradshaw (490 rushing yards, 5 TD) was healthy then but had just 44 yards and a score on 13 carries. While Bradshaw has dealt with injuries, Brandon Jacobs (480 rushing yards, 7 TD) picked up the slack in his absence, though he totaled just 29 yards on six touches against the Redskins in the opener. Jacobs has enjoyed success throughout his career against Washington, however, compiling 667 yards and five touchdowns on 150 carries -- his most against any single team. He powered his way to 101 yards and two scores on 19 touches last week in Dallas, and had the game-winning touchdown on a one-yard run with 46 seconds remaining. Manning helped the G-men record 510 yards of offense -- the team's most in a game since 2009 -- and was not sacked for the third time this season. He has been sacked a total of two times in the last three weeks, and the Giants have won their last six games in which they did not give up a sack dating back to last season. Manning has also thrown 14 fourth-quarter touchdown passes this season, tying the NFL record set by Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas in 1959 and tied by his brother, Peyton, in 2002.
In order for the Redskins to play spoiler, the defense will have to keep Manning under control much like it did back in Week 1. The Giants' quarterback was held to 268 yards passing with no touchdown throws and an interception returned for a score by rookie outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan (57 tackles, 7 sacks). Washington also kept the pressure on Manning, who was sacked four times in that one. The Redskins' defense has played much more poorly since then, but is decent against the pass (13th overall) and stands 10th in total yards allowed. Linemen Barry Cofield (23 tackles, 3 sacks) -- a former member of the Giants -- and Stephen Bowen (33 tackles, 5 sacks) combined for one sack of Brady last week, while cornerback Josh Wilson (52 tackles) posted the team's lone interception. The team's core players of Kerrigan, linebackers Brian Orakpo and London Fletcher and cornerback DeAngelo Hall were all kept silent by New England, though Fletcher (134 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INT) led the way with 10 stops. Hall can expect a lot of work this Sunday against Manning and the Giants' passing attack, and he and Fletcher are both tied for the team lead in interceptions with two apiece. Safety Oshiomogho Atogwe (45 tackles, 1 INT) had his playing time cut short Sunday in favor of rookie DeJon Gomes (24 tackles).
KEYS TO THE GAME
The Redskins will have a pulse in this matchup if they can get Helu to run wild against a New York defense that is 22nd against the rush. Cowboys running back Felix Jones took over for an injured DeMarco Murray last Sunday and collected 106 yards on 16 carries.
New York must tighten up in the secondary and is 29th in pass defense, allowing 263.7 yards per game. It doesn't help that safety Kenny Phillips is bothered by a knee injury. He had started 28 straight games and was replaced in the lineup by Deon Grant last week. Washington still has Santana Moss as a deep threat and Grossman had a good game when these teams met one another in September.
Manning can move closer to Marino's single-season passing mark this week with another 400-yard performance. That sounds too much to ask for, but it would help Manning's cause as well of that of his team. He has passed for a career- high 4,105 yards, eclipsing Kerry Collins' team mark of 4,073 yards set in 2002. Those numbers have allowed wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz to both reach 1,000 yards on the season -- the first time the Giants had a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in the team's history. The Redskins will need to slow those three down to have their best chance of winning.
The Giants are on a mission right now and look to gather the same steam that led them to a Super Bowl title back in 2007. Things haven't gone as planned at home recently for them, however, and now's the time to start playing well with all of their last three games scheduled at MetLife Stadium (though they'll be the visitor against the Jets). New York will have some trouble defensively against a Redskins team that has nothing to play for, but in the end Big Blue will send Washington back home with another loss.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Giants 20, Redskins 13