The Giants are one step closer to punching their ticket to the postseason. New York moved to 8-5-1 on the season after taking down the Washington Commanders on the road 20-12 in a prime-time NFC East showdown.
Washington got on the board first in this NFC East head-to-head, but a strip sack by rookie pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux that he recovered a touchdown gave New York the lead in the opening minutes of the second quarter and they held it the rest of the way.
Trailing 17-12 midway through the fourth quarter, Washington did look like it was about to take its shot at retaining the lead, especially after Taylor Heinicke connected with Jahan Dotson for a 61-yard catch that put them deep in New York territory. However, Heinicke fumbled just a few plays later and the ball was recovered by New York. Saquon Barkley then pushed the offense down the field and chewed over four minutes off the clock to eventually kick a field goal to go up by eight.
That turnover not only eliminated a golden scoring opportunity for Washington but gave the Giants the ability to pad their lead up to a touchdown plus an extra point, which came into play in the final minute as Washington threatened to score again as they got the ball to the Giants’ 1-yard line before ultimately coming up short.
Daniel Jones finished with 160 yards through the air on 21 of 32 passing. Meanwhile, Barkley rushed for 87 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Heinicke was 17 of 29 passing for 249 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed three times for 33 yards.
While neither club falls out of the current playoff picture in the NFC, this win does bump New York up to the No. 6 seed in the conference as the Commanders dip down to the No. 7 seed at 7-6-1. Because these two clubs tied back in Week 13, it’s worth pointing out that the Giants also earned the head-to-head tiebreaker with this win. The Dallas Cowboys also clinched a playoff berth in the outcome.
For a more detailed breakdown of how this game unfolded, check out our takeaways below.
Why the Giants won
The Giants didn’t move the ball particularly well offensively. While they did have a 97-yard touchdown drive to their credit, they averaged just 5 yards per play and converted just two of their 10 third-down opportunities on the night. What they truly hung their hats on in this game was the defense, specifically the pressure they were able to apply on Taylor Heinicke.
Rookie pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux made his presence felt early and often as he was a mainstay in the Washington backfield out the gate. The crowning moment for him came in the first half as fired off the edge on a second-and-18 play from the Washington 10-yard line, strip-sacked Heinicke, recovered the ball and brought it into the end zone for a touchdown.
On the night, Thibodeaux has 12 total tackles, three tackles for a loss, a sack and that touchdown. He is the only rookie since at least 2000 with 10 tackles, a sack and a defensive touchdown in a game. That said, the first-rounder wasn’t alone in pressuring the Commanders passing attack as the club finished with three sacks and eight total quarterback hits in the win. They also forced two fumbles that helped swing the game in their favor. Dexter Lawrence forced the other fumble late in the fourth quarter and Landon Collins also showed up with a handful of key tackles at the line of scrimmage.
Of course, the offense did have its moments, particularly on the ground. As a team, they rushed for 128 yards on 30 carries, which included some clutch chunk runs by Saquon Barkley in the fourth quarter following Lawrence’s forced fumble.
Why the Commanders lost
Washington did have trouble protecting Taylor Heinicke, particularly early on in the game but they were able to move the ball at a decent rate (6.7 yards per play) throughout the night. Where they struggled mightily was converting on third down. On the night, they converted just one of their 10 third-down situations, and that came at the 14:17 mark of the fourth quarter. That led to them scoring a touchdown on just one of their three red zone trips on the night.
Of course, the pair of Heinicke fumbles also was a key piece to Washington finding itself on the losing end of this game. Both turnovers led to a total of 10 points being put on the board for New York, which proved to be the difference in this critical divisional matchup.
Even in the loss, it needs to be pointed out that there did seem to be a blown call by the official on the final offensive play. On a fourth-and-6 play from the New York 6-yard line, Heinicke threw a pass to wideout Curtis Samuel, who was blanketed by Darnay Holmes. Despite wrapping his arms around his Samuel’s chest, the officials didn’t flag him for defensive pass interference and Washington turned the ball over on downs.
While Washington had plenty of opportunities to win this game prior to this moment, it does seem like the officials missed one here.
The Commanders looked like they were about to turn the game on its head midway through the fourth quarter. Taylor Heinicke hit rookie wideout Jahan Dotson on a 61-yard pass that flipped the field and Brian Robinson followed that up with a 19-yard run on the next play that put Washington at the New York 11-yard line. Trailing by just five points at the time, this was the prime spot for the Commanders to either inch within three with an eventual field goal or recapture the lead with a touchdown.
However, neither of those outcomes ultimately came to fruition after Heinicke was stripped on a third-and-4 sack.
This was a heads-up play by the Giants on a couple of different fronts. Because the officials ruled Heinicke down, first-year head coach Brian Daboll was tasked with throwing the red challenge flag if he wanted them to take a look at it. Thanks to their being a clear recovery by Dexter Lawrence, not only could the officials rule that Heinicke did fumble, but New York would gain possession.
The Giants then put the ball in Saquon Barkley’s hands and the back ripped off several chunk plays on the ground. On three consecutive plays, Barkley ran 12 yards, 15 yards, and then 14 yards to not only move into Washington territory but bleed time off the clock.
New York was then in field goal range as Graham Gano booted a 50-yard field goal to push the lead to eight right after the two-minute warning.
Play of the game
It wasn’t the most prolific night offensively for both of these teams, but Saquon Barkley shined when it mattered most. While his 48 yards rushing on that pivotal field goal drive in the fourth quarter following Heinicke’s fumble was as clutch as you can get, the star back showed us some fancy footwork earlier in this game.
On a second-and-6 play midway through the second quarter, Daniel Jones hit Barkley with a pass out in the flat on the left side of the field. He hauled in the catch and then sized up Commanders linebacker Jon Bostic and completely broke his ankles with an impressive stutter step juke. Despite getting within grasp of Barkley, the back’s quick feet had Bostic collapse in on himself as he scampered for the first down.
New York would go on to score on that drive with Barkley taking a direct snap at the Washington 3-yard line to up 14-3.
From here, the Giants will head to Minnesota for a Christmas Eve matchup with the Vikings. As for the Commanders, they’ll also be on the road next Saturday as they visit the Bay Area for a Week 16 showdown with the San Francisco 49ers.