The relief was palpable. You could see it everywhere on the turf at FedEx Field. A football had just sailed wide right, Washington kicker Dustin Hopkins nudging a 48-yard field goal a few feet to the wrong side of the upright. There was about to be as big a Big Blue celebration as the District had seen in years.
But there was something else on the grass, too.
There was a yellow penalty marker.
And immediately the unvanquished WFT rose back to life, a couple dozen players and coaches pointing at the flag, and then pointing at No. 97 in blue. That was Dexter Lawrence, and as the replays would soon show he’d jumped the gun — actually, the snap — by a microsecond. Offsides. Five yards. Hopkins would get another shot, this time from 43.
And this time the ball curled inside the upright.
And in a sudden flash a glorious 29-27 victory was a bone-crushing 30-29 defeat. In an instant 1-1 for the year had become 0-2, and instead of taking a momentum-building victory back up the Northeast Corridor with them, they were carrying a crashing, crushing, calamitous loss. It was almost surreal, except it was all too real.
“They did more than we did down the stretch to win this game,” Giants coach Joe Judge said. “Give credit to those guys.”
The Giants will spend the next 10 days lamenting so much about this game. They’d shown remarkable late-game character, James Bradberry intercepting Taylor Heinicke 26 seconds before the two-minute warning, the WFT clinging to a one-point lead. Four plays later the Giants had the lead back and all they needed to do was stop Heinicke, the journeyman from Old Dominion.
But they couldn’t stop Heinicke. It was one more indignity of a profoundly undignified night. The Giants had needlessly and carelessly left six points on the field, six points that probably would have carried the day later on, six points that may resonate the rest of this season depending on how the rest of that season goes.
In the second quarter, Daniel Jones was romping toward a 58-yard touchdown run but a downfield hold on wide receiver C.J. Board nullified the last 22 yards’ worth; they settled for a field goal. In the fourth, Jones lofted a perfect throw to Darius Slayton that would’ve been a certain 43-yard TD. Slayton dropped the ball. Another field goal. Another killer.
“We have a tough team, we have a resilient team,” Judge said. “The important thing is we keep getting better. Was it good enough tonight? No. But we have to keep moving forward.”
In many ways this is Judge’s first genuine crisis as a head coach. A year ago there was a lot of adversity early, and some tough losses, but when the Giants were 1-7 it felt like that’s exactly what they should be. The nature of the 2020 NFC East allowed the Giants to stay relevant longer than they should’ve been allowed to.
But this is a different year. The Eagles were awfully good in Week 1. The Cowboys lost to Tampa but they looked significantly better. Washington is on the board now. And the Giants are left to hope that they can rise up and give Eli Manning more than just a ceremony next week when they retire his jersey as they take on the Falcons. They can’t let the season get away from them.
And if we know anything about the Giants of recent vintage, it is this: they most certainly can let seasons get away from them. They most certainly have. And now they have to figure out a way to recover from a hard knee to the solar plexus, along with a fan base that will mostly report to work bleary-eyed Friday morning.
“The great thing about playing in our city,” Judge said, “is that they ride high and low every week with you.”
That is great, sometimes. And also the opposite of great, like this time. The Giants have some work to do. Playing just well enough to lose won’t satisfy anyone. The TV cameras caught receiver Kenny Golladay screaming late in the game, in the close vicinity of Jones, who neither replied nor responded and brushed the tirade off later. Jones played about as well as he’s yet played. The defense made a huge play at the end.
And it still wasn’t enough.
“You have the chance to win the game,” Jones said, “and you have to make enough plays to win the game.”
They didn’t make those plays. They didn’t win the game. Some days at the office are more brutal than others.