Sunday night’s matchup between the New York Giants and Washington Commanders was as close to a playoff game as you can get to in the regular season.
With their 20-20 tie in East Rutherford two weeks ago, tiebreakers basically went out the window. A win shot up the playoff odds for either team – a loss had them decline severely.
And it was the G-Men who now have a spot in the playoffs to lose.
The Giants stopped the Commanders’ last-minute threat to take a 20-12 win on the road and improve to 8-5-1 on the season.
Down eight points with less than two minutes to go, Antonio Gibson had a healthy kick return to put Washington at their own 43. On the first play of the drive, Taylor Heinecke found a wide open Curtis Samuel for 27 yards. Two plays later, he found rookie Jahan Dotson to put the Commanders inside the 10.
Nick McCloud dropped a game-ending interception in the end zone, giving Washington an extra life. Heinecke rushed for nine yards to get to the one-yard line, but an illegal shift on the next play pushed them back five yards, and the Giants were able to stop the Commanders on the next two plays to seal the victory.
The last play did not come without controversy, though, as Giants corner Darnay Holmes looked like he got away with pass interference in the end zone, which would have given Washington a first down at the one-yard line.
In need of a spark after Washington opened the game with a field goal, the Giants got one from a rookie, as fifth overall pick Kayvon Thibodeaux got a sack, forced a fumble, recovered it, and made his way into the end zone, giving the Giants a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter.
For most of the first half, the Giants played a bend-but-don’t-break defense. They allowed back-to-back drives of over 40 yards before Thibodeaux’s touchdown. The Commanders were able to pin the Giants at their own three-yard line, but the G-Men were more than up for the challenge. They marched all the way down the field on an 18-play drive – two of which were big 3rd and 9 and an even bigger huge 4th and 9 conversions – that ended in a three-yard rushing score for Saquon Barkley to put Big Blue up 14-3.
But the Commanders had a huge answer with their first drive of the second half. After forcing a Giants punt out of the half, Heinecke led a 90-yard drive that was capped off by a 19-yard touchdown by 16th overall pick Jahan Dotson. On the drive, they had six plays of over 10 yards. Washington converted a two-point play to make it a 14-11 game, but they were called for a pick play, and had to settle for a field goal instead. However, Joey Slye’s attempt was wide-right, leaving it a five-point game.
After both teams exchanged field goals, the Giants punted the ball to Washington’s nine with 9:13 to go, but the Commanders immediately got momentum with a 61-yard bomb to Dotson. Brian Robinson than ran for 19 yards to put the Commanders in striking distance. However, on 3rd and 4 from the Giants’ five, the Giants forced a Heinecke fumble and recovered at the 14-yard line with just over six minutes to go.
The Giants handed the ball off to Barkley three straight times, and he gained 12, 15, and 14 yards to get Big Blue past midfield. Daniel Jones ran for the G-Men’s fourth first down of the drive. The Commanders were able to stuff the G-Men and keep the game alive, but Graham Gano knocked down his second 50-yard field goal, giving the Giants an eight-point lead with 1:55 to go.
Barkley finished with 87 yards on the ground on 18 carries, one of them being a score, while Thibodeaux finished with a dozen tackles.
Dotson finished with 105 receiving yards on his four receptions, while Robinson, also a rookie, rushed 12 times for 89 yards.
The Commanders, now at 7-6-1, have an uphill battle to a playoff spot, and they’ll go against the NFC West champion 49ers in San Francisco on Saturday (they also face the Browns and Cowboys to end the season).
The Giants will head to Minnesota this weekend before wrapping their season up against the Colts and Eagles, who may have nothing to play for in Week 18.