Redskins earn much-needed win against Giants, and do it behind ... defense?

by | Senior NFL Columnist
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LANDOVER, Md. -- As fans filed out of FedEx Field Monday night, they chanted "RG3 ... RG3 ... RG3..." Only RG3 -- aka Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III -- wasn't the difference in the Redskins' latest triumph.

The Washington defense was.

Let me repeat that. The defense that betrayed the Redskins earlier this season on Monday preserved a critical 17-16 defeat of the New York Giants that might have saved Washington's season.

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Not only did it mark Washington's third straight triumph; it put the Redskins at 6-6, tied with Dallas for second in the NFC East and only a game behind the defending Super Bowl champion Giants. More importantly, it signaled to a team that hasn't been to the playoffs or had a winning season since 2007 that maybe, just maybe, this is their year.

"Playoffs? Sure we talk about it," said linebacker Perry Riley. "That's what we're aiming for."

With Griffin, the irrepressible rookie quarterback, they have a chance. With a running game that features rookie Alfred Morris and that gashed the Giants for 207 yards, they have a chance. But if their defense is as sound as it showed in a second half where the Redskins allowed only one Lawrence Tynes field goal and stuffed New York on three of four series, holding the Giants to 11 fourth-quarter yards, they may have the complete team they've been missing for years.

I say may because it's one game.

But that's the second time in their last three starts the Redskins bottled up an opposing offense, and this time it wasn't just anyone; it was Eli Manning and a Giants' club that shredded Green Bay a week ago in a victory reminiscent of so many wins in the Giants' Super Bowl run of 2011. Moreover, it was a Giants team that's a tough out on the road, winning 26 straight starts there when ahead at halftime -- last blowing a halftime lead in 2006.

Until Monday, that is.

Credit that to a Washington defense that somehow pulled together in a second half that may wind up defining the Redskins' season. According to defensive lineman Stephen Bowen, veteran linebacker London Fletcher pulled teammates together at the start of the half and basically reminded them what was at stake ... and what was at stake was their season.

"He said, 'We got to get it done,'" Bowen said. "Everyone knew that this was pretty much it."

So the Redskins played as they didn't in the first half when New York shredded them for 273 yards, converted 8 of 10 third downs and controlled the ball for over 20 minutes. Still, New York produced only one first-half touchdown and two field goals, and that, it turns out, was critical. Because where the Redskins couldn't stop the Giants in an October loss at MetLife Stadium they somehow, some way figured out how to bottle them up here -- especially when it mattered most.

"I think we just played with confidence," said linebacker Lorenzo Alexander. "We had to stop them on third downs, so guys were just flying around. When we came in at halftime we all said we needed to get them off the field on third downs, and we did."

So they wound up surrendering 390 yards. Big deal. They won, and they won as they must win if they're going to be a serious playoff contender -- with defense. If there's a lesson the Giants taught us a year ago it's that even though the NFL is a passing league it's also a league where great pass rushers trump great passers -- something the Giants did over and over again in their championship runs of 2007 and 2011.

"You don't win by not giving up a lot of yards," said cornerback Josh Wilson. "You win by not giving up a lot of points. You guys can calculate the stats. We're going to calculate the wins."

Forget it. I want to calculate the future, and it's less troublesome for Washington than it is for, say, the Giants. I know, I know, when the Giants play as they did against Green Bay, nobody ... and I mean not Washington, the Packers, Atlanta, New England, Houston, nobody ... beats them. But lately they seem to assume a different personality from week to week, and that could be a problem down the stretch.

Reason: The schedule.

They draw New Orleans next week. Then it's on to Atlanta, followed by Baltimore, before finishing the season at home against Philadelphia. I count two division leaders in there with a combined record of 20-4. Now look what's ahead for Washington: The Redskins are home to Baltimore next weekend, then travel to Cleveland and Philadelphia before winding up against Dallas at home.

Advantage: Washington.

"We knew three weeks ago that every game we played was like a playoff game," said coach Mike Shanahan. "We're really proud of our football team."

They should be. They just crawled back into the NFC East race. They knocked off their third straight division opponent for the first time since 2005. They have one of the game's most electrifying performers in Griffin. They have the league's top-ranked rushing attack. And they may have a defense they can trust.

"God's on our side," Griffin said.

He was talking about a first-quarter fumble that resulted in a Washington touchdown, but he could've been talking about what's happening here. Washington suddenly is about winning football again. The only question is: How far will it take these guys?

"I think everybody knows how important winning is," said Shanahan, "and we've lost a number of games in the fourth quarter, games that we had a chance to put away and didn't. We put this game away, and it took a lot of people working extremely hard to do it. You have to find a way to win."

Washington just did. Hail to the Redskins.

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