EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- One of the worst things you can do in the NFL is evaluate a team moments after it has played the Washington Redskins. In their current state, the Redskins have made both the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants look like legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
And that's why I won't read too much into the Giants' merciful 31-7 win against the Redskins. Unlike Eagles coach Andy Reid, Tom Coughlin embraced the holiday season and took a benevolent approach in the fourth quarter. But it took less than 10 minutes for the Giants to make this a non-competitive situation. It was a first half that featured a dominating rushing attack and pass rush that made former Giants killer Donovan McNabb powerless.
The score would've been 28-0 at halftime if not for another head-scratching interception by Eli Manning, who tossed a ball into triple coverage in the Redskins' end zone for no apparent reason. Playing without their two starting wide receivers and two full-time starters on the offensive line, the Giants annihilated an inferior opponent. They lost interest in the game briefly in the third quarter, but it didn't matter because the Redskins were committing turnovers on nearly every possession.
The Giants (8-4) now head to Minneapolis for a game against a Vikings team that has responded to interim coach Leslie Frazier with consecutive wins. And then the Giants and Eagles (8-4) will square off in an enormous divisional game the following week in New Meadowlands Stadium.
"Well, it's the time," Coughlin said after Sunday's win. "It's December in the National Football League -- it's the time. If you're going to have an opportunity to get into position, it's now. So, we're trying to improve as we play. We've got to continue -- many, many big games coming down the stretch, so getting better each week, playing better in the games, play stronger, being physical -- all those things are important."
Coughlin's decision to bench running back Ahmad Bradshaw because of his fumbling and replace him with the lumbering Brandon Jacobs appears to have galvanized this offense. Jacobs, who was such a huge part of the Giants' Super Bowl run in 2007, began this season as a brooding player who was hazardous to fans because of his helmet-tossing. Bradshaw was clearly the more talented player, and Jacobs lost his cool at least twice when the pesky New York media asked him tough questions such as, "How do you feel today, Brandon?"
But on the second play from scrimmage Sunday, Jacobs bounced a run outside for 39 yards. Never mind that he was running behind offensive linemen who were never supposed to be on the field this season. And after catching his breath, Jacobs ran eight yards for his first of two touchdowns. He finished with eight carries for 103 yards. Jacobs finished off the Redskins for good with a 28-yard touchdown in the third quarter during which he froze safety Reed Doughty with a move in the open field.
When Jacobs was acting erratically early in the season, Giants general manager Jerry Reese told him that "less is more." He encouraged him to keep his emotions in check and then requested that he put the "power" back in the Giants' power running game. Bradshaw's still the feature back in this offense -- he had 25 carries -- but Jacobs helps give the running game an identity.
"He played well, he played powerful," Coughlin said of Jacobs. "He broke some tackles, he established really a sound foundation for us as far as rushing the ball."
The Giants also turned in a dominating performance on defense. They forced six turnovers and had four sacks. In 2007, Justin Tuck emerged as a pass-rushing force to go along with Pro Bowl defensive ends Osi Umenyiora and Michael Strahan. Now rookie Jason Pierre-Paul is beginning to cash in on his freakish talent. He had two sacks Sunday to go along with the two he had against the Jaguars last week. On his first sack against the Redskins, Pierre-Paul found a clear path to McNabb after Tuck blew up the right guard. McNabb managed to avoid most of the damage by falling to the ground.
In 2007, the Giants struggled to grasp new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's defense, but they obviously got hot at the right time in the playoffs. This year, the defense didn't immediately adjust to new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, but they started to find something three weeks ago in a road loss to the Eagles.
"There are a lot of similarities to that team" Tuck told me Sunday. "We kind of hit a lull this season, but we've done a great job of showing resiliency. This reminds me a lot of that run we went on. That team wasn't as talented as we are this year, but we'll see how it works out."
The final indignity for the Redskins was seeing their former second-round pick, Devin Thomas, star for the Giants on special teams. Thomas downed a Matt Dodge punt deep inside Redskins territory, he made a big hit on electrifying return specialist Brandon Banks and then he partially blocked a Hunter Smith punt that traveled 8 yards. After the game, Thomas didn't even realize that Kareem Moore had been flagged for holding him on the play.
After facing the Vikings and Eagles, the Giants will finish with road games against the Packers and Redskins. As wide-open as the NFC is, the Giants have as good a shot as anyone to put together a late run.
"We feel like we're a mismatch for every team right now," Tuck said. "And that gives you a lot of confidence."