The Damn! Moment of Week 8   Good, bad, ugly from Week 8   MatchSport: Scary movies   The nightmare
isn't over yet

By Skip Bayless
Page 2

Classic NFC East clash. The division's best defense (Washington) taking on the division's most balanced offense (the Giants). The hitting would be fierce, the scoring low and close.

Or so you probably figured.

This one basically ended about 1 p.m. Sunday when the Giants won the coin toss. On their first play, Tiki Barber bounced it outside, sliced through four or five Redskins defenders -- who looked as if they weren't quite awake -- and was off to the races for 57 yards. That set up the first of five Jay Feely field goals.

And that would be all the points the Giants would need at home.

Stunningly, their defense turned Joe Gibbs' Redskins into Diet Sprite Zero. Zero caffeine, zero carbs, zero sugar, zero points.

Giants 36, Redskins 0.

Damn, Joe.

This was the first time Gibbs has been shut out in a regular-season game in his three-ring career (the Giants beat the Redskins 17-0 in the 1986 NFC championship). Three Super Bowl championships, no shutouts -- until Sunday, when his offense failed to score against the NFL's 31st-worst defense.

What next, the Chicago White Sox sweeping the World Series?

The Redskins, now 4-3, had played well enough to win all six of their previous games, but the Giants made Washington's team look as hapless as Bush or Cheney in a "Saturday Night Live" sketch. The Redskins totaled 125 yards, converting only two of 12 third downs. That allowed the Giants, who had lost the time of possession in all six of their previous games, to almost double the Redskins in ball-control time.

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Mark Brunell, who had been one of the NFL's hottest passers, again looked as though he should be coaching quarterbacks. Brunell: 11-of-28 for 65 yards. But that had a lot to do with the Giants stuffing his running game (Clinton Portis, 9 yards on four carries) and terrorizing Brunell with a pass-rush that had you wondering, "Who are those guys?"

Not just the Giants' pass-rushers -- Osi Umenyiora suddenly looked like Lawrence Taylor -- but all the Redskins. They all were sleepwalking. They dropped passes, missed blocks and tackles, blew assignments. They just looked inexplicably overwhelmed.

Perhaps they were just at the wrong place (Giants Stadium) on the wrong Sunday (the first game after the death of longtime Giants owner Wellington Mara, who succumbed to cancer at 89).

It wasn't that all the Giants players had close, personal relationships with Mara. The beautiful thing about him as an owner was that he was the anti-Steinbrenner -- rarely seen or heard. So for the players, this wasn't like losing a loved one. This wasn't, say, Brett Favre losing his father, then playing one of his greatest games ever on "Monday Night Football."

But no doubt all the Giants got swept up in the outpouring of New York media love and respect for Mara.

As quarterback Eli Manning said: "I know a lot of the players didn't know everything about him. I didn't know a lot of things. ... But he inspired all of us to be better men."

Well, he certainly did after he died, when the younger Giants read and heard all the media tributes and all the eulogies at the funeral Mass they attended. No doubt veteran players such as Barber and Michael Strahan had a better feel for the man known as "The Duke," who was regarded in ownership circles as a league cornerstone. But, though Mara was always there to shake players' hands as they returned to the locker room after a win or a loss, some barely knew who he was.

Until he died.

Which brings us to one of the strangest aspects of life: We often wait to honor great people until they die. A few days ago, Wellington Mara was known only to hard-core Giants fans and the New York sports media. Dave Anderson, the great New York Times columnist, said of Mara that he wanted none of the credit and all of the blame. Yet who can remember the man even wanting blame publicly?

He avoided the national spotlight as successfully as he dodged controversy.

Yet in the past few days, culminating with Sunday's game, the New York and national media raced to outdo each other to inform the public what a giant this Giant was in the building of America's greatest game. If only Mara could have experienced this.

If only he could have been there Sunday to watch his team play its best game in three years and take over first place in the NFC East. For that matter, if only his team could have honored him with consistently better effort when he was alive.

But life doesn't work that way.

Only death does.

Suddenly, Mara received more media attention for three days than any Steinbrenner or Jerry Jones or Al Davis or Mark Cuban ever has for three days. Tiki was moved. So, surely, was Strahan. And they helped inspire younger teammates.

But just as important, second- and third-generation Giants season-ticket holders showed up Sunday spilling over with win-one-for-Well emotion. And, when Mara's granddaughter Kate -- one of 40 grandchildren -- sang the national anthem wearing a No. 89 Giants jersey with "Duke" on the back, that emotion spilled all over the Giants.

Her performance would have been a runaway hit on "American Idol."

Game over.

The passing of Wellington Mara, whose strength as an owner never was motivating players, turned Tiki into a ball of unstoppable fire. He wound up with a career-high 206 yards on 24 carries.

Yet it appeared the Redskins knew they were beaten from the start. It reminded me of that Monday night in Oakland when Favre put on an unconscious performance in honor of his late father. After a while, the Raiders' defensive backs appeared to be more caught up in watching Favre than in covering his receivers.

Those Raiders were more like Washington Generals, playing along with the Globetrotters. And that's what another team from Washington was Sunday at Giants Stadium -- overwhelmed set decoration for Wellington's team on Wellington's day.

Skip Bayless can be seen Monday through Friday on "Cold Pizza," ESPN2's morning show, and at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN's "1st & 10." His column appears twice a week on Page 2. You can e-mail Skip here.