Justin Pugh was right when he said "Everything you can do to lose a game today, we did." And the Giants (2-1) certainly did lose it. They were in control at the start before a plague of penalties and turnovers helped them throw their game against the Redskins (1-2) away.
And that could be costly because not only did it knock them out of first place in the NFC East -- behind the stunning, 3-0 Philadelphia Eagles -- but it robbed them of their momentum and blew a chance to really bury the defending division champions. In what is still basically a rebuilding season, every positive step matters.
The 29-27 loss to the Redskins was a significant step backwards.
How far backwards did they go? It'll all be clear from my 10 takeaways from the Giants-Redskins game on Sunday:
1.) I find it comical that the Giants seemed irked that the officials were flag-happy in the wake of last year's Josh Norman-Odell Beckham, Jr. embarrassment. It's laughable that ejected C Weston Richburg thought the official who threw the second unsportsmanlike flag on him "was after me." And it's a total joke that Beckham (and Norman, to be fair) seemed stunned, offended and bewildered by their pregame warnings. Here's an idea: Play within the rules. And spare me the lament about how football used to be a tougher game, and this is about the softening of society, blah, blah, blah. Rules are rules and you don't have to like them but you do have to play by them. And unless anyone wants to actually turn this into the Hunger Games, the rules are there for a reason.
Last year's Beckham-Norman mess was horrifying, dangerous and totally their fault. Good job by the officials on Sunday taking preemptive steps to make sure nothing like that happened again. And if the Giants (and Redskins) were surprised by that, maybe they should pay attention next time.
2.) Last year when the Giants couldn't run the ball and they used that stupid, four-RB committee I always thought (and wrote) that Orleans Darkwa looked like the best of the sorry bunch. Yesterday was a reminder of why he impresses me. He put up good numbers (10 carries, 53 yards, 1 TD) that weren't quite as good as Shane Vereen's (11-67-1), but he was better at making something out of nothing. He hits the holes harder and pushes the pile stronger. Especially with Vereen's fumbling issues, I'd like to see more of Darkwa while Rashad Jennings (thumb) is out.
3.) The Giants got their first two sacks of the season from defensive linemen (Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon) and the pass rush picked up in the second half, but not until the Redskins had lost two of their starting offensive linemen from an already struggling line. For most of the first half, Kirk Cousins had all day to throw. The Giants spent a lot of offseason money to rebuild their pass rush. They have not gotten their money's worth on that yet.
4.) Josh Norman may have won the game, but Odell Beckham won their war. He had seven catches for 121 yards, and six of those (for 107 yards) came with Norman in coverage -- where he was on about 90 percent of the Giants' plays, from what I tracked. The four times Beckham didn't catch a ball thrown his way: One was thrown behind him (and Norman nearly made a great play to pick it off in the end zone), one was batted at the line of scrimmage, one was thrown low (and under pressure) and the other Beckham dropped. So Beckham was open a lot and poised for a really huge day. Norman, like most other corners, simply can't cover Beckham one-on-one and it is really foolish to try.
5.) Jay Gruden is certainly an … um … interesting play-caller. His fake punt from midfield on 4th and 12 was definitely gutsy (though perhaps a bit odd due to the "and 12" part of that). But it was his play calling on back-to-back 3rd-and-goals from the 4 in the middle of the game that was really strange.
The first came at the end of the first half when, with six seconds left, he decided to run a play instead of taking the field goal that would've cut the deficit to 21-19. They did have one timeout left, but any play would've used almost all of their time, and there'd be none left if something went wrong. Too risky. And of course the minute Cousins looked off his first receiver and tried to spin away from the pass rush it was obvious it wasn't going to work (he was sacked). Later, at the end of the third quarter, on another 3rd-and-goal from the 4, he called for a quarterback draw … with Cousins … against a Giants interior line that no one has run on. That play had absolutely no shot to work.
6.) DT Damon Harrison has been worth the money he got from the Giants because he is a monster in the middle. The Redskins gained only 3.0 yards per carry and 37 of their 90 rushing yards came on their game-winning field goal drive in the fourth quarter. With Harrison and Johnathan Hankins in the middle, there has been no room for anyone to run for three games.
7.) I love Beckham's fire and his game is unmatched, but he really needs to stop throwing sideline temper tantrums. Yeah, it was amusing when he slammed his helmet into the kicking net on Sunday and the net fell and hit him in the face. It was a great TV moment. But even his quarterback didn't know what he was so upset about. Maybe that's his way of trying to fire up his teammates, but at some point he's just a crazy person screaming and slamming things for no apparent reason. There are more effective ways to lead. And he certainly showed that in the fourth quarter when, for a few plays, it looked like he was about to take over the game.
8.) Speaking of behavioral issues: Richburg's second personal foul wasn't for his block on Norman, it was for saying something to Norman as he walked by (The cameras didn't show it, but the first one seemed to be for taunting, too). You can see him turn his head towards the fallen Redskins CB on the tape and then the flag comes out. Plus, the block didn't seem dirty to me. Richburg, who has some Rich Seubert-like qualities to him, is a tough, ornery lineman, but there's a difference between playing nasty and playing smart.
As for the other costly personal fouls: LT Ereck Flowers' facemask didn't appear overly dirty. Olivier Vernon's roughing the passer came as he violently slammed his left hand into the back of Cousin's head (and maybe hit him in his chin with the crown of his helmet). It wasn't clean, but it wasn't vicious by roughing the passer standards. As for the personal foul on rookie safety Andrew Adams, when he levelled Washington's Dashaun Phillips, probably with a blow to the head and far from the blocked punt, it was stupid and dirty and inexcusable. A terrible rookie mistake.
9.) The NFC East sure looks a lot different than I thought it would (Eagles 3-0, Cowboys 2-1) thanks to the play of two impressive rookie quarterbacks -- Dallas' Dak Prescott (66 of 99, 767 yards, one TD) and Philly's Carson Wentz (66 of 102, 769 yards, 5 TDs), neither of whom have thrown an interception yet. I still think it's more likely than not that they won't be able to sustain it, but their early performances have made both their teams unexpected contenders in what sure looks like a wild and wide-open division race.
10. Meanwhile, forget the good-looking numbers (25 of 38, 350 yards) -- Eli Manning wasn't very good on Sunday. Despite getting decent protection most of the day, he had far too many throws that were off-target and his last interception was terrible (TE Will Tye inexplicably seemed to stop mid-route on his first one). He's always going to rack up yards with the receivers he has, their ability to pick up big yards after the catch, and the fact that McAdoo runs a pass-heavy offense. It's the little things -- the accuracy of his throws, the fourth-quarter decisions -- that will make the difference. It did on Sunday, just not in a good way.