The New York Giants were a third-down converting, time-of-possession-eating machine in the first half of Monday night's game against the Washington Redskins.
The Redskins' defense looked puzzled at times as the Giants converted 8-of-10 first-half conversions on third down and had possession of the ball for more than 20 of the game's first 30 minutes.
What was perhaps just as frustrating for the Washington defense was New York running back Ahmad Bradshaw shredding his way for 77 first-half rushing yards on just 15 carries; an average of 5.1 yards per carry.
Yet, despite these dissatisfactions, the Redskins trailed by just three points, 13-10, going into halftime. The Washington defense knew that with just a few key second-half adjustments, a win was well in-reach.
The Giants converted just one-of-five second-half conversions on third down and saw their time of possession cut nearly in half as the Redskins came back to win 17-16 in a nationally-televised, Monday Night Football divisional battle at FedExField.
"That's big-time football," linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. "The defense found ways to step up and make plays when we needed to in the red zone.
"If you're able to make teams kick field goals like we were able to do today, you're going to have a great chance to beat them."
Perhaps the ultimate indication of the Redskins' defense's second-half improvement on third downs came with 9:57 left in the game.
On its previous drive, Washington (6-6) had taken the lead at 17-16 on an eight-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Robert Griffin III to wide receiver Pierre Garçon.
The Giants (7-5) began the ensuing drive from their own eight-yard line and gained six yards over the next two plays before facing a 3rd and 4 from their own 14.
New York quarterback Eli Manning, lined up in the shotgun, dropped back on the play and was flushed to his left by Redskins' outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. From there, fellow outside linebacker Rob Jackson was in position to drop Manning for a key third-down sack, setting up a New York punt.
"The back came out; he chipped," Jackson recalled after the game. "The tackle went down, and I got off the back, and [Manning] spun right to me.
"I had to make that play, and I made it."
Kerrigan credited the Redskins' secondary for its coverage on the play, allowing the extra seconds to get to Manning.
"As [defensive line' coach [Jacob] Burney likes to say, 'All the dots on the quarterback,'" Kerrigan said. "[Manning] couldn't escape."
Several members of the Redskins' defense – including Kerrigan, Alexander and middle linebacker London Fletcher – credited Jackson with a key second-half performance against the Giants Monday night.
"Third-down wise, we came with a little bit different type of coverages and brought some pressure [and] allowed Rob Jackson to rush a little bit more," Fletcher said of the second-half adjustments. "He was able to get a sack, get a holding penalty. It was big stuff like that."
That holding penalty was called on the Giants' final drive of the game. Down 17-16, Manning found tight end Martellus Bennett for an 11-yard gain to the Washington 46-yard line with 4:42 remaining. But offensive tackle Will Beaty was called for holding on Jackson – the replay showed he had his entire arm around the outside linebacker's neck – and the Giants were faced with a 3rd and 20 from which they couldn't recover.
Jackson said he's been happy to be making plays in the place of Pro Bowl outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, who suffered a season-ending pectoral injury Week 2 against the St. Louis Rams.
"It's very satisfying," Jackson said. "I have some very big shoes to fill in Orakpo. He's a big-play guy, so I knew I couldn't just go out there and be average.
"I knew I had to rise above and beyond the play and try to make the same plays he would make and try to fill his shoes."
Alexander said the Redskins' defense is playing with more confidence since their Bye Week in Week 10.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the Redskins have won all three of their games since getting the week off.
"Anytime you win in this league – especially three divisional games – you just fly around," Alexander said. "[We're] playing four quarters and just out there laying it on and loose, having fun."