In their loss to the Giants at MetLife Stadium in September, the Redskins couldn't find an answer for Eli Manning. Two months later, they made him and the New York offense look miserable.
Ricky Jean Francois spoke for the entire defensive line following the Redskins' 20-14 victory over the Giants at FedExField.
"I want to give it up to the [defensive backs]," he said. "The DB's played the game."
Some of that praise was grounded in what the Redskins' secondary hadn't done in New York two months ago, when Eli Manning and the Giants found plenty of time in the pocket and got rid of the ball early and often to his receivers, tiring out the defense. It made everybody look bad.
Conversely, on Sunday afternoon, with conditions slick and soggy, the Redskins imposed the opposite result, sticking to receivers in coverage impeccably, taking advantage of a beaten-up Giants offensive line and forcing Manning to check off his initial reads. This was the symbiotic relationship the defense had been wanting to find all season.
"I harped all week. I yelled at the corners. I said, 'You all got to get up in their stuff, jam them and don't let them get in a rhythm. If they get in a rhythm they can hurt you,'" defensive end Jason Hatcher said. "I think [Bashaud] Breeland, our corners, [Quinton] Dunbar, they did a great job of knocking him off his rhythm."
The end result – the culmination of two units working together – was three interceptions and three sacks, the final products of a defense that played the way they had imagined they could all year. Specifically, they were physical, the characteristic head coach Jay Gruden knew would determine Sunday's battle-for-first-place winner.
Check out these top photos from the Washington Redskins' 2015 Week 12 matchup against the New York Giants Nov. 29, 2015, at FedExField.
Exemplifying that trait made up for the sudden loss of cornerback Chris Culliver, as well as the new rotation of DeAngelo Hall at strong safety and Will Blackmon and Quinton Dunbar thrust into subbing in at starting cornerback.
As many players attested, they embodied the definition of the term "next man up."
"It felt a little personal because they've kicked our tail the past couple of times we've played them," said linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, who recorded two sacks and tied Monte Coleman for third place on the all-time list. "This was a great feeling to get this win against them."
The dominant performance began right away. On the Giants' first drive of the game, running back Shane Vereen bobbled a pass off his chest and was pummeled up by cornerback Bashaud Breeland. The ball bounced in the air long enough for linebacker Perry Riley Jr. to grab it and roll down safely with the ball secured.
On the next drive, the same result occurred, but in more acrobatic fashion. On third down, Manning tried to needle a pass to Dwayne Harris over cornerback Will Blackmon. But Blackmon put a few fingers on the lob, and, thanks to an immediate, mighty hit from safety Kyshoen Jarrett, the ball stayed afloat long enough for Blackmon to recover and lay out for his first interception with the Redskins.
"I think it really set the tone because we were already low on numbers," Blackmon said. "I believe this week everyone had the right mindset in terms of their preparation and what we had to do. At the end of the day, we had our tendencies and what they were going to do, but I think we literally just played tough and just cancelled out the X's and O's."
The Redskins only managed a field goal off those two takeaways, but the defense never relented. Entering the game, the Redskins ranked 22nd in total yards allowed (370.1) and 30th in rushing (136.0) per game, two numbers that stopped their trending against the Giants.
Washington held New York to 33 yards rushing (and 332 yards overall), not letting running backs Shane Vereen or Rashad Jennings find any kind of rhythm, and squeezed Manning into difficult passing check downs, collapsing his mobility and hitting him an additional five times in the pocket.
Even in the red zone they remained stout, which included an interception from Dunbar, the recently converted cornerback, who snuck in front of wide receiver Rueben Randle in the end zone and deflated what seemed like an imminent New York scoring chance in the third quarter.
"They were big, they were momentum," Gruden said of the interceptions. "It justifies when you play with great effort , great things are going to happen. We had pressure on their quarterback…I just like the way I just felt the great energy on the sidelines."
The Giants didn't get on the scoreboard until the fourth quarter, when a few lapses on defense put the scare of a potential comeback into the game. But the confidence on the field and in the huddle remained in the Redskins' favor.
"We just wanted to go out there and put four quarters together like we did today," said defensive lineman Chris Baker, who tallied the third sack of the day. "This is what we expect. We expect to be a great team. We just got to keep going out here each Sunday or Monday and just do what we got to do and win games."
Now, with the Cowboys coming to town next Monday, and the opportunity to beat two division rivals at home, the Redskins know they control their own destiny and have the blue print for how to fulfill it, too.
"Just simply build on this. We need to keep where we're at," safety Dashon Goldson said. "For the most part, I think everybody understood what was at stake today, and we're still in it…So we need to make sure that we just come in week in and week out and put in the work in the classroom and on the football field."