The Giants spent a good portion of the short week talking about how one play could turn their season around. It didn't take long for them to find a candidate.
Rashad Jennings blocked a punt through the end zone just 2:13 into the game to give the Giants a 2-0 lead before they even ran an offensive snap, and the play sparked them to a 32-21 victory over Washington Thursday night at MetLife Stadium.
That it was Jennings, the starting running back, who pitched in on special teams illustrated the desperation of the Giants.
The win snapped a two-game losing streak to start the season and catapulted the Giants back into the mix of a division race that features no clear favorite. Washington also is 1-2, Dallas is 2-0 but without its quarterback and best receiver for two months, and the Eagles remain the only winless team in the NFC East.
"I'm just praying that the light bulb comes on, that they start to play good, sound football,'' Tom Coughlin had said.
The beginning was exciting, but for the Giants, the most important aspect of the game was the end. They held double-digit leads in the fourth quarter of each of their two losses and went into Thursday night's fourth quarter up by only 12 points.
It was up to 19 after a touchdown, and just when Washington seemed ready to score and put a lump in the throat of all Giants fans, the defense made a big stop.
Matt Jones took a handoff around the left side on fourth-and-1 from the 7 and nearly reached the end zone when a low tackle by Prince Amukamara and a high hit by Trevin Wade forced the ball out at the 2. It bounced into the end zone and out of bounds for a touchback with 9:32 left and a huge Giants exhale.
"It happens all of a sudden, and then they get it,'' Coughlin said of his young team needing to learn to win late in games. "But until it happens, the positive reinforcement is critical, so critical. Until it happens, it's just verbiage again.''
Washington did score a late touchdown and two-point conversion with 3:40 left on a 12-play, 74-yard drive with a pair of fourth-down conversions, but it ate up 3:44 and Shane Vereen recovered an onside kick after Rueben Randle muffed the play.
Randle then made a juggling catch of a 41-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning on third-and-9 with 3:21 left to seal the win.
Jennings' block actually came on his second attempt. He nearly blocked the first but was flagged for running into the punter. A flag against Washington's Bashaud Breeland for illegally running out of bounds resulted in a replay of fourth down, and this time Jennings made it to the football.
An interception by Amukamara on Washington's second possession set up a quick 14-yard drive capped by Andre Williams' 1-yard touchdown run and a 9-0 lead without the offense required to do much of anything.
That was good, because it was mostly unable to do much of anything until late in the game. In what has become typical behavior this season, the Giants were able to move the ball but stalled in the red zone. They settled for two field goals from Josh Brown and were pushed out of his range on their final possession of the first half. After dominating play, they led by a less-than- comfortable 15-6 at halftime.
The first Brown field goal was required when Manning had to throw away a screen pass in the face of a blitz on third-and-8 from the 17. The second was set up by a 23-yard reception by tight end Daniel Fells but necessitated by a drop by tight end Larry Donnell on third-and-7 from the 18.
An offensive pass interference penalty against Dwayne Harris late in the half pushed the Giants out of field-goal range. Then, in the third quarter, after the Giants converted a fourth-and-1 on a pass to Odell Beckham Jr., Donnell dropped another pass. Brown's 48-yarder with 7:29 left in the third made it 18-6.