LANDOVER, Md. - When general manager Jerry Reese spoke at the start of training camp about a young Giants tight end being the kind of late bloomer like Denver's Julius Thomas, most people assumed he was talking about fourth-round pick Adrien Robinson. And maybe he was.
But so far this season, it's been Larry Donnell who has emerged from the shadows of an underwhelming position group to become a key contributor. And Thursday night, in a 45-14 rout of Washington on national television, he became a star.
Donnell's breakout performance included three first-half touchdowns, making him the first Giants tight end since Joe Walton in 1962 to score that many times in a game. A month ago, he wasn't even a lock to make the 53-man roster. After this game, everyone will want him on their fantasy team.
Donnell was one of the only bright spots in the Giants' 0-2 start. His 25 receptions in four games project to 100 in a 16-game season. Only one Giant has had more catches in a season than that (Steve Smith, 107 in 2009). Even if Donnell's pace slows a bit -- and he shows no signs of that -- Jeremy Shockey's record of 74 by a tight end in 2002 seems to be in sight at this early stage of the season.
More importantly, his three touchdowns helped the Giants win their second straight game and improve to .500, keeping them in the thick of the NFC East. They've done so with a highly efficient offensive performance in the last two weeks as Eli Manning has adapted to life in the West Coast offense like a native Californian.
The Giants had 31 first downs, gained 449 yards and forced six turnovers, including four interceptions of Kirk Cousins.
Manning completed 20 of his first 24 passes -- three of the incompletions coming on drops -- for 209 yards as the Giants took a 24-7 lead. He finished 28-for-39 for 300 yards with four touchdowns. He hadn't thrown for four scores in a game since last year's opener against Dallas.
Mathias Kiwanuka set up the first touchdown with a forced fumble on a sack of Cousins. Manning converted a third-and-4 with a pass to Donnell before lofting a 5-yard pass for the big tight end in the end zone to go ahead 7-0. The second touchdown capped a super-paced six-play, 75-yard drive that took only 2:44. Once again, Donnell leaped high for the scoring pass.
Washington (1-3) closed to 14-7, taking advantage of a defense that was momentarily without cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (thigh). The Giants regained control with a 12-play drive that took 6:34 and ended with a high pass to a jumping Donnell.
Trumaine McBride's forced fumble set up a drive for a field goal as the half ended, then Washington opened the third quarter with a touchdown. Quintin Demps' interception set up Manning's 2-yard scoring pass to the other tight end, Daniel Fells, to make it 31-14.
Manning also ran for a TD early in the fourth quarter, his first since 2011, to go ahead 38-14. Rookie Andre Williams' 1-yard run with 6:05 left made it 45-14.
Notes & quotes: LB Jon Beason (foot, toe) missed a second straight game . . . Demps made his first start at safety for the Giants, replacing Stevie Brown, who was benched late last week. Demps had an interception in the third quarter . . . Washington TE Niles Paul left the game in the second quarter after suffering a scary concussion when he was sandwiched between Antrel Rolle and Demps.