8:20 PM EST, NFL Network – Line: Washington -3.5, Over/Under: 40.5
While losing your season opener isn’t the end of the world in the National Football League by any means, falling to 0-2 is another matter altogether, which brings us to tonight’s affair between the New York Giants and Washington Football Team, as both clubs look to avoid that dubious distinction. Make no mistake about it, 2021 is a VERY significant campaign for the Giants (0-1, 4th in NFC East), who look to finally transition into Phase Two of what has been a lengthy rebuild beset by a series of setbacks. Last season was to be the beginning of another new era in the Meadowlands spearheaded by (Head Coach) Joe Judge, and while New York certainly showed some signs of progress in his first year at the helm, those moments proved to be far and between as the same issues continued to linger: injuries to major performers coupled with a woefully underperforming Offensive Line and a mistake-prone young Quarterback effectively sunk any hope that Big Blue had of sitting atop what turned out to be the most winnable division in NFL history. With that said, the hope was that with a full (and proper) offseason for Judge and his Coaching Staff to implement his tactics post COVID-19 that his charges would indeed take the next step. Unfortunately, following their disappointing 27-13 defeat at home to the Denver Broncos last weekend it appears that little has changed for the hosts. This one wasn’t nearly as close as that final score would lead you to believe, for the home side added what amounted to be a consolation score as time expired to make the outcome look more respectable, and the numbers will further support that notion; New York managed just 314 total yards on the day, including a dismal sixty rushing yards on twenty carries, while failing to convert on two of their three fourth down attempts, and losing the time of possession battle in convincing fashion (24:52). (Former Pro-Bowl Tailback) Saquon Barkley (10 CAR, 26 YDS, 2.6 Y/A, 0 TD), who missed nearly all of last season with a torn ACL, looked visibly slow in his return to the gridiron, rushing for a scant twenty-six yards on ten carries, while hauling in just one pass on three targets for a single yard. Needless to say, any hope of this Offense reaching it’s potential is predicated on the 24-year old returning to the form that earned him 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in a campaign in which he led the league in yards from scrimmage (2,028 YDS). However, the bigger issue continues to be the uneven play of (third-year Quarterback) Daniel Jones (59.5%, 267 YDS, 6.51 NY/A, 1 TD, 0 INT, 49.0 QBR), who once again struggled against one of the better defensive units in the NFL. Jones completed 22-of-37 attempts for 267 yards and a touchdown, while also rushing for twenty-seven yards and that aforementioned score in garbage time, but saw three consecutive promising drives end in crushing fashion during the second half. The first saw Judge’s charges travel sixty yards in ten plays only for the 24-year old to give the football away via a crucial fumble on a scramble up the middle at Denver’s 22-yard line, while the following two drives, with both venturing deep into Broncos territory, came to a fruitless conclusion on fourth down. It’s no surprise that that turnover would indeed set the tone for the second half in the Meadowlands, for such giveaways have also defined Jones’ career up to this point; since 2019, no Quarterback has committed more turnovers than the former 6th Overall Pick, who is responsible for a staggering FORTY giveaways in twenty-eight games, with ten in his last fourteen starts alone. Taking care of the football is the most important part of a Quarterback’s job, and this kid has routinely struggled in that department, and it remains to be seen just how much longer Judge will confirm his faith in the young passer. Fortunately, a familiar foe is on deck, one of the few that Jones and the Giants have enjoyed success against in recent years; New York has won five consecutive games against Washington, with HALF of Jones’ eight career victories as the starter coming against their NFC East rivals. Simply put, this a golden opportunity to get back on track, for if there is one team that he excels against it’s definitely the Artists Formerly Known as the Redskins; in four meetings, Jones has completed an efficient 68.2% of his attempts for an average of 225.3 yards (7.15 Y/A,) with eight touchdowns in comparison to three interceptions, while losing ZERO fumbles. Needless to say, if he were to struggle once again and his team falls to 0-2 for a fifth consecutive campaign, his starting job could very well be in jeopardy.
Meanwhile, the atmosphere in the nation’s capital isn’t much better as Washington (0-1, 4th in NFC East) is also coming off a disappointing defeat in the season opener, though their start comes with a maddening outlook of instability at the game’s most important position. Following their surprising run to a division title in 2020, Washington ultimately decided not to maneuver towards selecting a Quarterback early in last Spring’s NFL Draft despite the position being a MASSIVE question mark during the Offseason, instead choosing to continue bolstering other areas of the roster, while seeking a veteran, stop-gap solution. Of course, no Quarterback in the league fits that description better than Ryan Fitzpatrick (50.0% 13 YDS, 1.57 NY/A, 0 TD, 0 INT, 3.3 QBR), who joined the club via Free Agency, marking the ninth different franchise that the 39-year old has plied his trade for during his remarkable 17-year career. Unfortunately, the bearded one’s opening impression with the Football Team would be nothing short of brief, as he was forced to depart from the gridiron after suffering a dislocated hip midway through the second quarter of last Sunday’s 20-16 loss at home to the Los Angeles Chargers. Simply put, this is a CRUSHING blow to Ron Rivera & Co, who were hoping to coax one more year out of Fitzmagic, but now must prepare to be without him for a lengthy period of time. Replacing him against the Lighting Bolts was Taylor Heinicke (73.3%, 122 YDS, 8.13 NY/A, 1 TD, 0 INT, 70.1 QBR), who in all fairness performed well under the circumstances; the 28-year old efficiently completed 11-of-15 passes for 122 yards and a touchdown, all the while avoiding any turnovers or sacks, though the hosts managed to shoot themselves in the foot on multiple occasions during the second half of play. Following an eight-play, 81-yard drive out of Halftime culminating in a, 11-yard touchdown from Heinicke to (Tight End) Logan Thomas (3 REC, 30 YDS, 10.0 Y/R, 1 TD), Washington would see a twelve-play, 47-yard drive end with a missed (51-yard) field goal, with the very next series changing possession after (Sophomore Tailback) Antonio Gibson (20 CAR, 90 YDS, 4.5 Y/A, 0 TD) lost a fumble on the first play. With the visitors picking up the football deep in the Red Zone, the Chargers retook the lead in just three plays, which would eventually be enough to earn the victory. In the end, the home side amassed just 259 yards and fifteen first downs, while struggling throughout the affair on third down (3-of-10), and losing the time of possession battle in convincing fashion (23:57). Though it would be easy to pin this loss on the events under Center, it’s not like the Defense acquitted themselves any better, for the Chargers moved the football at will against Rivera’s unit, totaling 424 yards and twenty-seven first downs, moving the chains with regulation (14-of-19 on third down), and holding possession for a commanding 36:03. With that said, (Defensive Coordinator) Jack Del Rio can take solace in the fact that his charges stiffened mightily in the red zone, while forcing a pair of turnovers and sacking Justin Herbert on two occasions. Moving forward, this quick turnaround from Sunday’s defeat will be all about getting the aforementioned Heinicke prepared for not only the Giants, but to be the starter for the foreseeable future. Indeed, there was a particular faction within the fanbase that wanted the journeyman to be the team’s Starting Quarterback following his performance in Washington’s 31-23 loss to the (eventual Super Bowl Champion) Tampa Bay Buccaneers last January; Heinicke completed 26-of-44 passes for 306 yards, a touchdown and an interception, while rushing for another forty-six yards and a score on six carries during that Wild Card defeat, despite appearing in just one game during the Regular Season. Tonight’s contest will mark only the third start of his career (he was out of the league altogether back in 2019), and the second during the Regular Season, with that last appearance occurring back in 2018 as a member of the Carolina Panthers. Over the course of his coaching career, Rivera has earned the moniker of Riverboat Ron, and we’ll see if this gamble at Quarterback will pay off, though with Fitzpatrick out of action for at least the next ten weeks, the risk is VERY high.