"I'm pretty mad at the football gods for putting him in the NFC East," the New York Giants' star defensive end said after his first game against the Washington Redskins' electric rookie quarterback. "To face that guy twice a year is definitely going to be a headache. He takes away from your enthusiasm for the game a little bit."
Yes, the Giants were rattled and dazzled and thoroughly impressed by a rookie phenom who is accomplishing the nearly impossible feat of living up to his own hype. But not even Griffin could completely wreck Tuck's enthusiasm for Sunday's game. Because despite a brilliant fourth-quarter drive that gave the Redskins the lead with a minute and a half left in the game, Giants quarterback Eli Manning one-upped the rookie. Manning's 77-yard touchdown pass to Victor Cruz with 1:13 left to go delivered a 27-23 victory, widened New York's lead atop the NFC East and showed Griffin and the Redskins that, as much fun as they're having right now, they still have a ways to go.
"Right now, he's the best," Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson said of Manning. "He won this one. The guy made a heck of a throw, caught his man in stride, just made a play."
One more play than the Redskins were able to make to stop him. At the end of a tough day against a team that had bedeviled him for the third time in two seasons, Manning found Cruz in something the Redskins were calling double coverage and put the throw of the game right on the money. Wilson dove, and missed, as Cruz sprinted past him and safety Madieu Williams bound for the end zone.
"Looking at the back of 80's heels there at the end," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "Holy cow, what a great feeling that was."
It was one of tremendous relief for the Giants, who a few moments earlier were staring at the very real possibility of falling to 0-3 in the division and losing to the Redskins for the third time in 14 months. As brilliant and tough as the Giants were seven days earlier in San Francisco, they were wobbly in this one. The defense allowed 248 rushing yards and 480 total yards. They allowed the Redskins to convert all three of their fourth-down attempts, including a circus act by Griffin on fourth-and-10 at the two-minute warning on which he eluded Jason Pierre-Paul and found tight end Logan Paulsen for 19 yards. As the final moments dwindled, it appeared as though Griffin's coming-out party against the Super Bowl champs would be the story of this game, as he impressed his opponents and inspired his teammates.
"It wasn't easy for him out there today, and you still look what he did," Redskins receiver Santana Moss said of Griffin, who went 20-for-28 for 258 yards and two touchdowns and added 89 rushing yards on nine carries. "When you have a guy that gives you an opportunity every time, even when it's hard, that's a blessing. There aren't a lot of guys who can do the things he does."
The Giants have a guy, however, who can do some pretty special things, too. The Giants' quarterback has two Super Bowl MVP trophies to his credit, and such a demonstrated knack for late-game heroics that it's not even a surprise anymore when he and Cruz pull a 77-yard rabbit out of a fourth-quarter hat.
"I don't think anybody was surprised by it, which is crazy," Tuck said. "It's getting old, being in that situation. I would rather have us in the victory formation than have him having to throw 77 yards to Cruz. But that's the excitement that is New York Giants football."
"He's like Joe Montana right now," former Giant and current Redskins nose tackle Barry Cofield said of Manning. "There's no quit in him."
Said Manning: "Something we've been really good at over the years is the two-minute drive when the game's on the line and making plays when we need to make plays."
Having done it again, Manning and the 5-2 Giants find themselves in first place by two games as they head to Dallas next week to try to avenge the season-opening loss the Cowboys handed them here in early September. The Redskins find themselves a disappointed 3-4, with all four of their losses having come by a touchdown or less. Griffin is the reason they feel they can win any game they play, but their inability to win this one speaks to what's still missing in Washington.
As good a job as they've been doing designing schemes to cover personnel weaknesses in the secondary, those still exist, and they show up at inopportune times. As great as Griffin has been at finding a variety of receivers, his real big-play guy, Pierre Garcon, who showed in Washington's season-opening win in New Orleans that he can play that Victor Cruz role, is out with a foot injury. The Redskins can see what's special about who they're becoming and where they might be headed with Griffin at quarterback. But a game like this one, in which the Super Bowl champions rip your heart out in the final two minutes, serves as a reminder that the best stuff may still be a little ways off.
"I was pleased with the effort of our football team," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. "I thought it was a tough way to lose."
Griffin left his mark. Tuck said he'd take him over Michael Vick or Cam Newton if he were starting an offense. Osi Umenyiora called Griffin the best quarterback the Giants have played this year. Chris Canty said he was faster in person than on tape, and predicted that Griffin was going to have "a lot of success in this league." But in the end, even after the perfect 30-yard touchdown throw to Moss that put Washington ahead with a minute and a half to go, the Giants weren't worried.
"We have the best quarterback in the league," linebacker Michael Boley said.
And the Redskins knew it. Even though they'd limited Manning all day and intercepted him twice, they knew that seeing him with the ball in his hands was not what they wanted at that point in the game.
"We left a minute or so on the clock, and I guess that's too much with Eli," Redskins left tackle Trent Williams said. "Anytime he has the opportunity to come back or tie the game up, you know he's capable of making that throw to do it. That's why he is who he is right now."