Commentary

QBs duel to the (fantastic) finish

RG3 added to the growing buzz about his game -- but Eli added to his legend

Updated: October 22, 2012, 6:00 PM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There was a temptation to say this wild game was over two or three times -- but no, not a chance, not so fast.

Either Robert Griffin III, the Washington Redskins' sensational rookie quarterback, was running away from the New York Giants' defense again and again, or Eli Manning -- who minted his legend by winning quarterback duels like this against the Bradys and Rodgers and Romos of the league -- was yanking the Giants back into this shootout of a game.

Of course, Manning nearly threw the Giants out of the game, too, before -- stop us if you've heard this -- he and Victor Cruz won it with just 73 seconds left to play, collaborating on a 77-yard bomb that lifted the Giants to a dramatic 27-23 win and saved them from falling to a forbidding 0-3 hole in the NFC East with just three divisional games left. They improved to 5-2 instead, heading into next weekend's rematch against the Dallas Cowboys.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III and Eli Manning
Andrew Mills/The Star-Ledger/US PresswireRobert Griffin III and Eli Manning meet again on Dec. 3 in Washington.

But back to RG3 -- and then the way Manning topped him at the end, two plays and 19 seconds after Griffin had led the Redskins on a stunning seven-play, 77-yard drive that resulted in a go-ahead touchdown drive of his own.

"We have the best quarterback in the league -- it's never over," Giants linebacker Michael Boley said.

"Eh. ... It's getting old," defensive end Justin Tuck cracked. "I'd rather have us in a victory formation, kneeling the ball, than him having to throw a 77-yard pass to Cruz to win it for us. But that is New York Giants football."

The sobering thing for the Giants, even in victory, was that this is what Washington Redskins football is likely to be about for the next 15 years or so now that Griffin is in town. And while the Giants gave the rookie out of Baylor plenty of props after the game, they really wanted to talk more about their own quarterback, and how their own defense rose up just in time and harassed the Redskins into four second-half turnovers in between struggling to stop Griffin and rookie running back Alfred Morris (120 yards, 94 of them in the first half) most of the day.

Griffin, 22, was accurate when he passed, dangerous when he ran the triple-option attack, and composed beyond his years -- perhaps never more so than when he scampered away from Jason Pierre-Paul on fourth-and-10 and found tight end Logan Paulsen for a 19-yard gain to keep alive the Redskins' next-to-last drive of the game.

Three plays later, Griffin hit Santana Moss in stride with a beautiful rainbow of a pass that Moss caught over his shoulder for a 30-yard touchdown. The Redskins led 23-20. And there was just 1:37 left to play.

But as Manning just keeps proving again and again, no game is really over until it's over. He'd thrown two bad interceptions of his own in the second half, and coach Tom Coughlin admitted the second one especially "put a lump in my throat." Manning threw that one straight to an underneath linebacker he never saw with 7:10 to play at his own 29, and that set up a field goal that allowed Washington to pull within 20-16.

Then again, maybe seeing everything that happens on the field is slightly overrated.

Manning admitted he never saw much of the game-winning play to Cruz unfold, either. And how'd that turn out? Smiling a little now, he said he let the pass go just a split second before Redskins lineman Stephen Bowen drilled him, and Manning was literally lying on his back the whole time the ball went traveling 35, then 40, then 45 yards in the air.

"I kinda threw it a little bit before I wanted to, I kinda threw it very early and threw it high and deep, [because] I saw the coverage and I was hoping Victor saw it the same way," Manning said. "I didn't see the ball get caught. I just kinda heard the cheer and thought, 'That's probably a good sign.' "

And then?

"Then I got up in time and saw him running into the end zone," Manning said.

Maninng and Cruz both read the same thing on the play: The two defensive backs the Redskins had on Cruz were outside the numbers on the field, protecting against a sideline route. So Cruz went streaking straight down the right hash mark instead, splitting the double coverage, gathering the ball in at about the Redskins' 30 and outrunning safety Madieu Williams the rest of the way to the end zone. Cruz hadn't even had time to get into his salsa before the other Giants had rushed off their bench to mob him.

"Oh my gosh -- I think I was sprinting down the sideline with him," backup running back Andre Brown laughed.

Way back upfield, a couple of Giants linemen were pulling Manning up and straightening up his crooked shoulder pads between slaps on his helmet and his back. The MetLife Stadium crowd was going nuts. Over on the Redskins bench, Griffin just turned away from Cruz's celebration and picked up his helmet to get ready for what turned out to be the Redskins' unsuccessful last-chance drive.

Griffin finished the game 20-for-28 for 258 yards. He ran Washington's triple-option attack deftly, and rushed the ball nine times for 89 yards -- an average of 9.9 yards per carry. He beat Manning in nearly every major statistical category: more total yards (347 to Manning's 341), more TD passes (two to Manning's one) and finishing in a dead heat when it came to turnovers (two apiece).

Yet Manning won the game.

"I'm pretty mad at the football gods for putting [Griffin] in the NFC East," Tuck said. "To face that guy twice a year is going to be a headache. ... He takes away from your enthusiasm for the game a little bit when you play a play perfectly and he still has 4.3 speed to run by guys and make plays. A guy like him, I don't think there is anybody in the league just like him.

"If I was going to run that offense and they asked me to pick between [Michael] Vick, Cam Newton or RG3, I'm probably taking that guy."

And the Giants will keep their guy.

"Does he ever cease to amaze me? No," Coughlin said. "When his back is up against the wall, that's when he does his best work."

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