Commanders, Giants meet again after tie with much at stake
LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — Taylor Heinicke watched the UFC main event last weekend end in a tie and was reminded of the same sinking feeling he and the Washington Commanders got the last time they played the New York Giants.
“Ties aren’t fun,” Heinicke said. “The goal is to go out there and win.”
One thing everybody involved can agree on: No one wants another tie between the NFC East rivals two weeks later when they meet again Sunday night with each team 7-5-1 and the driver’s seat for a playoff spot at stake. The Commanders and Giants are plenty familiar with each other and know just how big this game is under the lights in the final quarter of the regular season.
“Washington is going to bring it,” Giants left tackle Andrew Thomas said. “They want to be in the playoffs just as bad as we do. It’s going to come down to who wants it more and who executes better.”
As these teams proved last time — a 20-all draw at New York on Dec. 4 — the margin for error is slim. Washington is a 4-point home favorite on FanDuel Sportsbook, with the edge of coming off a bye week while the Giants got drubbed 48-22 by the division-leading Eagles and are 0-3-1 in their past four.
“They’re waiting on us just as much as we’re waiting on them,” New York linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux said. “I feel like because we just played them and they haven’t seen anybody yet, all they’ve been doing is licking their chops.”
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The Commanders are 5-1-1 since Heinicke replaced Carson Wentz as their starting quarterback and are getting healthy at the right time of year. They could get impressive cornerback Benjamin St-Juste back from an ankle injury and edge rusher Chase Young on the field for the first time this season, 13 months after tearing the ACL in his right knee.
“The bye week was good for us, and all of us are ready to take the field Sunday night,” tight end Logan Thomas said.
Thomas feels like it’s the “sixth quarter” against the Giants, given how long the last meeting went and that Washington has not faced another opponent since. The familiarity is still strong for New York, and so is the excitement with full understanding of how much this game could tip the standings.
“I don’t think we’re going to have any issue getting amped up,” Giants QB Daniel Jones said. “Everyone realizes the opportunity and how big a game this is.”
PRIME TIME CONTRAST
Washington has won each of its first two night games this season and is 5-2 in prime time in two-plus seasons since coach Ron Rivera took over. New York has lost 11 in a row in those situations.
“There’s just something about the attention,” Rivera said. “I think we’ve got guys that seem to relish the opportunity.”
Running back Saquon Barkley carried the Giants in the first half of the season, helping them open with six wins in seven games. He had three 100-plus-yard rushing games none with fewer than 70.
Seattle slowed him to 53 yards by stuffing the box in New York’s final game before its bye, and opponents learned from it. Barkley ran for 152 yards in a victory against Houston coming out of the bye, but he has gained 152 total yards on 53 carries in his last four games, an average of 2.86 yards.
The Giants need to find a way to get him going again. The Commanders might be just as concerned about stopping Jones, who rushed for 71 yards in the teams’ last meeting.
“We have to be able to handle their attack,” Rivera said. “They run the ball very well with their backs. Saquon, I think, is one of the premier guys in this league and it’s good to see him back. Honestly, I do mean that because he is a premier player. But we also got to be able to handle when they run with the quarterback.”
Washington’s attendance of just under 58,000 a game this season ranks last in the NFL, and nearly every week there’s a big chunk of visiting team fans. Referencing a 50/50 split from a Thursday night game at FedEx Field against New York last season, Heinicke said, “Hopefully, we have more fans than Giants.”
There will undoubtedly be a lot of blue in the crowd, but Commanders fans have made up for it with some real noise and intensity this season. Players expect more where that came from.
“I just want to see a packed house with a lot of burgundy and gold out there,” left tackle Charles Leno said. “I just want to see a really playoff-(like), electric environment.”
BATTERED NY DEFENSE
The banged-up Giants defense has been battered the past month.
The Eagles rushed for 253 yards and four touchdowns and gained 437 overall. The Giants have given up no less than 411 yards in total offense in the last three games, with at least 165 yards rushing.
This run has coincided with the loss of top cornerback Adoree Jackson because of a knee injury and safety Xavier McKinney to a broken left hand from an ATV accident during the bye week. It didn’t help last week that defensive lineman Leonard Williams was inactive with a neck injury.
“Every team goes through that during the season,” coach Brian Daboll said. “Whoever’s in there, we have confidence in”
AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan in East Rutherford, New Jersey, contributed.
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