Indignant after one of the biggest victories of his coaching career, Norv Turner lashed out at those who have questioned the character, motivation and desire of his first-place Washington Redskins.
Sunday's defense-led 23-13 victory over the New York Giants put the Redskins (6-4) alone at the top of the NFC East. It also broke a two-game losing streak that evoked comparisons to Turner's teams that have collapsed in seasons past.
"You can criticize this group," Turner said. "You can criticize me when we screw up. We call the wrong play sometimes. We go the wrong way sometimes. We drop the ball, we may get beat. But don't challenge this group, their character, their ability to compete. ... There are a lot of people that questioned whether this team could respond, and they did."
"All year, we get the same questions, we're giving the same answers and we're still making the same mistakes," Giants running back Tiki Barber said. "We rely on the defense a little too much."
The final turnover came when Kerry Collins, who entered the game after Kent Graham got a concussion in the first half, fumbled the snap at the Redskins 27 as the Giants were driving to try to tie the game with 4:03 to play. Kenard Lang recovered, the final big play from a defense ranked worst in the league.
"It was me," said Collins, who was 13-for-21 for 221 yards and one interception. "I pulled out early. I get excited. I play fast."
Th Giants then held the Redskins short of a first down on three plays, but Percy Ellsworth's late hit on Jon Jansen kept the drive alive. Washington moved downfield and sealed the win on Brett Conway's 37-yard field goal with 25 seconds remaining.
Thus the Redskins won the battle that had started days earlier with vengeful words from Michael Strahan and other Giants.
"Look at the scoreboard," Washington fullback Larry Centers said. "Who was doing it? Was that Strahan? They could've had a Pop Warner player in his position today. He didn't make much noise out there."
In a typical wacky Giants-Redskins game there were three pass interference penalties in the end zone and two flea-flickers that resulted in interceptions the biggest play came when Ndukwe Kalu hit Collins on the blind side, and Marco Coleman plucked the ball out of the air and ran 42 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter to put Washington ahead 20-6.
Coleman also supplied the final hit that sent Graham to the smelling salts in the second quarter, although Graham said he believed he got his concussion earlier in the game. It was his second concussion of the season.
Stephen Davis rushed for a career-high 183 yards on 33 carries and scored his 15th touchdown of the season for the Redskins. Davis, who also lost a fumble on the Giants' 1-yard line, became the first back in the NFC to rush for 1,000 yards this season.
The Redskins outgained the Giants 363-301, but were hurt by three missed field goals by Conway, two turnovers and a 1-for-12 performance on third downs. For the second week in a row, New York didn't get its offense going until it went to a hurry-up, spread formation in the fourth quarter.
"There were just way too many self-inflicted wounds," New York coach Jim Fassel said. "We put ourselves in a much tougher situation, but there are six games to go."
After Coleman's touchdown, the Giants came right back. Collins led a 71-yard drive that included two pass interference penalties before Charles Way's 1-yard scoring run. New York got the ball back after a missed field goal, but Collins' fumble ended the threat.
In the first half, Washington's Albert Connell drew two pass interference calls in the end zone. The first one was followe by Davis' 1-yard TD run.
The second one came with the Redskins ahead 10-3. Washington appeared ready to break the game open when Connell put a move on Jason Sehorn and forced the cornerback into a push just beyond the goal line.
But Davis fumbled the handoff on first-and-goal, and the Giants hurried 71 yards for Cary Blanchard's second 44-yard field goal of the game on the last play of the first half to close to 10-6.
The Redskins moved into sole possession of first place because Dallas lost to Arizona.
"Sole possession of first doesn't mean a darn thing until Jan. 3," Turner said. "I don't care about it. I want to get to Jan. 3 and have first place."
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