EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It was a cold, hard slap in the face for the New York Giants and their fans, a sobering reminder of the bad old days -- circa 1998 and '99 -- when a punchless offense and a defense vulnerable to big plays made for numerous frustrating games.
Faced Sunday night with a chance to go 4-0 for the first time since 1990, gain a vise grip on the NFC East and all but bury the preseason division favorite, the Giants lost to the Washington Redskins, 16-6, at Giants Stadium. They retained sole possession of first place, but only by one game over the Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles, with a tough road game against the AFC champion Tennessee Titans ahead Sunday.
The loss also deprived New York football of an unprecedented 8-0 September after the Jets' upset of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier in the day.
The Giants barely avoided their first shutout in Coach Jim Fassel's four seasons -- and first at home since 1995 -- with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Kerry Collins to Ike Hilliard with 2:25 left. But Ron Dayne's run on the two-point try came up short. Collins finished 21-for-44 for 210 yards.
The Redskins ruined the Giants' offense with consistent pressure on Collins, who had by far his poorest game of the season, and kept the NFL's top-ranked running game from making big plays. Washington's offense badly exploited a Giants secondary that widely was viewed as a concern entering the season but had held up through three games.
It was a dud reminiscent of the Redskins' last visit, one year and five days earlier, when the Giants came off an opening-day upset of the Buccaneers and lost to the Redskins, 50-21, in their home opener.
The game was viewed as a test of where the Giants stood after three victories over opponents that were a combined 17-31 last season.
The Redskins (2-2) absolutely had to win the game, facing a difficult schedule, including a visit from the Bucs on Sunday. Quarterback Brad Johnson, under the gun entering the game, completed three passes of more than 45 yards in the first three quarters. He was 14-for-20 for 289 yards.
Leading 16-0 entering the fourth quarter, the Redskins had a chance to make it 19-0 but Michael Husted missed badly wide right on a 30-yard field-goal attempt. The Giants responded by marching down the field nicely as Collins finally got some time to throw and picked apart the defense in the middle.
That drive ended after the Giants got as far as the Washington 23-yard line. Collins' underthrown pass to Hilliard was intercepted in the end zone by Deion Sanders, who returned it to the 28. It was Collins' second interception of the season.
In the final minutes, the Redskins defense softened up, allowing the Giants to gain yardage while eating up the clock. They took advantage with Collins' scoring pass to Hilliard.
Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service
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