LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — Prime time finally likes the New York Giants, and now they're a huge step closer to making the playoffs.
Kayvon Thibodeaux thrived on the national stage just like he promised, Daniel Jones shined under the lights to end his career-long skid in night games and New York held on to beat the Washington Commanders 20-12 on Sunday after a goal line stand that ended with a questionable non-call.
After declaring, “Prime time likes me,” Thibodeaux was a force rushing the passer and busting into the backfield early and often. The talented rookie stripped Taylor Heinicke of the ball, recovered it to score a touchdown and finished with three tackles for loss among his game-high 12 before getting poked in the left eye and getting helped off with 48 seconds left.
Asked about performing under the bright lights, Thibodeaux said: “Nothing is a coincidence. It’s not a coincidence." He spoke up on the field before the game and inspired veteran teammates with his words.
“I just felt the fire — I felt the passion,” said Thibodeaux, who said he could see fine out of the injured eye. "I had a talk with my mom before the game and she said it was on her heart to tell me that, ‘You can do anything that you put your mind to.’ For me, I had to say it and believe it and I was able to go do it.”
Thibodeaux got hit in the eye on the final meaningful play, a pass breakup by Darnay Holmes defending Curtis Samuel, which arguably could have been pass interference. While coach Ron Rivera said not to ask him about the officiating because he “can't answer the question,” players were more confident about it being a penalty.
“Oh, yeah,” Heinicke said. “Saw the picture, and the dude had his arms around (Samuel’s) neck.”
Instead of being a flag, the failed fourth-down conversion ended Washington's chances and New York's four-game winless streak and helped the Dallas Cowboys wrap up a playoff spot despite losing at Jacksonville. The Giants now only need to win one of their final three games to get in and could clinch as soon as Saturday with a victory and losses by Seattle and Detroit.
“Doesn't mean anything right now,” coach Brian Daboll said. “I'm just happy we won this game.”
Jones, 0-9 in his first nine prime-time games for the Giants (8-5-1) who had lost 11 in a row in these situations, threaded throws through tight windows in beating the Commanders (7-6-1) with his arm rather than running all over Washington as he did in many of their previous meetings. He was 21 of 32 for 160 yards and engineered an 18-play touchdown drive in the second quarter that started at the 3 and lasted 8:35.
“It was consistent execution play after play,” Jones said. “I made some good decisions for the most part, some key conversions that kept drives going at critical points of the game. I thought I saw the field pretty well.”
Saquon Barkley finished that drive with a 3-yard run into the end zone on a direct snap. Held to 39 yards on 12 carries in the first 3½ quarters, Barkley more than doubled his total on the late drive that ended with a field goal from Graham Gano and finished with 87 yards.
“You realize the moment and you want to be a guy, you want to make plays in that moment,” said Barkley, who had been held to a total of 152 yards rushing during the Giants' 0-3-1 stretch. “Kind of just relax, take a deep breath and let your body take over.”
Washington loss, just its second in nine games, puts the Commanders in a tougher spot yet keeps them in a playoff position, half a game up on the Seahawks and Lions.
Heinicke fumbled again at the New York 9-yard line with six minutes left in the fourth quarter on a play correctly challenged by Daboll. He was 17 of 29 for 249 yards passing with a touchdown throw to Jahan Dotson.
Terry McLaurin made six catches for 70 yards, eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark for a third consecutive season and becoming Washington's first player to do that since Henry Ellard from 1994-96. McLaurin was flagged for illegal formation on Washington's final drive that pushed the ball back from the 1 to the 6-yard line, one of a few penalties the Commanders were not happy about.
“We had an opportunity to win,” Rivera said. “I thought we did everything we were supposed to do from getting the ball down to the 1-yard line to getting lined up, to checking to make sure we're lined up properly and then having it taken away from us. That's why it’s hard to comprehend right now."
One of Jones' best throws was also a very valuable catch for receiver Richie James. Their 10-yard completion on third down during the 18-play drive was James' 40th catch of the season and cashed the $100,000 incentive in his contract for reaching that mark.
Giants: RT Evan Neal remained in the game after having his left foot/ankle looked at on the bench early. ... DT Leonard Williams returned after missing last week's game with a neck injury.
Commanders: CB Benjamin St-Juste missed a third consecutive game with an ankle injury.
Giants: Visit the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday.
Commanders: Visit the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday.
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