EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -For 28 minutes, the New York Giants looked like a team on its way to another championship. For the final 32, they looked as if they were playing third-stringers against third-stringers in the mop-up phase of an exhibition game.
In other words, the Super Bowl champions' 16-7 win over Washington on Thursday night made the perfect statement for doing away with preseason games. In a scoreless second half, first-stringers on both teams, who barely played a half in any of their four warmups, looked as though they were going through the motions in the 80-degree heat.
Stats tell the first-half story.
With 2 minutes to go until intermission, the Giants led 16-0, had outgained the Redskins 246-16 and had 14 first downs to one for Washington - and that on a roughing the punter penalty. If not for a couple of offensive mistakes, it probably would have been 24-0.
Then the Skins got a 50-yard kickoff return from Rock Cartwright and moved 45 more yards for a TD on a 13-yard pass from Jason Campbell to Antwaan Randle El. That left them feeling pretty good about themselves entering the second half.
But they did nothing. The Giants didn't do much more.
And when the Redskins tried to move late, they played a 4-minute drill like a 10-minute drill: huddling, running the ball, letting the clock move.
But it really didn't matter because the Giants, written off by a lot of people as a fluke champion, were no fluke in those 28 minutes.
``We played well and it was no surprise to us,'' defensive tackle Barry Cofield, said.
If you are a Giants fan, you can be encouraged by the defense, which led the league in sacks last season but lost 22 of the 53 they had when Michael Strahan retired and Osi Umenyiora was lost for the season with a knee injury.
They got only one Thursday night - by Justin Tuck on Washington's first play - but they tackled brilliantly, stopping the Redskins just short of first downs four of five times. ``We had third-and-6 and we'd get 5. We had third-and-9 and we'd get 8 1/2,'' Redskins coach Jim Zorn said.
That may the way the Giants win this year. Fewer sacks but more tackles - rookie safety Kenny Phillips, New York's first-round draft pick, made two of those stops and only once did a New York DB miss a Washington receiver after he caught the ball.
In the end, it's hard to judge where the Giants or Redskins are after this game, in part because it was played so much like an exhibition.
But the Giants certainly used the formula that all their successful teams have used - rushing and defense. Brandon Jacobs ran for 116 yards on 21 carries; Derrick Ward added 39. Overall New York rushed for 154 yards and held the Redskins to less than 200 total yards until a few late meaningless completions got them to 209.
``That's the way we like to play, controlling the clock, moving the ball, being consistent,'' said Eli Manning, who threw for 216 yards, ran for the Giants' only TD but at times looked like the old Eli instead of the Super Bowl MVP - he threw an interception off his back foot and barely missed a couple of others forcing the ball into coverage.
Manning seemed satisfied both to beat a playoff team that beat the Giants at the Meadowlands last season and to play so well for those 28 minutes.
``This time we really jumped on them and ran the ball well in the first half,'' he said. ``They were getting tired on defense as we were pounding the ball,''
But others still had the chip on their shoulders that they've had since they started hearing folks suggest they were no better than the third best team in the loaded NFC East. Or fourth - behind Dallas, Philadelphia or even Washington.
``Everybody thinks that we're the bottom fifth team in this division, And I don't think we changed that tonight. I really don't,'' Tuck said. ``But we really don't worry about the people talking about the Giants from outside this locker room.''
It will help if they play the second half a little harder next week.
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