LANDOVER, Md. — At the start of the fourth quarter, it was not Eli Manning on the field, in the huddle and directing the Giants on offense. It was rookie Kyle Lauletta going against the Redskins defense Sunday at FedEx Field.
The Giants were thrilled. So was Eli.
Lauletta made his NFL debut not because Manning was struggling or the Giants were laboring. Far from it. Manning, thanks greatly to rookie sensation Saquon Barkley, did more than enough in the first three quarters to warrant a break, instructed to take the rest of the game off. Manning, with star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. injured and not on the trip, fired three touchdown passes, Barkley ran for 170 yards on only 14 rushing attempts and did not step foot on the field in the fourth quarter. He did plenty, though, in building a 40-0 lead that ended up being an easy 40-16 rout, giving the Giants their first victory of the season against an NFC East opponent and their fourth victory in the past five games.
“The biggest thing is we figured it out,” Barkley said. “We found our ‘Why.’ Why we are playing. It’s for each other. That’s the message coach [Pat Shurmur] has been trying to get to us the whole year. I think that bye week really helped us figure it out, that at the end of the day, that’s all we got, is each other.”
The Giants (5-8) put on display a team playing its best against a sagging team playing its worst. The Redskins (6-7) lost their fourth consecutive game to continue their fall after losing quarterbacks Alex Smith and backup Colt McCoy. Mark Sanchez, forced into a starting role, was overmatched.
This means the Giants this weekend cannot be eliminated from playoff contention — at least not mathematically. If the Cowboys beat the Eagles later Sunday afternoon, the Giants are eliminated from winning the NFC East and their on-respirator postseason hopes would rest on getting an NFC wild-card berth. Do not bet on that either, as the Giants do not match up well in any tiebreakers with the Falcons and Panthers, teams that beat the Giants this season.
If the Eagles defeat the Cowboys, the Giants would be two games behind the Cowboys and Eagles with three games to play.
With Beckham sitting home watching, sidelined by a bruised quad muscle, the Giants cruised and Barkley led the charge.
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“Wow,” Shurmur said. “You saw some guys kind of take over the game.”
By halftime, Barkley had 159 rushing yards, including a 78-yard touchdown sprint and a 52-yard run on which Barkley ran to his right, cut to his left and was ultimately freed up by a downfield block from Sterling Shepard on cornerback Josh Norman.
“You never know where he’s going to be, so you just have to stay on your block at all times,” Shepard said.
“That play — can we talk about Shep blocking on that play?” said Barkley, who has 1,124 rushing yards this season. “That was ridiculous. I’m running and I’m about to set this dude up and all I see is Shep fly by — Boom! — just kill a guy, and I’m in mid-run and like, ‘Whoa.’ ”
Whoa is right.
The Giants led 7-0 after one quarter, 34-0 at halftime and 40-0 after three quarters. Manning finished up 14-of-22 for 197 yards and touchdown passes to Sterling Shepard, Bennie Fowler and Russell Shepard.
“You know, it’s fun,” Manning said of the rare blowout. “Those don’t happen all that often in the NFL.”
Lauletta did not complete a pass, going 0-for-5 with one interception, and was not happy with his NFL debut.
“I’m a competitor and there’s no excuses,” he said. “I didn’t execute the way I wanted to. I’ll be better next time.”
Shurmur said: “I feel that enough questions regarding Kyle, that those of you that were interested in seeing him, hopefully you got a chance to see what you were looking for.”
The Redskins did not cross into Giants territory or convert a third down (they were 0-for-8) until late in the third quarter, after Sanchez was replaced by Josh Johnson. Sanchez had been 6-of-14 for 38 yards and two interceptions — one returned by safety Curtis Riley for a touchdown — and was sacked five times for a passer rating of 10.7.
“What did work? There was nothing that worked,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “Everything did not work.”
Sanchez was bad, his blocking was worse and his teammates did nothing to help him with several drops. Knowing the Redskins would not lean too heavily on Sanchez, the Giants loaded up against Adrian Peterson and limited him to 16 yards on 10 rushing attempts. Peterson had a 12-yard run and only 4 yards on his other nine carries.
Without Beckham, Barkley took matters into his own hands. And legs. His start was not auspicious — his first reception lost 3 yards and he dropped the next one thrown his way, just his second drop of the season. He promised his teammates he would make up for it.
“He gave us his word, like he knew he was going to make plenty of plays for us,” right tackle Chad Wheeler said.
After that, he was, quite simply, too much for the Redskins to handle. Remember when general manager Dave Gettleman said Barkley “was touched by the hand of God’’ after taking Barkley with the No. 2 pick in the draft? Well, Barkley was touched by the hand of no one on a stunningly fast (12 seconds) 78-yard touchdown run that made it 17-0. Barkley got a step thanks to a block by Nate Solder and tight end Rhett Ellison and caught the Redskins with safety O.J. Swearinger on a blitz.
“I saw him cut right off our tail,” Solder said, “and he was gone. It was awesome.”