EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Mostly, we learned on Thursday night that the New York Giants' season has been saved. For now. The Giants needed a victory Thursday night in the worst way, both for their psyche after two incomprehensible losses and because virtually no one -- roughly two percent of teams since 1990 -- make the playoffs when starting 0-3.
They got one, 25-6 over the Washington Redskins. Rashad Jennings blocked a punt for a safety, the Giants turned three Washington turnovers into 14 points, got an efficient 22-of-30 for 238 yards and one touchdown night from quarterback Eli Manning and held the supposedly unstoppable Washington rushing attack to 62 yards on 19 carries (3.2 yards per carry).
Let's look at some of the things we learned Thursday night.
We don't have to spend the next 14 weeks talking about Tom Coughlin's job
Had the Giants lost on Thursday that is precisely what Giants' fans would have done from now until the end of the 2015 season. That subject is certain to come up again, probably every time the Giants lose a game and especially if this is a losing season. For at least a little while, though, we can actually talk about something else. Like whether or not this victory can catapult the Giants into becoming real, honest-to-goodness contenders in the muddled, middling NFC East.
"We won, so SMILE," said Coughlin when he stepped to the podium Thursday night.
Rueben Randle remembers
How to play, that is. Randle had only four receptions for 28 yards in the Giants' first two games, but came up huge Thursday night. He had seven receptions for 116 yards, including a 41-yard fourth-quarter touchdown grab.
"My knee's been feeling pretty good," Randle said. "Today I just got a lot more opportunities to make some plays for the team, and that's what I did."
Randle's production is a very good sign for the Giants, who need to be able to rely on someone other than Odell Beckham Jr. on the outside.
"It was frustrating at times but I don't think it was hard for me to keep my spirits up," Randle said. "It's a long season, my job is to stick with it no matter what the situation may be and make a play."
Nikita Whitlock really can play both ways
No Jason Pierre-Paul? No Owamagbe Odighizuwa? No Robert Ayers? No Markus Kuhn? No problem. Nikita Whitlock to the rescue.
The Giants turned to the 250-pound Whitlock, a former nose tackle at Wake Forest, to try to jump start their pass rush in the fourth quarter. Whitlock was more than happy to help, and even broke through to get a hit on Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Whitlock didn't find out until he was getting dressed prior to the game that he might see some snaps at defensive tackle. Whitlock said defensive line coach Robert Nunn simply told him to "be ready."
"I love playing DT, it's my dream. That's how I grew up. It's kinda like riding a bike," Whitlock said. "Little rusty. I fell down a few times, got blocked up a few times. I'm just gonna eat a little bit more, gain a little weight and try to knock the rust off in case they need me."
Studying really does help
Coughlin said cornerback Prince Amukamara was able to intercept a slant pass from Kirk Cousins that was intended for Pierre Garcon because "he studied well. He knew that was coming."
Amukamara said after that game that indeed he did know what Washington was going to do on the play.
"Just formation recognition," Amukamara said. "Coach Walton, my DB coach, gave me that tip earlier this week. It was one of those formations that I just memorized."
Rashad Jennings isn't giving away his secrets
If you didn't know his history, you would have been surprised to see veteran running back Rashad Jennings lined up as an edge rusher with Washington in punt formation after its first possession. Jennings, though "hasa unique talenty in regards to blocking punts," said Coughlin.
Jennings showed it by beating linebacker Terrance Plummer, blocking a punt by Washignton's Tress Way and earning the Giants two points when the ball bounded through the end zone for a safety.
"Ever since I was a rookie I've always had a knack for playing on punt return," Jennings said. "You watch film, I can't give you all my secrets. You anticipate."
The Giants scored on a safety for the first time since Dec. 24, 2011, when defensive lineman Chris Canty sacked Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez in the end zone for two points.
Maybe the Giants CAN defend the run
The Giants surrendered a league-worst 4.9 yards per carry against the run a year ago. After two game sthis year they were giving up only 68 yards per game, third in the league. The Redskins' ballyhooed rushing attack was supposed to be unstoppable, entering the game averaging a league-leading 171.5 yards per game. Washington finished the game with 88 rushing yards on 20 carries (4.2 yards per carry), but 26 of those yards came on the game's final play.
Cullen Jenkins still wants a better finish
Veteran defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins was happy that the Giants got their first victory of the season. He was unhappy, however, that the Redskins scored 15 fourth-quarter points. One of Washington's two fourth-quarter touchdowns had nothing to do with the defense, coming on a 101-yard Rashad Ross kickoff return, but still Jenkins wasn't happy.
"We finished the game, but we still didn't finish on a good note," Jenkins said. "They had six points going into the fourth quarter. ... that's the third straight week we've given up 14 points in the fourth quarter. It's nice to hav a win, but we've got to realize that we have the ability to be a heckuva football team if we would just learn how to finish."
Uani 'Unga is a lightning rod
Even with Jon Beason back in the lineup, the rookie played a significant numbers of snaps. He played quite a bit in Beason's sted on passing downs and played much of the fourth quarter with the Giants ahead.
Opponents have targeted Unga in the passing game, but he has now made them pay twice in three games with interceptions. On his third-quarter pick of Kirk Cousins Thursday, 'Unga said he had just turned to "look for work" because the back he was supposed to cover stayed in to block when Devon Kennard batted the ball into the air.
Being relentless pays off
The Giants may not have the most talented defense in the league, but defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has asked them to simply be relentless in their pursuit of the ball. That relentless approach has helped the Giants create six turnovers in three games, three against the Dallas Coswboys and three Thursday vs. Washington.
"As a defense we're always trying to get the ball out, either by interceptions, stripping the ball or whatever," 'Unga said. "The game is at the ball. You got the ball, you're gonna win the game. so we're always trying to get the ball out."
Where have Eli's interceptions gone?
Manning went without an interception for the third straight game, meaning he has yet to throw one this season. He had a passer rating of 119.1 on Thursday.
"I thought we had a good day. I thought we moved the ball real well all day, converted on third downs. Still need to get a little bit better in the red zone, too many field goals. We're getting there a lot, which is good, we're just all of a sudden down there and we have a missed play, we have a drop, we have a missed throw, something that gets us off and we get into third-and-longs and it's tough," Manning said. "It's tough to convert third-and-8s and 9s down there in the 15-, 10-yard line. There's just not a whole lot of room. But I thought we hung in there and Coach challenged us to win the fourth quarter, to elevate our play in the fourth quarter and I thought we did that tonight. Basic plays there in that last quarter to win the game."