Who had Tae Crowder scoring the Giants’ first game-winning touchdown of the Joe Judge era?
Almost certainly, nobody. Crowder, after all, is a rookie linebacker who was the 255th and last player selected in the 2020 NFL Draft. Not exactly a combination of credentials that would prompt thoughts of Crowder’s name appearing in the same sentence as “end zone.”
But on Sunday afternoon in MetLife Stadium, this year’s Mr. Irrelevant was anything but. An alert Crowder scooped up a fumble by Washington quarterback Kyle Allen and sprinted 43 yards to the…end zone. Crowder, who started his second consecutive game, scored the go-ahead points in what became a 20-19 victory against the Washington Football Team that gave the Giants their first victory after five straight losses.
“I wanted to dive on it bad,” Crowder said. “One of my goals was to help the team and I know if I could scoop it up and get in the end zone, it would help the team, and it was something we needed at the moment.”
Many players at the end of the seventh round soon recede into oblivion. But Crowder took pride in his status and with his title.
“I took it as motivation,” he said. “I love the name, I just wanted to get here, get to work with my team. One of my goals for this year was to help the team in any way I can.”
And that he did. The score was tied 13-13 and Washington faced a third-and-nine at the Giants’ 45 when Kyler Fackrell sacked Allen for an eight-yard loss and forced the ball out of his hands and to the ground. When Crowder first bent down to pick it up, he kicked it forward a few yards before securing it and starting his sprint to the goal line.
“I have to say big ups to my teammate Kyler Fackrell for making a big play, a strip-sack on the quarterback,” Crowder said. “I was in the right place at the right time.”
“I wish Tae would’ve bent his knees a little better and taken it cleaner off, but I’m glad the second time through he got it and finished it on out,” Judge said. “But it was a nice job of the guys putting pressure on it. We’ve been preaching for a while to keep the pressure on the quarterback and turnovers will come. They did today and Tae did a good job of finishing the play. We’ve just got to make sure we don’t kick that thing initially and give him an opportunity to get on that ball.”
Crowder is the first Giants rookie to score a defensive touchdown since cornerback Bruce Johnson’s 34-yard interception return at Dallas on Sept. 20, 2009. He scored the Giants’ first go-ahead defensive touchdown in the last four minutes of a fourth quarter or overtime since Oct. 31, 1999, when Michael Strahan scored on a 44-yard interception return in overtime to beat the Eagles in Philadelphia.
The Giants still had several anxious moments after Crowder’s touchdown. Washington took possession at its own 25 and converted two third downs on a 10-play drive that concluded with Allen’s 22-yard touchdown pass to Cam Sims with 36 seconds remaining. Coach Ron Rivera could have taken the safe route by kicking the extra point and sending the game into overtime.
But Rivera was going for broke – and the victory.
“I told them in the locker room, I said, ‘Guys, I play to win,’” said Rivera, who is aptly known as Riverboat Ron. “That’s a part of my philosophy. The only way to learn to win is to play to win, and that’s what I want those guys to understand, that’s the mentality. … The intent is to learn how to win football games.”
Good intentions, but poor execution. Dexter Lawrence and Blake Martinez pressured Allen into throwing an incomplete pass that landed in the end zone, nowhere near any of his teammates.
“I was actually expecting them to go for two,” Judge said. “They’ve been aggressive in a lot of situations this year, Ron’s always been aggressive as a head coach. You’re on the road, a lot of times that’s the decision you’re going to make right there. We knew they were going to treat those last couple series like they were their last series and they were going to try to get this thing all the way down and clock.
“I thought (defensive coordinator) Pat (Graham) made a great call on the two-point conversion. That’s actually a call we put in this week. I thought the guys matched it and played it very well. We got some pressure from the line. I saw the DB’s did a good job getting the initial coverage. They were trying to work (wide receiver Terry) McLaurin on kind of a hesitation and work out to the flat right there. I think it was (defensive back) Logan (Ryan) on him at that point right there and did a good job covering him. But it was a call Pat put in this week. The guys did a really good job working that on Friday, really improving on some things that we put on tape in practice that were mistakes, cleaned it up through Saturday, and, hey, practice execution becomes game reality.”
And that enabled the players to finally celebrate with Judge, who was doused in a postgame gathering.
“I gave him the game ball,” quarterback Daniel Jones said. “He was quickly dumped with Gatorade. A lot of people played a part in that celebration. It was a good, it was a fun moment there after the game.”
“It was definitely special to see him get his first win,” cornerback James Bradberry said. “It was also my first win as a Giant, so that felt special as well. Of course, we might have poured a little water on a little bit just to celebrate. We were just happy to get the win. There was a lot of celebration going on in there. It was a happy moment.”
Judge was typically reluctant to make the story about himself.
“The locker room obviously had a lot of energy afterwards,” Judge said. “The guys were very happy. There’s been a lot of pressure that they’ve put on themselves and that we put on them. They’ve been fighting hard for six weeks and working through training camp for us. You hit this point right here and you just want to get the results. And I’m happy the fans were able to have it and I’m happy the players were able to enjoy it today.”
Bradberry’s interception of an Allen pass and 19-yard return set up Jones’ 23-yard first-quarter scoring pass to Darius Slayton, the Giants’ only offensive touchdown. It was Jones’ and the team’s first touchdown pass since Slayton caught two on opening night against Pittsburgh. Graham Gano kicked field goals of 33 and 20 yards.
Jones completed 12 of 19 passes for 112 yards, all career lows for a game in which he started. But he also ran for a career-high 74 yards, including a 49-yarder that was the longest run by a Giants quarterback in the Super Bowl era.
Washington scored on Allen passes of five yards to Logan Thomas and the 22-yarder to Sims, plus Dustin Hopkins field goals of 35 and 28 yards. The 70-yard drive that ended with Thomas’ touchdown was kept alive by Austin Johnson’s running into the kicker penalty on a Washington punt. That advanced the ball five yards and on fourth-and-four, Rivera characteristically chose to go for it. Washington picked up the first down on Dontrelle Inman’s 15-yard reception and scored four plays later.
But the game was decided by a two-point conversion try on which the Giants’ defense executed perfectly and flummoxed Washington’s offense.
“We finally got our win,” said defensive lineman Leonard Williams, who had one of the Giants’ three sacks. “We’ve been working hard and finally got to see some of the fruits of our labor. It was obviously an ugly win, though. We obviously wanted to do a lot better. There’s still some football out there that we have to clean up.”
This week, they can do that with smiles on their faces.