LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — The first time Washington faced the New York Giants this season, Alex Smith was the QB for the Redskins, and their victory pushed them to 5-2, alone atop the NFC East.
The Giants, meanwhile, dropped to 1-7, headed nowhere fast in coach Pat Shurmur’s first year and what just about everyone was figuring would be Eli Manning’s last.
So much has happened in the meantime.
As the rivals prepare to meet again Sunday, it’ll be Mark Sanchez taking the reins as the Redskins’ third starting quarterback in less than a month. They’ve lost three consecutive games to fall to 6-6. There was also the fallout from the decision to claim Reuben Foster off waivers after the San Francisco 49ers released the linebacker following an arrest for domestic violence.
The biggest challenge now for the Redskins is trying to persuade themselves not to pack it in.
“We still have a lot to play for. We’re not out of anything right now. It’s not like we’re 0-12 and we’re just playing for whatever. We’re actually playing to try to get into the playoffs, possibly win the division. Heck, we still have a lot out in front of us,” Washington coach Jay Gruden said.
“It might not be pretty. We might not throw for 500 yards and lead the league in offense or what have you. We might throw for 100 and rush for 100 and win the game 7-3. Who knows?” Gruden said. “I know that we have enough talent in here, where we can still do some damage and compete with anybody on our schedule. So that’s my job to get our team up and ready — and then it’s their job to go out and perform at the very highest level that they can possibly perform.”
And the Giants?
Well, they’re still in last place, but they’ve shown lately that they didn’t give up under Shurmur, winning three of their past four games to get to 4-8, with rookie running back Saquon Barkley and star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. leading the way. If they beat Washington — and New York is favored because of the host’s quarterback situation — the Giants would suddenly have a realistic shot at moving out of the division cellar.
The biggest impediment to Washington’s chances at staying close to the teams ahead of it, Dallas and Philadelphia, is an offense that saw Smith go down with a broken leg in a 23-21 loss against Houston on Nov. 18, then McCoy get a broken leg last week.
Now Gruden had a short week to prepare Sanchez for his first starting assignment since the 2015 season.
“We know what’s at stake,” said Sanchez, whose last win as a starter came in 2014. “We understand that this division is really up for grabs, so these next few games, especially the divisional games, carry a lot of weight.”
Here are other things to know about the game Sunday:
Against the Eagles, the 32-year-old Sanchez compiled a passer rating of 53.7, going 13 for 21 for only 100 yards with one interception and one fumble that he managed to recover. His career passer rating is 73.7, and he has more interceptions (87) than TD passes (86) since entering the league as a first-round draft pick of the New York Jets.
“It’s a huge leap playing with guys you don’t even know,” Gruden said about Sanchez, who was signed to be McCoy’s backup less than three weeks ago. “I don’t even know if he knows all (of his teammates’) names.”
SO MANY FLAGS
The Giants have been penalized 50 times for 438 yards in their last five games, averaging 10 flags for 87.6 yards. In their last game, the numbers were 12 for 107.
SO MANY INJURIES
The Redskins now have 17 players on injured reserve after adding three more names this week. The banged-up offensive line was already without both starting guards and now lost another, Jonathan Cooper, to a torn biceps. Another guard, Tony Bergstrom, is also hurt, as is starting center Chase Roullier.
Replacing injured safety Landon Collins is going to be tough for New York. He was the team’s leading tackler in each of his first three seasons and was leading the team this year with 96. Veteran Michael Thomas and rookie Sean Chandler probably will split time at the strong safety spot. The problem for the Giants is Collins is excellent in run support and covering tight ends.
During Washington’s solid start to the season, the defense was seen as a strength. Not so much these days: Washington is allowing 27.3 points per game over the past three. And its opponents have gained 422.4 yards per game over the past five.
AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan contributed to this report.