Sam Donnellon: Giants' Umenyiora works overtime in win over Redskins

Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora takes off for end zone with recovered fumble.
Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora takes off for end zone with recovered fumble.
Posted: September 14, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The ball bounced straight up, straight into Osi Umenyiora's hands. Now what? A sprint around his blocker, a crushing hammer blow to the passing arm of Washington quarterback Jason Campbell as he drove him to the ground - his job was done.

This? A fumbled ball? Open field? Running?

This was working overtime.

"There have been some plays where it looks like he sees the ball on the ground and just walks off the field," defensive linemate Justin Tuck was saying of Umenyiora after the Giants opened their final season in Giants Stadium with a 23-17 victory over the Redskins yesterday. "It's like he's saying, 'I got the sack, I caused the fumble, y'all take it from here.' "

This time though, Umenyiora was faced with a hard choice: Fall down with the ball in his hands and he would face even more teasing from teammates like Tuck.

So he ran. Thirty-seven yards, into the end zone. It gave the Giants a 17-0, second-quarter lead. It gave Umenyiora what teammate Mathias Kiwanuka later called "the cycle, a hat trick" and "the Holy Grail" for a defensive end:

A sack, a strip, a fumble recovery and a touchdown, all on the same play.

"I've probably left about seven or eight of those on the table in my career," Umenyiora said. "They've gotten on me about it. I'm going to start looking for the ball every time I knock it out."

Yeah, right, said Tuck.

"He's the prettiest d-lineman ever," said Tuck. "He does not want to get his jersey dirty."

Ah, but that was the old Osi. That was the Osi who sometimes took his humongous talent for granted, before a tear of his lateral meniscus cartilage forced him to miss all of last season. "Sometimes when you're out there all the time," Umenyiora said. "You kind of forget what it's like not to be out there."

There were many reasons why Umenyiora was the headliner yesterday: his return, his touchdown, his much-reported preseason spat with new defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan for which the 7-year pro quickly apologized.

But the bigger story out of the swamps is that the Giants' defense, especially up front, looked at times to be as deep, disruptive and relentless as the one that pounded its way to a Super Bowl championship two seasons ago.

With the Giants and Eagles in mind, Washington signed massive and mean free-agent defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth to an equally massive 7-year, $100 million deal. New York, meanwhile, added free-agent tackles Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard, looking to regain that tag-team pressure that kept them fourth-quarter fresh and frazzled offensive lines.

Hamstring problems to both during the preseason left some doubt as to how effective that would be. And the effort in the opener - at home, against Jason Campbell and a Redskins offense whose best moments came in desperation - left tangible doubts.

Washington scored one of its two touchdowns via a fake field goal right before the half, and the other late in the game, after the Giants - whose offense also herked and jerked - had pushed ahead, 23-10.

Washington's offense had just four plays in the first quarter, and New York owned the ball for more than 20 minutes of the first half, and held a nearly 13-minute advantage at game's end. Haynesworth was definitely mean and disruptive - he once ripped the helmet off Ahmad Bradshaw, then patted him as he scurried back to the huddle - but the Giants torched Washington's other big offseason signee, cornerback DeAngelo Hall throughout the afternoon.

Hall's olé miss of Mario Manningham along the sideline allowed the Giants receiver to tightrope 30 yards for New York's first touchdown in the second quarter. Steve Smith ran past him another time. Most of New York's big passes were directed at him, although he did record Washington's only interception - after LaRon Landry tipped it into his hands.

At the end, the numbers, the score too, reflected a closer game than the one that many of the 78,206 had abandoned, heading toward their cars midway through the final quarter. The Redskins had 272 yards of total offense, but two long drives, at the end of each half and on the brink of being blown out, accounted for much of it.

The other times? Well, there was Umenyiora one play, Tuck another, Antonio Pierce. Corey Webster had a pick. The defense had its uneven moments, but the highs suggested the dominance of 2007. "The rotation was good," said Umenyiora. "Everybody played. We stayed fresh."

And no one had to work overtime.

No one but Osi.

He didn't have much choice.

"Oh, if he didn't have that ball bounce up like that?" Tuck said. "Guaranteed, he would have just walked off the field."

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