LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin settled his hands on his hips and launched into a 90-second assessment of the way his team managed to lose despite avoiding any turnovers and repeatedly putting together long drives.
It was a postgame news conference following New York's 17-16 defeat against the Washington Redskins on Monday night. It sounded like a speech he might deliver to his players.
"This is not real complicated. I don't know what happened in the second half. We certainly didn't come out and play. Penalties. Sloppy football," Coughlin said. "Just disappointing to come down here and play like this."
Suddenly, after a rare loss after leading at halftime on the road, the reigning Super Bowl champions are facing a real fight down the stretch for the NFC East title.
The Giants have lost three of four games to drop to 7-5, only one game ahead of the Redskins and Dallas Cowboys, who are both 6-6.
"We have to find a way to close this thing out," defensive end Osi Umenyiora said.
The Giants now face what could be a tough stretch of three games, hosting the New Orleans Saints next week, before going on the road to take on the NFC South-leading Atlanta Falcons and the AFC North-leading Baltimore Ravens.
A victory over Washington would have given New York a more comfortable division lead.
"We had an opportunity here today," Coughlin said.
But his team was whistled for nine penalties — about twice its average entering Monday — and perhaps none was more bothersome than a holding call on Will Beatty on a third-down play that Eli Manning had completed a pass that appeared to be good enough for first down.
"That's not our M.O.," defensive lineman Justin Tuck said.
And despite a string of lengthy drives, the Giants kept settling for field-goal attempts. Lawrence Tynes made three, but he missed a 43-yarder wide left in the first half of the one-point loss.
Two-time Super Bowl MVP Manning is the quarterback known for fourth-quarter rallies, but this time it was Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III bringing his team back from a deficit. The Giants led 13-10 at halftime, and they had won 26 consecutive games when ahead at that point away from home.
New York failed to get the job done for the first time since blowing a 21-0 halftime lead in a 24-21 loss to Tennessee in 2006. The Giants' defense could not get the ball back to its offense down the stretch.