The New York Giants nearly ran out of people to play defense, so they used a castoff from the opposing team to force the game-clinching turnover.
Backup safety Kato Serwanga, released last Monday from the Washington Redskins' injured reserve list and signed by New York on Wednesday, stopped a potential game-winning drive when he stripped the ball from receiver Darnerien McCants.
Cornerback Ralph Brown, forced into starting duty because of injuries, had an interception and a fumble recovery in the first half. Altogether, the Giants forced five turnovers despite playing without five defensive starters to keep their minuscule playoff hopes alive with a 27-21 victory over the Redskins on Sunday.
``I was looking on the backs of the jerseys of a few guys to figure out what the heck, who is this?'' defensive end Michael Strahan said. ``Without those guys, we wouldn't have won today.''
Brown had two dazzling runbacks to set up two touchdowns, Kerry Collins completed 17 of 31 passes for 212 yards and two TDs, and Cornelius Griffin had three of New York's six sacks and forced a fumble as the Giants (7-6) broke a two-game losing streak.
``Everybody's counting us out, but we're still alive,'' said coach Jim Fassel, who had critics calling for his job last week. ``It will be over when we say it's over.''
The two second-half turnovers were huge tide-turners. The Giants had been sapped of momentum - their 17-0 lead was down to 17-14 - when Washington's Champ Bailey fumbled a punt. Two plays later, the Giants scored on Tiki Barber's 1-yard TD run, and a 36-yard field goal by Matt Bryant added more cushion.
But they needed one last big play. Serwanga, who sat idle in the Redskins' locker room with a knee injury all season before his unexpected release, came through when he stripped McCants at the Giants 30-yard line with 3:59 to play.
``Surreal would be a good word,'' Serwanga said, ``because a lot has happened. You've got to imagine from injured reserve to a week later playing against a team you were just hanging out with for two years - all in a matter of 72 hours. That's a bit much for me.''
Collins said he hasn't even said hello to Serwanga.
``He just started to put the milk and sugar in the coffee,'' Collins said. ``But the guy's out there, what can you say? We'll all talk to him now.''
The Giants played without linebackers Mike Barrow and Dhani Jones and cornerbacks Will Allen and William Peterson. Defensive lineman Keith Hamilton is out for the season.
The Redskins (5-8), meanwhile, are bumbling toward the finish line. Rookie Patrick Ramsey finished the game and is again the starter after Danny Wuerffel sprained his right shoulder in the third quarter. Coach Steve Spurrier's plan to use younger players backfired on plays such as McCants' fumble.
``We're hoping those guys with a little experience can learn to protect the ball when you get tackled,'' Spurrier said. ``We've done a lousy job of teaching them thus far.''
The best Washington can do now is repeat the .500 seasons of the past two years.
``There's always hope, but what does hope get you?'' guard Tre Johnson said. ``You need tangible stuff in this world.''
The Redskins rallied behind Ramsey, who led two scoring drives immediately after entering the game. Ramsey was 12-for-27 for 204 yards, and Derrius Thompson caught six passes for a career-high 122 yards.
Stephen Davis, getting less work in the late season youth movement, gained 70 yards on 12 carries and had a 1-yard touchdown run.
Four of Washington's turnovers came on pass plays, disgruntling the fans so much that they yelled ``Run the Ball,'' booing Wuerffel and chanting for Ramsey in the first half.