If the New York Giants had blown this one, recovering would've been tough.
There was no way they could afford a rerun of Monday night's heartbreaking loss to Dallas, yet that's exactly where they were headed after losing an 18-point second-half lead Sunday to the Washington Redskins.
Instead, there were stories of redemption for Jim Fassel, Jeremy Shockey, Matt Bryant - everyone in a blue uniform, for that matter - in a 24-21 overtime victory that tied the Giants with the Redskins for first place in the NFC East.
``If we would've lost this game, my wife better keep her hand on 9-1-1,'' defensive end Michael Strahan said. ``Because I don't know what I was going to do with myself. ... It was hard to get over last week. The last thing we wanted to do was lose another game like that.''
Matt Bryant kicked a 29-yard field goal 4:15 into the extra period, atoning for a squib kickoff that went out of bounds and gave Dallas a chance in the 35-32 overtime loss six days earlier. Shockey made a 14-yard catch in overtime, helping everyone forget his two big drops against the Cowboys.
Fassel, questioned for his tactics late in the game against the Cowboys, practically ordered his offense to win on the first overtime possession - which is exactly what they did.
``I told the offense we're going after it,'' said Fassel, whose team would have fallen two games off the division lead with a loss. ``We're not playing 'whatever.' Take the ball and go down there.''
The Giants (2-1) led 21-3 at halftime, but a mistake-filled second half and questionable clock management late in regulation allowed the Redskins to tie it on John Hall's 34-yard field goal with 13 seconds left in regulation.
But Washington (2-1) had no business being in the game after committing a franchise-tying 17 penalties for 142 yards, including nine in the first half. They rallied only because the Giants starting returning the favor, committing 11 of their 15 penalties after halftime.
Coach Steve Spurrier said the penalties were indicative of ``pure bad discipline.''
``I guess we've got to fine guys that do things like that,'' Spurrier said. ``I guess we ought to fine them pretty hard. ... I didn't think it was that hard to play within the rules, but we're having a hard time doing it.''
Kerry Collins threw three touchdown passes, completing 24 of 39 passes for 276 yards for the Giants. Tiki Barber ran for 126 yards, Ike Hilliard caught two touchdown passes, and Shockey had six catches for 92 yards.
The Giants committed a holding penalty on the kickoff return to start overtime and had to begin the drive at their own 6. But a 15-yard run by Barber, the 14-yard pass to Shockey and a 27-yard gain after a catch in the flat by fullback Jim Finn moved New York into range for the winning field goal.
The Giants led 21-18 and had a chance to kill the clock when they got the ball with 2:27 remaining in regulation, but an incomplete pass and an out-of-bounds play stopped the clock twice for the Redskins. Washington got the ball back on its own 28 with 2:01 left, leaving time to move downfield for Hall's tying field goal.
Penalties have been a major problem for the Redskins from the first week of preseason, but they overcame them in narrow victories over the New York Jets and Atlanta to start 2-0 for the first time in 12 years.
``I thought we were ready to play well and play smart,'' Spurrier said. ``I don't really think we did either one most of the time.''
The final 3:05 of the first half was a downright stupefying series of miscues that left the Giants seemingly in control. New York had a third-and-29 and tried to concede by running draw plays, but an offsides penalty, followed by an unsportsmanlike penalty on linebacker Jeremiah Trotter gave the Giants a first down.
From there, Collins and Barber led a methodical two-minute drill that ended with a 5-yard scoring pass to Hilliard with 19 seconds remaining, his second TD catch.
The Redskins, who overcame a 17-0 deficit to beat Atlanta last week, started this comeback by capitalizing on a roughing-the-passer penalty to complete an 89-yard drive on Darnerien McCants' 4-yard reception in the third quarter.
A 6-yard scoring pass to Rod Gardner and a 2-point conversion cut the lead to 21-18 with 2:27 left in regulation.