Updated at: 12/04/2012 1:35 AM
By HOWARD FENDRICH
(AP) LANDOVER, Md. - 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.
"Terrible. That’s what you strive for," Coughlin said. "We talk `Finish, finish, finish, finish, finish.’"
But after New York went up 16-10, the man known as RG3 threw an 8-yard go-ahead TD pass to Pierre Garcon early in the fourth quarter.
It was the Redskins’ first touchdown that was one of the evening’s crazy moments.
On second-and-2 from the New York 28, Griffin ran to his left and was being tackled by Stevie Brown after what would have been a 12-yard gain.
But as Griffin fell with his back to the ground, the ball popped out and went right on the fly to Washington receiver Joshua Morgan 3 yards farther upfield. Morgan then ran 13 yards for the score.
"We didn’t run (that play) in practice because we wanted to save it for the game," Griffin said with a grin. "I knew he was going to be there for it. ... Joshua did a good job being in the spot where he was supposed to be."
It was the second time this season that a Griffin fumble has turned into Redskins touchdown. Garcon recovered one in the end zone in a win over Tampa Bay.
Another fumble by the Redskins _ this one by Alfred Morris in the third quarter _ was recovered by the Giants and set off mayhem. New York defensive tackle Linval Joseph yanked at Redskins center Will Montgomery’s leg. Montgomery kicked at Joseph in response, and Joseph began to stomp his foot at Montgomery but said later he held up. Joseph and a Redskins player were whistled for offsetting unnecessary roughness penalties.
"It took me everything not to kick him back because I didn’t want hurt the team and I didn’t want to get fined and none of that," Joseph said. "I started, then I stopped. I thought about it."
Notes: Manning completed 20 of 33 passes for 280 yards and a 4-yard touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett. ... Ahmad Bradshaw ran for 103 yards on 24 carries, while Victor Cruz had five catches for 104 yards. ... Griffin completed 13 of 21 passes for 163 yards and ran five times for 72 yards, breaking Cam Newton’s NFL record for yards rushing in a season by a rookie QB. ... The Redskins have won three games in a row. ... Giants OT Sean Locklear was carted off with a knee injury in the second half.
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(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)