EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Hope is an unlikely thing to discover in the middle of the swamps and sprawl of the Meadowlands.
But that's what the Washington Redskins found Sunday in an unexpected turn for their lost season.
Hope looked like New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning dropping back to pass, as the Redskins flustered and flattened Manning and the NFL's fourth-ranked passing offense en route to a 23-10 victory.
"You practice all week and have high hopes," safety Oshiomogho Atogwe said of the first Redskins' sweep of the season series with the Giants since 1999, "but to be able to execute this well — you're kind of amazed by it."
Wind chill that dipped into the teens under the cloudless sky at MetLife Stadium didn't stiffen the fingers of the Redskins' secondary. The group intercepted Manning three times and left the usually vocal crowd as boisterous as an afternoon at a library.
The strong-armed Manning entered Sunday having passed for 1,153 yards and seven touchdowns in his previous three games. His lowest quarterback rating was 90.7. And the Redskins won just once since October, including being dissected by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots a week ago, in a season plunged into talk of playing youngsters and draft position.
Add two early interceptions by Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman on Sunday — including one on the team's first possession — and the script looked familiar.
But each time the ball left Manning's hand, play after play came from the secondary. Hope came, too.
"Nobody believed we had a chance," said DeAngelo Hall, who snagged one of the interceptions. "Imagine what's going to happen when everything starts coming together. That's scary."
Added defensive lineman Stephen Bowen: "When we play like this all season, we'll be playing in January."
First, though, the Redskins and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett tried to confuse Manning. They didn't want him to relax in the pocket with time to read the defense and pick it apart. Reed Doughty, who started at safety, likened the variety of looks and coverages the Redskins deployed to a chess match. The Redskins, Hall believed, knew what the Giants wanted to do.
Manning escaped the Redskins' pass rush for the first two quarters, but constant pressure forced him into quick and off-balance throws.
"Some things that we were expecting we didn't get," said Manning, who finished 23-for-40 for 257 yards. "They do some things defensively where we thought we had a good plan and could hit a few big plays. They were there. We just didn't capitalize on those."
The most glaring of those missed opportunities was Manning's long pass Hakeem Nicks dropped in the first quarter. Nicks beat a pair of Redskins defensive backs and would have had an easy touchdown.
But three of Manning's passes found the hands of Redskins defensive backs, including Atogwe. The one-time starter played just 13 snaps against the Patriots. When Manning heaved a pass to Victor Cruz, the ball hung in the cold air. Atogwe wrapped his arm under the ball as he tumbled to the turf, then returned it 26 yards thanks to Hall's key block.
In the third quarter, Hall snatched a pass intended for Hakeem Nicks on a post-corner route at the Redskins' 40-yard line.
Redemption came with Hall's grab, after last week's Patriots game when he was called for a personal foul after tossing an official's flag and stood next to a play without attempting a tackle.
Hall shrugged off the play: "I just turned around and got my hands on it."
Finally, cornerback Josh Wilson killed another Giants drive in the fourth quarter. With Manning running a no-huddle offense in the shotgun, the quarterback lobbed a pass to the left corner of the end zone for Mario Manningham.
The diminutive Wilson grabbed the pass while falling out of bounds. Then he walked toward nearby Giants fans with his hand cupped around his ear as if they were too silent to hear.
On the next series, Wilson also stopped D.J. Ware from taking a short pass into the end zone.
Wilson wasn't available to speak after the game because of concussion-like symptoms after a fourth-quarter collision.
After the game containers of chicken broth and apple cider and hot chocolate sat in a corner of the Redskins' locker room that felt sweltering compared to the chill outside.
Blood trickled from a cut under Atogwe's right eye.
And around the piles of pants and shreds of tape and bowls of orange slices was rare thing this season: smiles.
"We can still make something out of every game," receiver Santana Moss said, "every Sunday."
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.