LANDOVER, Md. — He wasn’t drafted, people mispronounce his name, and he had no idea where he was going when he was ushered into the room for his first big NFL postgame news conference.
But Larry Donnell can find the end zone.
And, once he gets there, all he has to do is turn his 6-foot-6, 265-pound body around and haul in the pass from Eli Manning.
It happened three times in the first half Thursday night in the New York Giants’ 45-14 victory over the Washington Redskins.
“You set your goals high,” Donnell said.
“I didn’t expect it to come so quick, but it has.”
He has become Manning’s top receiver, the perfect target in the team’s new dink-and-dunk offence.
The second-year tight end out of Grambling State caught twisting grabs of 5, 6 and 6 yards, touchdowns so similar he had trouble differentiating them in his mind.
“They all tie into each other,” he said. “Every time I think about one, I just smile from ear to ear, man. It’s just a great feeling. … When we’re down there, you make eyes with Eli, you know he’s about to throw it.”
After struggling in his first two games running new offensive co-ordinator Ben McAdoo’s West Coast playbook, Manning has led the Giants (2-2) to consecutive victories.
Manning is supposed to complete 70 per cent of his passes in this offence, and he surpassed that mark against the Redskins, going 28 for 39 — including three simple open-field drops — for 300 yards with four touchdowns and one interception.
Manning also ran for a 1-yard score, as did Andre Williams, and the Giants forced six turnovers.
“That was the whole thing, to be able to leave here tonight and be 2-2 and 1-0 in the division. That was huge,” New York coach Tom Coughlin said.
“It’s exciting to be in the hunt, and by being able to come out of here with a win, hopefully we have a chance to be.”
Donnell — it’s pronounced “don-EHL”, not “DON-ehl” — beat a trio of defenders for his hat trick of touchdowns: linebacker Perry Riley, safety Brandon Meriweather and rookie cornerback Baushad Breeland. They barely knew what hit them.
“He’s better than what we thought,” Meriweather said. “And by the time we made that adjustment, he was three touchdowns in.”
Donnell finished with seven catches for 54 yards. He had only one career touchdown catch entering the game, but he now leads the Giants this season in TD catches (4) and overall receptions (25). Daniel Fells had a 2-yard scoring catch in the third quarter, which means tight ends have snagged seven of Manning’s nine TD passes this season.
New York’s Victor Cruz added six catches for 108 yards, his second consecutive 100-yard game.
Kirk Cousins and his receivers weren’t anywhere near as efficient for the Redskins, whose six giveaways led to 31 points for the Giants.
A strip-sack by Mathias Kiwanuka set up New York’s first touchdown, Trumaine McBride’s strip of tight end Logan Paulsen after a catch ended a Washington drive deep in New York territory, and Prince Amukamara, Quinten Demps, McBride and Antrel Rolle intercepted Cousins’ passes in the second half.
“I’ve got to look at my play,” Cousins said, “because that was killing us at the end there.”
Cousins, who has the starting job while Robert Griffin III recovers from a dislocated ankle, finished 19 for 33 for 257 yards with four interceptions and a fumble for first-year coach Jay Gruden’s Redskins (1-3), who dropped into the cellar in the NFC East, already 2 1/2 games behind the unbeaten Philadelphia Eagles. Cousins threw three interceptions in a span of five attempts in the second half; Griffin has never thrown three picks in an entire game.