WASHINGTON - The last time the New York Giants visited the Washington Redskins on a Monday night, the national television audience got to see coach Jim Zorn and the home team embarrass themselves with one of the silliest fake field-goal attempts ever seen in the NFL, the everybody-run-to-one-side play that belongs in high school.
Zorn was fired a few weeks later.
One year earlier, those prime-time viewers watched Pittsburgh Steelers fans take over the Redskins' stadium, waving yellow Terrible Towels in the lower bowl - right in front of owner Dan Snyder's box - in a 23-6 win.
The next time the Redskins hosted the Steelers, Snyder ordered that 50,000 white "Redskins Rally towels" be distributed among the fans to counter the Pittsburgh invasion.
Snyder likes his team in the spotlight, but his largely unsuccessful 13 years as Redskins owner has been a Monday night wipeout. Washington has lost 10 straight home Monday night games, nine of them with Snyder as owner. The last win came in 1997, shortly after they moved into their new suburban stadium.
Now, at last, the Redskins have a leader suited for the big show. If anyone can end what tight end Chris Cooley jokingly referred to as "the Monday night curse," it's rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III.
"It's nothing he can't handle," Cooley said. "He's so grounded. He doesn't get in over his head."
The stakes could hardly be bigger for this season's Redskins (5-6), who have climbed back into the playoff picture with back-to-back wins in which Griffin has thrown for eight touchdowns and a 146.1 rating.
Still standing in their way, however, are the defending Super Bowl champion Giants (7-4), who have carved themselves a nice lead in the NFC East.
"It's a game where we can put some space between us and the rest of the division and really be in a position to lock it up," said Giants receiver Victor Cruz, whose 77-yard touchdown catch was the game-winner when the teams met in the Meadowlands in October. "Basically lock up our division with a win in Washington."
A win tonight would pull Washington within one game of first place; a loss would turn its playoff hopes into something best calculated in an advanced mathematics class.
"A win (tonight) can do a lot for us in the near-future - and in the distant future," said left tackle Trent Williams, who has known nothing but last-place finishes since the Redskins drafted him in 2010.
Both teams attributed recent bye weeks for regaining momentum after difficult stretches. The Redskins lost three straight before their week off and are 2-0 since. The Giants recharged the batteries after two bad losses and then came back to rout the Green Bay Packers last Sunday night.
That 38-10 win was a bit disheartening to the Redskins, who tuned in hoping the Giants would still be on the skids.
"I didn't like what I was seeing, so I turned away," Washington defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. "Seeing them rolling like that and so excited, you don't want too much of that in your head."