The Giants are alive. An impressive win over the NFC East leading Cowboys has the Giants back in contention for a playoff berth, and possibly the division title. The NFC “Beast” lives. Elsewhere, AFC favorites fell, playoff hopes were dashed, and the Saints flirted with imperfection.
The NFC East has returned to claim it’s throne as the best division in football. The numbers don’t lie. The Beast is the only division that contains three teams with winning records. (Yes, the AFC North is close, but the Steelers have fallen and even the Bengals are struggling to score.) The 2009 season is four weeks from the finish line. The Cowboys, Eagles, and Giants all have a reasonable shot at the division title. Even the basement dwelling Redskins are sticking it to some of the best teams in the NFL (see Sunday’s game vs. Saints or contests vs. Philly or Dallas over the past month). Granted, the NFC’s best teams still reside outside of the division. However, NFC East teams have performed well in the playoffs in recent years because of the level of play within the division. The Cardinals, Saints, and Vikings beat up on the likes of the Rams, Buccaneers, and Lions, while NFC East teams face playoff caliber division opponents. If the Saints are going to fall in the playoffs, it will be to an NFC East team because all three defenses can confuse and pressure quarterbacks. More importantly, all three teams have already experienced what the Saints are capable of and will apply that experience to their game planning. I’m not guaranteeing they’ll beat the Saints, but I do believe they’ll have the best opportunity. After all, an NFC East team faces six playoff games a year. What’s three or four more?
In must win games, the Patriots and Steelers both fell flat on their face. While the Patriots are still on top of the AFC East, their lead is down to just one game with the Dolphins and Jets in pursuit. After jumping out to an early lead, New England couldn’t find the end zone and allowed the Dolphins too many opportunities to win the game. Tom Brady looked out of sync, their running game was inconsistent, and the New England defense couldn’t hold on. The Patriots are now in a position where they may very well miss the playoffs…as could the Steelers. As disappointing and embarrassing as the Patriots loss was to Miami, Pittsburgh’s defeat to the Oakland Raiders was uglier. In desperate need of a win, the Steelers welcomed the lowly Raiders to Heinz Field. A few hours later, Oakland left the Steelers and their fans in a state of shock. It was Pittsburgh’s second loss in three weeks to one of the NFL’s worst teams. The vaunted Steeler defense dropped a game clinching interception, committed foolish penalties, and surrendered over 225 yards and 21 points to the Bruce Gradkowski led Raider offense in the 4th quarter. The Steelers are lost. Last week, a favorable schedule made them a virtual lock for the playoffs. Now, they’ll need to win and get help to even have a shot at defending their title. Who could have imagined the possibility of the AFC playoffs without the Patriots and Steelers?
Three things from the Saints/Redskins thriller: 1. Only the Redskins could turn an interception into an opponent’s touchdown. A defensive player fumbling while returning an interception or fumble isn’t unheard of. In fact, it happens quite often. However, to have a receiver rip the ball out of your hands and run it back untouched for a touchdown is just unacceptable. Kudos to Robert Meachem for causing the fumble and taking it to the house, but the Redskins should be embarrassed. 2. The Mike Sellers fumble. The whistle was blown as the closest referee ruled Sellers down. It was clear that Sellers fumbled the ball. However, Sellers stopped pursuing the lost ball after hearing the whistle, assuming the play was dead. Sellers absolutely HAS to know to always go for the ball. With replay review all over the league, you can never be too sure. It was unfortunate, but totally Sellers’ fault. 3. What was Sean Payton doing at the end of the game? He kept trying to score the touchdown. Who’s he think he is, Bill Belichick? Kick the field goal and be thankful the Redskins can’t close.
So long, playoffs: 49ers, Texans, Titans
That was impressive…
- Asante Samuel must have heard about his tackling issues from the Philadelphia coaches. He made a handful of textbook tackles on Sunday in Atlanta.
- The Colts know how to close out a game. Up by 14 with more than ten minutes remaining in the 4th quarter, Peyton Manning led the offense on a 15 play, 70 yard field goal drive. The drive extended the lead to 17 and more importantly, ate 7:23 off the clock.
- What a fantastic one handed grab by Eagles fullback, Leonard Weaver. The juke move and run after the catch were equally as impressive, especially for a fullback.
- It’s been a tough season, and the Oakland Raiders certainly won’t see the playoffs, but wins over the Bengals, Eagles, and Steelers will give the coaches something to build on for 2010.
- Jim Zorn’s face after kicker Shaun Suisham missed a 23 yard field goal that would have clinched the upset over New Orleans was priceless. Total shock. Zorn wasn’t watching the kick and couldn’t believe Suisham missed it. Not that this would ever happen, but it’s a face one would make if he were told he would remain in his current role but would no longer call the offensive plays.
- The Arizona Cardinals put a whipping on the Minnesota Vikings. The NFC Championship will now definitely go through New Orleans.
- It’s taken over half the season, but Jason Witten is beginning to resemble his 2008 form the past few weeks. The Giants didn’t have an answer for him on Sunday.
- After passing Jim Brown on the all time rushing list, LaDanian Tomlinson respectful pointed to, and saluted the luxury box where Brown was watching the game. Tomlinson made sure he knew where Brown was sitting so he could acknowledge him and pay his respect. Classy guy.
- Anyone else notice Eli Manning 25 yards downfield on Ahmad Bradshaw’s 4th quarter run? Manning didn’t block a soul, but he looked like he wanted to. For a quarterback, that’s good enough.
- Alex Smith and Brady Quinn are making some pretty strong cases to start for their respective teams in 2010. On Sunday, Smith went 27/45 for 310 yards and 2 TDs while Quinn threw for 271 yards and 3 TDs on 25/45 passing. And the biggest key for young quarterbacks, no turnovers.
- Raiders WR Louis Murphy, surrounded by four Steeler defenders, somehow came down with a jump ball with only 27 seconds left on the Raiders game winning drive. A few moments later, he caught the game-winning touchdown to shock the Steelers.
- The Jacksonville Jaguars won’t go away just yet. Their beat down of the Houston Texans was not as close as the score indicated. Combine that with the Pittsburgh loss, and Jacksonville dramatically improved their chances of holding onto that final playoff spot.
- The Cowboys moved the ball efficiently, but the Giants defense made enough plays to win the game. It’s amazing that the Giants can still win the division.
- The Dolphins are a gutty team and that was a gutty victory on Sunday. The Patriots should have won by 20 but they let Miami hang around. The Dolphins took full advantage of the opportunity and are now just a game back in the division (and so are the Jets).
Not so much…
- The Bears managed to look bad in their victory over the St. Louis Rams. While they only lost one, the Bears fumbled six times on Sunday. The 2009 season can’t end soon enough for Chicago.
- Matt Cassel went 10/29 and threw 2 interceptions before he got himself benched in the Chiefs shellacking to the Broncos. Cassel hasn’t exactly been worth the $63 million Kansas City invested in him.
- He’s been a stud this year, but Vernon Davis let the 49ers’ playoff hopes slip through his hands. Davis dropped the go-ahead TD with less than four minutes to go in the 4th quarter. San Francisco settled for a FG to tie the game at 17 and would go on to lose 20-17.
- Giants WR Steve Smith dropped a touchdown pass that would have clinched the Giants’ victory over the Cowboys. It turned out alright because Domenik Hixon bailed him out when he returned a punt for a touchdown shortly after.
- Cowboys kicker Nick Folk and Redskins kicker Shaun Suisham are not the most popular men in their respective locker rooms. Suisham missed a 23 yarder to close out the Saints while Folk missed from 42 yards at a crucial point in the 4th quarter.
- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers racked up 469 total yards and only had six points to show for their efforts…
- …The Buccaneers managed one field goal in five red zone trips…
- …Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman threw five interceptions, three of which came in the red zone.
- The Steelers secondary got embarrassed by the Raiders today, and embarrassed is putting it nicely.
- I have yet to watch a Redskins game this year where Albert Haynesworth didn’t end up injured on the field. I’m serious too.
- Eagles rookie WR Jeremy Maclin was tackled by Atlanta’s punter in the open field. Maclin is well aware of the significance. “I let the kicker tackle me,” Maclin said. “He got me. Hopefully, it won’t happen again.” Let’s hope not.
- Heading into today’s game, the Jacksonville Jaguar defense had registered only 10 sacks this season.
- When Rex Grossman is your quarterback for any duration of time in a “win or your season is over game,” you know you’re in trouble. The Texans went on to lose the game and ultimately, their 2009 season.
- I’ve seen that Brett Favre before.
- The New England Patriots need a makeover on both sides of the ball. Unless the Jaguars sneak in, the Patriots won’t win a playoff game in their current state. Does Randy Moss retire after the 1st quarter each week?
- Thursday night’s football game was hard on the eyes. The fan’s in Toronto were wild. It was almost as loud as a Blue Jay’s game. (FYI, A Blue Jay’s crowd isn’t loud. The crowd on Thursday was a joke. The NFL needs to bail on Toronto. They don’t care about the Bills.)
Take that man to Chic-Fil-A
QB Bruce Gradkowski: 20/33 308 YDS, 3 TD
RB Jonathan Stewart: 26 Carries, 120 YDS, TD
WR Devin Thomas: 7 Rec, 100 YDS, 2 TD
WR Anquan Boldin: 7 Rec, 98 YDS, 2 TD
TE Jason Witten: 14 Rec, 156 YDS
D Panthers: 6 Points Allowed, 5 Turnovers, 2 Sacks
Probably should have stayed in bed
QB Josh Freeman: 23/44 321 YDS, 5 INT
RB LeSean McCoy: 6 Carries, 2 YDS
WR Mike Sims-Walker: 1 Rec, 12 YDS
WR Mario Manningham: 1 Rec, 10 YDS
TE Greg Olsen: 2 Rec, 1 YDS
D Steelers: Surrendered 27 Points, 396 Yards, Three 4th Quarter TDs…to the RAIDERS!
The AFC once looked like it was full of top tier contenders. Now, the conference contains only one team that resembles a Super Bowl contender. Top level: Colts. Second Level: Chargers. Third Level: Bengals, Broncos. Fourth Level: Patriots and Steelers, who have not been impressive as of late, and the Jaguars. Ravens will fall accordingly depending on Monday’s outcome.
The Giants won today because they never allowed Dallas to maintain the momentum. After each of Dallas’ first two touchdowns, the Giants responded with the following drives; 4 plays, 74 yards, TD and 1 play, 74 yards, TD. It’s hard to win without momentum on your side.
In the biggest game of their season, the 49ers went 1/13 on 3rd conversions and according to FOX, dropped nine passes. Just another young team that doesn’t quite know how to win the big game.
Speaking of teams who can’t win big games, the Texans went 0-4 in the most important stretch of their season (IND, TENN, IND, JAC). That is why they’ll watch the playoffs….again.
I don’t think the rollout inside the red zone works, Andy. Stop running it.
The Cowboys have seen enough of the Giants’ Steve Smith. In two games, he has 16 receptions for 244 yards and a TD.
Cardinals safety Antrel Rolle should be featured in the Arizona offense a few times each game. He moved like Barry Sanders on Sunday night.
The Cowboys lost but it was not directly because of Tony Romo’s trip to Las Vegas. Romo was lights out on Sunday, 41/55 392 yards, 3 TDs and no turnovers.
Too many receivers had impressive days today. I couldn’t include them all on my weekly all-star team. Therefore, I’ll mention them here: Calvin and Andre Johnson, Roddy White, Chad Ochocinco, Larry Fitzgerald, Antonio Gates, Antonio Bryant, Robert Meachem, Brandon Marshall, Santonio Holmes, Steve Smith (NYG), Louis Murphy, Miles Austin, Davone Bess, Wes Welker, Pierre Garcon. Welker, Bess, and Austin all had double digit receptions.
According to CBS analyst Dan Dierdorf, the Pittsburgh Steelers have held 4th quarter leads in five of their six losses. Heeessshhh. That is not a sign of a team intent on defending it’s crown. In fact, they may not even reach the playoffs.
If I told you at the beginning of the season that both the Giants and Steelers would suffer four game losing streaks, how long would it take before you asked me if I’d been drinking? A minute? 20 seconds? 3 seconds?
Down by 14, the Tennessee Titans had 4th and goal from the two late in the third quarter. They threw a fade route. It fell incomplete. Here are my issues with the call. 1. The fade has a low success rate; it’s too easy to break up. 2. Vince Young can’t throw the fade like Peyton Manning. 3. The Titans don’t have a go-to receiver who can pull off the fade a la Reggie Wayne. 4. You have Chris Johnson, the best RB in the league. Run the ball.
When will Bill Belichick learn to kick the field goal inside the red zone? He cost New England a shot at a first round bye today.
FOX analyst Daryl Johnston was relentless in criticizing Donovan McNabb for not scrambling for a first down early in the first quarter. Instead of rushing for the sticks, McNabb threw the ball to TE Brent Celek in the end zone. What Johnston failed to mention was that McNabb threw a great pass that Celek dropped. After not converting on 3rd down, Johnston went back to McNabb not scrambling on 2nd down, again ignoring the dropped touchdown by Celek. Do announcers pay attention to what’s happening on the field, or do they just like to hear themselves talk?
Good for Michael Vick, Atlanta, and his Eagle teammates. All handled Vick’s return very well. It was obvious that a majority of those involved were very excited for Vick and his performance against the Falcons. The coolest part was the Philadelphia Eagles allowing Vick to lead them onto the field in pre-grame introductions.
At 7:03PM ET, following Hixon’s punt return for a TD, I sent the following text message to my cousin who is a huge Cowboys fan; “Must be December.” I didn’t expect a response. After all, the wound was too fresh. Much to my surprise, I received a response seconds later. It said, “I hate you.” I love it when the Cowboys lose.