NFC East: 2011 Week 14 Rapid Reaction
December, 11, 2011
By Dan Graziano | ESPN.com
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Some thoughts on the wild, back-and-forth tussle between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys for control of the NFC East race:
What it means: A three-game season in the NFC East with two teams controlling their own destinies. The two teams are tied for first place at 7-6. The Giants currently hold the tiebreaker due to Sunday night's head-to-head victory, but they meet again Jan. 1 in New Jersey. If either the Cowboys or the Giants win their final three games, they will be division champs. Of course, it could also be decided before then, but the Giants' victory Sunday makes that less likely. New York's win also is good news, for what it's worth, for the Eagles, who are 5-8 and just two games out of the first-place tie.
The hero: Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, the team's first-round pick in the 2010 draft, was the Giants' defense in this game. He was the only one who could get pressure on Tony Romo, and he was there in the end to block Dan Bailey's attempt at a game-tying 47-yard field goal. Pierre-Paul has emerged as a superstar player for the Giants this season, and as great as Eli Manning has been and was again in the fourth quarter, it was Pierre-Paul's playmaking that made the difference.
Giants don't quit: The Giants were down by 12 points with less than six minutes left in the game but mounted touchdown drives of 80 and 58 yards to take back the lead with 46 seconds left. It was Manning's fifth fourth-quarter comeback drive of the season and undoubtedly his most important since it ended a four-game losing streak and put them back on top in the division with three games to go.
The one-armed man did it: Before Pierre-Paul, it looked as though Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee had made the momentum-swinger. The Giants had already converted a fourth down to keep their drive alive, but on third-and-nine from the Dallas 21, trailing by five points with seven minutes left in the game, Lee came up with a funky interception. Manning's pass whacked into the arm of Victor Butler, then hit Lee on the arm as he was tangled up with David Diehl. Somehow, Lee was able to turn around and catch the ball (in spite of the heavy wrap he wears on his left arm, where the wrist was dislocated earlier this season) and ran for 30 yards before Hakeem Nicks tackled him. Two plays later, Tony Romo hit a wide-open Dez Bryant for a 50-yard touchdown pass that put the Cowboys up 34-22.
No D for G-men: With safety Kenny Phillips out, an already challenged Giants defense just couldn't get a stop. With the exception of the brilliant Pierre-Paul, they were unable to generate a pass rush from their front four. Once again, they refused to blitz because they don't trust their coverage. And once again, the coverage showed why it can't be trusted. Tony Romo and the Cowboys picked on rookie cornerback Prince Amukamara, and Romo beat him for a 74-yard gainer to Laurent Robinson early in the fourth quarter to set up a Miles Austin touchdown that put Dallas on top 27-22. Later in the quarter, Bryant got behind the defense for the easiest touchdown of his life.
Down to one back: The Cowboys lost their great rookie running back, DeMarco Murray, to an ankle injury in the first quarter. And while Felix Jones filled in admirably, rushing for more than 100 yards, Jones is now the only healthy tailback the Cowboys have. And they were unable to run the ball and put the game away in the fourth quarter, allowing Manning and the Giants time to mount a final attempt at a game-winning drive.
Mr. 4,000: This was Manning's third game in a row and seventh this season with at least 300 passing yards, and as a result this is his third straight season with at least 4,000 yards passing.
What's next: The Cowboys play Saturday night in Tampa Bay against the Buccaneers, who are 4-9 and have lost seven games in a row. The Giants have a home game Sunday against the 4-9 Redskins, who started their season by beating them 28-14 in Washington.
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