NFC East: 2011 Week 16 coverage
December, 24, 2011
By Calvin Watkins | ESPN.com
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The game didn't mean much thanks to the Giants' win over the Jets earlier Saturday, but the Cowboys didn't play well the entire day.
Philadelphia, with nothing to play for either, beat the Dallas Cowboys, 20-7, at Cowboys Stadium.
Jerry Jones said this week that he was scared of the Eagles, but he should be scared of what next week might represent: A loss to the Giants in the regular-season finale would end the Cowboys' hopes of a postseason berth.
What it means: The Cowboys lost quarterback Tony Romo to a hand injury and any potential momentum going into the the Giants game next Sunday. The loss also raised more questions about the defense, which struggled in pass coverage and wrapping up Michael Vick. It's the first time the Eagles have swept the Cowboys since 2006.
Home shutout avoided: The Cowboys avoided being shut out for the first time in the three-year history of Cowboys Stadium with Miles Austin's 4-yard touchdown reception with seven seconds left. It would have been the first time the Cowboys were shut out in a home game since Sept. 15, 1991. The Cowboys have gone 20 years, three months and nine days between shutouts -- Philadelphia blanked Dallas, 24-0 at Texas Stadium.
Tony Romo injures hand: Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo injured his right hand on the fourth offensive play of the game when Jason Babin smashed into him on third down. Romo did not return and had his right hand wrapped. Stephen McGee finished the game despite getting hit a few times himself. This is the first time Romo started a game and didn't complete a pass. He was 0-for-2.
Jason Garrett plays the starters: When the Cowboys took the field Saturday afternoon, the Giants-Jets game had yet to finish. If the Giants had lost, the Cowboys would have clinched the NFC East with a win. With several players nicked up, including starters Felix Jones (hamstring), Jay Ratliff (ribs) and DeMarcus Ware (neck), there was a thought Garrett would rest them. He didn't. Jones played fewer than five snaps in the game, and Ware and Ratliff played well into the fourth quarter.
What's next? The NFC East divisional championship game. The Cowboys take on the Giants at Met Life Stadium, with the winner clinching a playoff spot. However, there are scenarios in which the Cowboys can clinch a wild-card berth with a lot of help. But New Year's Day will determine the Cowboys' fate. It's a reminder of the ending of the 2008 season, in which a Cowboys victory at Philadelphia would have sent them to the postseason. The Eagles won, 44-6.
December, 24, 2011
By Dan Graziano | ESPN.com
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the New York Giants' potentially season-saving 29-14 victory over the New York Jets on Saturday afternoon at MetLife Stadium.
What it means: A couple of things. First, it means next Sunday's game between the Giants and the Dallas Cowboys here at MetLife will decide the NFC East. The winner advances to the playoffs as division champ. The Cowboys could theoretically still make it as a wild card if they beat the Eagles this afternoon, but the Giants' only way in is to win the game and the division. This Giants win also means that the Philadelphia Eagles are, at long last, eliminated from contention for this year's postseason.
Toughening up: In their previous five games, the Giants had allowed opponents to convert 54 percent of their third downs. But in this game, the Jets were a miserable 4-for-21 on third down. The Giants' coverage in the secondary was drastically improved in this game, and they were able to generate enough pressure to rattle Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and disrupt a surprisingly pass-heavy Jets offensive game plan. The offense played its second straight shaky game, but this time the defense was able to bail it out by making a few big stops.
The big play: The Jets were manhandling the Giants on defense in the first half, but with a little more than two minutes left before halftime, Eli Manning completed a 99-yard touchdown pass to Victor Cruz that put the Giants on top 10-7. It was the play of the game and possibly, as it turns out, the Giants' season, as it sent the Jets into the halftime locker room demoralized and apparently determined to throw the ball to make up for it.
Touchy at the end: The Giants appeared to have the game locked up when they recovered a fumble in the end zone at the end of a long Jets drive. But even though they were up 20-7, they came out throwing, and Manning threw an interception on the first play that the Jets would later convert into a touchdown. The Jets got the ball back at their own eight-yard line with 2:24 left, but the Chris Canty sacked Sanchez in the end zone for the safety that sealed the Giants' win.
What's next: The Giants host the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday here at MetLife Stadium in the game that will decide the division title.
December, 24, 2011
By Dan Graziano | ESPN.com
A few thoughts on the Washington Redskins' disappointing 33-26 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in their final home game of the season:
What it means: The Redskins have lost at least 10 games for the third season in a row, and much of the good feeling that accompanied last week's victory over the New York Giants has to have ebbed a bit. This was a Vikings team whose star running back and rookie quarterback left the game with injuries, and the Redskins' defense was nonetheless powerless to stop backups Toby Gerhart and Joe Webb.
Credit where due: Jabar Gaffney had six catches for 77 yards and a touchdown to continue a very strong season that hasn't received much attention because of the circumstances in which he plays. If he's a Redskin next year, he'll be an asset to whoever they use at quarterback. He's up to 919 receiving yards for the season.
Another rookie runner: With Roy Helu hurting, Mike Shanahan gave the start at running back to Helu's fellow rookie, Evan Royster. And Royster did a lot to back up the notion that running backs are interchangeable in the Shanahan offense. He had 132 yards on 19 carries and gives the Redskins and their fans another thing to feel good about as they look ahead to what they might be able to piece together on offense next year if they can get a quarterback.
Something had to give: The battle of the interception streaks went to the Vikings, who picked off a Rex Grossman pass in the fourth quarter. That broke a streak of nine consecutive games in which the Vikings' defense had not intercepted a pass. And it extended Grossman's personal streak to 11 straight games with at least one interception. Grossman had a fine statistical game otherwise, completing 26-of-40 passes for 284 yards and two touchdowns.
What's next: The Redskins will try to match last season's win total when they finish their season next Sunday afternoon against the Eagles in Philadelphia.