NFC East: 2012 Week 12 Rapid Reaction
November, 26, 2012
By Dan Graziano | ESPN.com
PHILADELPHIA -- Some thoughts from the Philadelphia Eagles' (gulp) seventh loss in a row, this one to the lowly Carolina Panthers in front of a "Monday Night Football" audience.
What it means: That the Eagles are, by a legitimate measure, the worst team in the NFC. Their 3-8 record is the worst in the conference and identical to that of the Panthers, who just beat them on their home field. The only teams in the NFL with worse records are the 2-9 Jacksonville Jaguars and the 1-10 Kansas City Chiefs. This is the Eagles' first seven-game losing streak since 1994, and they are no longer capable of finishing with a better record than last year's 8-8 mark that team owner Jeffrey Lurie termed unacceptable before this season began.
The good and bad of Bryce Brown: Brown, the seventh-round rookie running back who'd been siphoning some of LeSean McCoy carries, returning kicks and getting looks at the goal line in the first 10 games of the season, stepped into the starter's role with McCoy out due to a concussion. He had a statistical first start for the ages. His 65-yard touchdown run in the second quarter announced his presence and fired up a skeptical home crowd, and he finished with 178 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. He also fumbled twice in the second half, which damaged the Eagles' momentum and helped the Panthers take the lead in the fourth quarter, so it was far from a spotless night. But as a runner, when he had the ball in his hands, Brown looks speedy and shifty and capable of handling more of a workload than he'd been given previously.
Coverage problems: The Eagles' pass defense continued its recent struggles early in the game, allowing two easy Cam Newton touchdown passes in the first quarter. And while the coverage seemed to tighten up a bit after that, it would have been difficult for it not to improve, and Carolina receivers didn't have too much trouble getting open when they had to. Newton finished the game 18-for-28 for 306 yards and two touchdown passes. He also rushed 54 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. And over the past five games, since Juan Castillo was fired as defensive coordinator and replaced by Todd Bowles, opposing quarterbacks are 94-for-125 (75.2 percent) for 1,207 yards, 13 touchdown passes and no interceptions against the Eagles.
Rookie QB: Still not much to go on with rookie Nick Foles, who made his second straight start at quarterback due to Michael Vick's concussion. He threw a nice deep ball that drew a key 51-yard pass interference call in the third quarter to set up Brown's second touchdown run, but for the most part he was handing the ball off and throwing screen passes. There were at least three passes he threw in the first half that looked like poor downfield decisions that were nearly intercepted, and it seems clear that the Eagles are not yet asking Foles to do very much.
Injuries: Wide receiver DeSean Jackson left the game in the first quarter with what the team called a sternum injury, and rookie defensive tackle Fletcher Cox left in the second quarter with a tailbone injury. Neither player returned to the game. Left tackle King Dunlap also had to leave the game in the third quarter with an unspecified injury, but he was able to return.
What's next: The Eagles will travel to Dallas and play the Cowboys on Sunday night at Cowboys Stadium. The Cowboys are 5-6 and trying desperately to stay in the division and wild-card races. Dallas beat the Eagles 38-23 in Philadelphia in Week 10.
November, 25, 2012
By Dan Graziano | ESPN.com
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the New York Giants' overwhelming 38-10 victory over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night at MetLife Stadium.
What it means: The Giants' lead in the NFC East remains at two games over both the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys, which is obviously the most important thing. But if you believe in "statement" games, you have to admit the Giants made a statement with this victory. The Packers came in winners of five games in a row, re-establishing themselves as one of the NFC's best teams. The Giants had lost two straight prior to their Week 11 bye and had spent the past two weeks answering questions about their annual "November swoon" and the idea that the Redskins and Cowboys were closing in on them. A victory this convincing pushes a lot of those questions into the background for at least a week.
Making history: Former Giants quarterback Phil Simms may not consider Eli Manning one of the "elite" quarterbacks in the NFL, but Manning took something from Simms in this game. His third-quarter touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks was the 200th of his career, moving him past Simms and into first place on the all-time Giants touchdown pass list. Manning had not thrown a touchdown pass since Week 7, but he broke that drought with first-half strikes to Rueben Randle and Victor Cruz as the Giants built a 31-10 halftime lead. Interesting that Manning targeted Nicks more in this game than he targeted Cruz. Could indicate that Nicks' health has improved to the point where he'll be a larger part of the offense going forward.
Discount double-check: Pressuring Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was one of the keys to the Giants' playoff victory in Green Bay in January, and the Giants were able to do it again Sunday. They sacked Rodgers three times in the first half and five times in the game, and other than the first-quarter touchdown bomb to Jordy Nelson that tied the score at 7-7, Rodgers couldn't find time to find his receivers down the field. It was one of the most impressive performances of the year from the Giants' defensive front, which has struggled to get consistent pressure on opposing passers for much of the season. Osi Umenyiora had a sack and forced fumble that led to a touchdown late in the first half, Mathias Kiwanuka had two sacks and middle linebacker Chase Blackburn picked up a sack of his own and was a key part of the pressure packages.
Flip side: New York's offensive line had a big game too, opening holes for Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown in the run game more reliably than they had at any point this season. The backs found particular success on the left side of the line, where Will Beatty has been playing very well at tackle and Kevin Boothe appeared to have a very good game at guard.
New kid: Randle's touchdown catch was the first of his career, and while he struggled with a couple of muffs on punt returns in the second half, he does appear to be getting more and more looks on offense as the season goes along. The Giants' second-round pick this year out of LSU, Randle can play on the outside and allow Cruz to work in the slot, where he is at his best.
But he just got back: Safety Kenny Phillips was active for the first time since Week 4, and his impact was obvious on both the run defense and the pass defense. But he left the game in the third quarter with an injury to the same right knee that had kept him out of the previous six games. If Phillips has to miss significant time again, the Giants' defense would surely suffer for his absence. ... Andre Brown also left the game in the fourth quarter with what the team described only as a "lower leg injury."
What's next: The Giants will travel to Landover, Md. next week to play the Washington Redskins on "Monday Night Football." The Redskins are 5-6, two games behind the Giants in the NFC East with five games to play. They lost a heartbreaker to the Giants at MetLife Stadium in Week 7 when Manning hit Cruz for a 77-yard touchdown pass in the final two minutes.
November, 22, 2012
By Calvin Watkins | ESPN.com
ARLINGTON, Texas -- This was an embarrassing performance on a big stage for the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. The 38-31 loss to the Washington Redskins has now put the Cowboys' playoffs hopes in dire straits.
You don't get credit for the second-half comeback or for playing hard in the NFL. You get credit for victories, and the Cowboys didn't get one Thursday.
With five games remaining in the regular season, the Cowboys might have to win out and get some help, hoping the New York Giants lose at least two games, to possibly win the division. It might not be enough if the Cowboys win four of their next five games. And guess what? The Redskins (5-6) are tied with the Cowboys for second place in the division and own the tiebreaker, head-to-head.
The season appears to be over, unofficially.
What it means: The Cowboys haven't won three consecutive games since the middle of the 2011 season, when they ripped off four consecutive in November. The two-game winning streak is a thing of the past now, and the Cowboys will have nine days off to reflect on what might have been if they'd swept this three-game stretch in which they didn't play a team with a winning record.
More injuries: The Cowboys lost linebacker Bruce Carter (elbow) in the fourth quarter and wide receiver Miles Austin (hip) and cornerback Orlando Scandrick (broken hand) in the first half to injuries. At one point during this game, the Cowboys' injury list included Jay Ratliff, Kenyon Coleman, Sean Lee, Barry Church, Tyron Smith, Phil Costa, DeMarco Murray, Austin and Scandrick. We're not making excuses, but the Cowboys are hurting without their regulars.
What happened in the first half? This game got away from the Cowboys in the first half. The Cowboys' fans booed them on Thanksgiving Day as they walked off the field at halftime down 28-3. Big plays killed the Cowboys. Wide receiver and SMU product Aldrick Robinson caught a 68-yard touchdown pass from Robert Griffin III. Robinson ran past Brandon Carr and Danny McCray on a pass that appeared to be overthrown. But Robinson caught the ball in stride for a 7-3 Redskins lead. The second Redskins score was set up by a Griffin play-action pass that froze the defense. Griffin is so good at these because he does a nice job of messing up the defense with the fake. He found Pierre Garcon on a slant for 19 yards to convert a second-and-3. Two plays later, Alfred Morris scores from the 1 for a 14-3 lead. The game was secured on a 59-yard reception by Garcon in which he caught a pass behind him and outran the defenders to the end zone. What was interesting on the play was that Charlie Peprah blitzed from the slot, and after Garcon caught the pass, Carr fell down. If he doesn't slip, he has a chance to make an open-field tackle. Garcon's score made it 21-3.
Dez Bryant and Tony Romo. Bryant caught eight passes for 145 yards with two touchdowns. Romo, in comeback mode, had career highs with 441 yards and 62 pass attempts. But Bryant and Romo weren't alone. Cole Beasley and Dwayne Harris also contributed. Beasley had seven catches for 68 yards and Harris caught four for 71.
Kick settles it: The Cowboys made this a one-possession game, but one of their former kickers, Kai Forbath -- who didn't kick for the team because he was nursing a leg injury -- made a 48-yarder with 2:58 to play, extending the Redskins' lead to 38-28. It ended an 11-play, 50-yard drive that lasted 5:20. One of the key plays was a missed open-field tackle by McCray on Leonard Hankerson on a second-and-9 play.
What's next: We're not sure if Andy Reid is going to be the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles or if Michael Vick is going to be the quarterback, but the Eagles visit Cowboys Stadium on Dec. 2.