NFC East: 2012 Week 14 coverage

Rapid Reaction: Giants 52, Saints 27

December, 9, 2012

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the New York Giants' 52-27 shootout victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

What it means: That the Giants are still in first place in the NFC East and in control of their own playoff destiny. Earlier in the day, the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys each came up with last-second victories to ensure that they would remain no more than one game back with three to go. So a loss would have dropped the Giants into a three-way tie for the division against teams that hold most of the tiebreaker advantages over them. With the win, the Giants stay one game in front and ensure that they can still win their second straight division title by winning the remainder of their games.

Super Stevie: Giants safety Stevie Brown, filling in once again for injured starter Kenny Phillips, forced a fumble and had two interceptions of Saints quarterback Drew Brees. He now has seven interceptions for the season, an incredible number for a player who was an afterthought when training camp started. The Giants' defense overall functions best when a healthy Phillips is playing safety, but what Brown has given them in Phillips' place has been like oxygen to a defense that's survived on its ability to generate turnovers.

Running game: Until the final 10 minutes of the game, the Giants didn't do much in the run game against a Saints defense that came into the game as the worst run defense in the league. Part of the problem was an early knee injury sustained by starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who came back into the game on and off but ceded significant carries to rookie David Wilson. The Giants moved the ball through the air in this one and couldn't get a rhythm going in the run game. It's something on which they've been working for nearly two full seasons now, and the Giants remain frustrated that they can't get this aspect of their offense together.

Rookie buzz: Wilson returned a kickoff for a touchdown, the first time in his career he's done that, and had an overall stellar day on kick returns. He also ran for a 52-yard garbage-time touchdown with a little more than five minutes left in the game to pad the Giants' rushing totals. He's been a speedy, explosive playmaker all year in the return game, and if Bradshaw isn't able to go next week, the Giants likely will feel fine about elevating Wilson to the starting role. It's possible he's coming on at just the right time.

Eli's humming: Giants quarterback Eli Manning had some shaky moments, and his two interceptions helped the Saints hang around for a while. But he was more good than bad in this one, throwing touchdown passes to four different receivers and moving the ball effectively when he needed to. The drive that led to a Domenik Hixon touchdown at the tail end of the first half was vintage Manning and gave the Giants a big boost with an eight-point halftime lead instead of a one-pointer.

Something to work on: The Giants' defense still looks too leaky at times, and this was the second week in a row they got gashed in the run game. They entered the game ranked 22nd in the league in total defense but tied for third in turnover differential, which has been the key to any success they've had on defense. We've seen teams win championships with this kind of bend-don't-break-but-force-turnovers defense. The Saints of three years ago were a stellar example, in fact. But with their playoff spot still not secured, the Giants would do well to find more consistency in the area of actually stopping teams from gaining yards over the coming weeks.

Injury update: Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara left the game in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury, which obviously bears watching. Amukamara has been the Giants' best cornerback this year, and during his brief NFL career he has not so far shown himself to be a quick healer.

What's next: The Giants travel to face the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday. The Falcons are 11-2 and the clear front-runners for home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs, though they did lose to Carolina on Sunday and have wobbled a bit of late. They are 6-0 at home this year and 32-7 at the Georgia Dome over the past five seasons.

CINCINNATI -- Considering what the Dallas Cowboys had to deal with Saturday, what they accomplished Sunday can be seen as a season-saving victory.

A practice squad player is gone. His teammate, a popular player in the locker room, is in jail and charged with manslaughter. The Cowboys were told about the tragic incident just before leaving for a game with playoff implications.

Dallas won somehow, beating the Cincinnati Bengals 20-19 on Sunday afternoon at a dreary Paul Brown Stadium. Dan Bailey's 40-yard field goal at the final gun won it for the Cowboys, who are still alive for a playoff berth with three games remaining in their season.

What it means: The Cowboys (7-6) have kept their playoff hopes alive and continue to buy in to what coach Jason Garrett is talking about, blocking out the noise surrounding the team and focusing on winning one game at a time.


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For their fallen teammate: The Cowboys played this game for practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown. He was killed Saturday morning in a car crash involving teammate Josh Brent, who was charged with intoxication manslaughter after what Irving, Texas, police say was a drunken-driving accident. Brown's jersey was laid out on the bench during the game, and there was a moment of silence in Paul Brown Stadium. After the game, outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware carried Brown's jersey off the field.

Run of the season: Starting running back DeMarco Murray's 6-yard run on a third-and-5 from the Bengals' 30 gave the Cowboys a needed first down and kept a drive alive that would end on Bailey's field goal. Murray dove for the first-down marker, stretching the ball out. A review clearly showed he had the first down.

Injuries: The Cowboys lost cornerback Morris Claiborne to a facial laceration with 11:56 to play in the third quarter. Claiborne was down for several minutes before he walked off the field holding a towel to his chin area. He did not return. Anthony Spencer left the game briefly to get an IV. Ware (left arm), Nate Livings (undetermined), Ernie Sims (undetermined) and Dez Bryant (left hand) left briefly with injuries. But safety Gerald Sensabaugh played with what appeared to be a leg injury.

Tackle rotation: Doug Free started at right tackle, but he was in a rotation with Jermey Parnell for the game. Free was penalized for holding; Parnell was not flagged. It was an interesting move by the Cowboys, who seem to be admitting -- at least by their actions -- that Free's struggles are so serious he needs to either be benched or rotated. However, Free was the right tackle on the last two offensive possessions.

What's next? The Pittsburgh Steelers make their first visit to Cowboys Stadium, and you can bet there will be plenty of black and gold jerseys in the crowd.

Wrap up: Eagles 23, Buccaneers 21

December, 9, 2012
A few thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' last-second comeback victory Sunday over the Buccaneers in Tampa, Fla.

What it means: In the 2012 picture, not a lot for the Eagles, whose season was already lost. But it means the end of an eight-game winning streak, the team's first victory since September and a chance for the Eagles and their fans to feel good for a few days. (They play again Thursday.) It also showed the kind of toughness a lot of people have been accusing the Eagles of not having, as they recovered from a 21-10 deficit in the final four minutes to win.

The kid: This was the chance for rookie quarterback Nick Foles to look his best against the worst pass defense in the league, and Foles looked very good indeed. He was 32-for-51 for 381 yards and two touchdowns, including the last-second game winner to Jeremy Maclin, and he also ran for a 10-yard touchdown. He was sacked six times, but he did not throw an interception, and he looked especially in control in the waning minutes as the team was moving the ball down the field in its comeback effort. As the Eagles use this final month to evaluate Foles as the potential answer for them at quarterback next season and beyond, this game stands as his best tape to date.

The defense: In the first game since the firing of defensive line coach Jim Washburn, the Eagles got sacks from defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Cullen Jenkins, seemed to ditch the much-maligned "Wide 9" alignment Washburn instituted last year and held Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman to 189 yards on 14-of-34 passing. They didn't create any turnovers, and it was their seventh game in a row without an interception, but the big guys up front and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie did a much better job this week of limiting the opposing team's passing attack. And even once the Bucs appeared to figure things out in the second half, they couldn't get far enough ahead to hold off the comeback.

What's next: The Eagles host the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night. Cincinnati's playoff hopes took a hit Sunday with a last-second loss to the Dallas Cowboys, but they come into the game with a 7-6 record and one of the best defenses in the league.

Rapid Reaction: Redskins 31, Ravens 28

December, 9, 2012

LANDOVER, Md. -- It was a thriller at FedEx Field, and not your old-school defensive battle, either.

What it means: The Redskins improve to 7-6 and keep within striking distance of the New York Giants in the NFC East. The win is Washington’s fourth straight and puts it above .500 after 13 games for the first time since Week 16 of the 2008 season. Baltimore fell to 9-4 and has lost consecutive games for the first time since Weeks 4-6 in 2009.

The game was won basically when: After Washington held Baltimore to a three-and-out on the Ravens' first possession of overtime, Redskins backup cornerback Richard Crawford took a 56-yard Baltimore punt 64 yards to the Ravens' 24-yard line, setting up Kai Forbath’s 34-yard game-winning field goal.

Time stopped when: Robert Griffin III injured his right knee on Washington’s final drive when, after scrambling for a short gain, he was tackled by Baltimore defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. Rookie backup Kirk Cousins came in for one play, then Griffin III came back, played four plays essentially on one leg, got called for intentional grounding and hobbled off the field with the help of two Washington staffers. He was flat on the trainer’s table when Cousins found Pierre Garcon in the end zone for a touchdown and then successfully ran a quarterback draw on the two-point conversion to tie the game 28-28 and force overtime.

The Redskins announced Griffin III “strained” his right knee and was doubtful to return. He did not.

Points off turnovers: Washington forced Joe Flacco into two turnovers, both off sacks. The first came on the Ravens' first possession of the second half, leading 21-14. Washington outside linebacker Rob Jackson sacked Flacco from behind. Flacco fumbled, and the Redskins recovered.

On Baltimore’s next drive, Washington linebacker Ryan Kerrigan hit Flacco, again from his blind side, while Flacco was in his throwing motion. The ball came out and Redskins middle linebacker London Fletcher intercepted it.

However, Washington converted those two turnovers into only six points to pull to within 21-20 near the end of the third quarter.

Baltimore injuries mount: The Ravens were without linebackers Terrell Suggs (torn biceps) and, again, Ray Lewis (torn triceps), marking the first time in nine years that neither Suggs nor Lewis was in the lineup. That’s a long time. Courtney Upshaw started in place of Suggs, while Brendon Ayanbadejo started in place of Dannell Ellerbe at weakside linebacker. Tight end Dennis Pitta started for Ed Dickson.

What’s next: The Ravens host Denver at 1 p.m. next Sunday. Washington plays at Cleveland.