NFC East: 2012 Week 15 Rapid Reaction
December, 16, 2012
By Calvin Watkins | ESPN.com
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Cowboys extended their season-saving winning streak to three games Sunday with a dramatic 27-24 overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Cowboys' playoff hopes received a big boost when Brandon Carr intercepted Ben Roethlisberger and returned it 36 yards to set up Dan Bailey's game-winning 21-yard kick.
When it was over, Miles Austin was joyfully pushing coach Jason Garrett, and Jason Hatcher was hugging him. Emotions are high for the Cowboys with two games remaining in the regular season.
What it means: The Cowboys are in a three-way tie for first place in the NFC East. However, the Cowboys own the tiebreaker over the New York Giants because they have a better division record. Washington is in first place because it owns the tiebreaker over the Cowboys thanks to the Redskins' Thanksgiving Day victory.
Bryant's broken finger: Dez Bryant played with a broken left index finger that was taped up, with the tip exposed. The Steelers played him tough with double coverage on some passing downs, even dropping a linebacker underneath his routes. Bryant finished with four catches for 59 yards.
The decision: Dwayne Harris caught a 4-yard pass on third down that fell short of the first at the 2:00 mark. After a measurement, Garrett elected to punt from his own 21. It would have been a gutsy call late in the game, but it seemed Garrett was trusting his defense to get him the ball and he didn't want to put it at risk defending the Steelers deep in their own territory. It ended up not costing the Cowboys anything because the Steelers punted. Garrett had another decision late in regulation, setting up for a 61-yard field goal for Bailey. He elected to punt after taking a timeout, leading to overtime.
Cowboys honor victims, teammate: The Cowboys held a moment of silence for deceased linebacker Jerry Brown and for the victims of Friday's school shooting in Newtown, Conn. The Cowboys had Brown's jersey on their bench and a No. 53 decal on the back of their helmet. Nose tackle Josh Brent, who was charged with intoxication manslaughter, attended the game.
What's next? If you thought it was loud with Steelers fans at Cowboys Stadium, wait until you hear the New Orleans Saints fans who visit next week. The Saints beat Tampa Bay on Sunday, 41-0.
December, 16, 2012
By Dan Graziano | ESPN.com
CLEVELAND -- A few thoughts on the Washington Redskins' fifth straight victory, this one over the Browns on Sunday afternoon.
What it means: Combined with the New York Giants' loss in Atlanta, and regardless of the outcome of the Dallas Cowboys' game against the Steelers, what this means is that the Redskins are in first place in the NFC East. They are 8-6, same record as the Giants and a half-game ahead of Dallas pending that result. They hold the tiebreaker over the Giants based on their superior division record, and if the Cowboys make it a three-way tie, the Redskins would still win the three-way tiebreaker by virtue of their record (2-1 so far) in games played among those three teams. So yes, the Redskins are now the NFC East team that controls its own destiny. If the Redskins win their final two games, they will be 10-6 and NFC East champions.
The other rookie QB: With starting quarterback Robert Griffin III sidelined by a knee injury, fourth-round draft pick Kirk Cousins made his first NFL start at quarterback. And after a shaky first couple of drives, Cousins settled in and played a fine game. His 54-yard touchdown pass to Leonard Hankerson in the first quarter got things going for him and he found Hankerson again from 2 yards out midway through the third quarter to extend the Washington lead to 10 points. He converted two third downs on the touchdown drive that put the Redskins up 31-14 in the fourth quarter. The Redskins confused the Browns with play-action, rolled Cousins out and designed a very nice game plan around their rookie backup, and he delivered with a big game.
D is the key: The Redskins played a good defensive game in the first half, but for the third week in a row they seemed to dial things up on defense after halftime. Linebackers Rob Jackson and London Fletcher each intercepted Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden, getting Cousins the ball back while he was building momentum, and the Redskins were able to convert both interceptions into touchdown drives. The Redskins' defense has been their weakness much of the year, but it's making big plays at this critical time of the season.
Looking ahead: Griffin went through about a 30-minute warm-up session on the field in the morning before the game, even though he knew he wasn't going to be suiting up. He looked spry and fluid and quick, and it seems likely that he'd be ready to go next week. But even if he's not, the Redskins have now seen that Cousins is capable of starting and winning an NFL game, and their comfort level at quarterback throughout the depth chart is probably the biggest reason they are now assured of finishing at least .500 for the first time since 2008.
What's next: The Redskins will travel up I-95 to Philadelphia and play the 4-10 Eagles at 1 p.m. Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. A week later, they finish the regular season with a home game against the Cowboys. The Redskins beat the Eagles 31-6 at home in Week 11 to start their current winning streak.
December, 16, 2012
By Ohm Youngmisuk | ESPN.com
ATLANTA –- The NFC wild-card playoff rematch between the Giants and Falcons was a complete mismatch as Atlanta destroyed the defending champs 34-0.
What it means: The Giants continued their maddeningly inconsistent ways by following up their big win over the Saints with an embarrassing loss at Atlanta.
The defense had no answers for the Falcons' offense, got little pressure on Matt Ryan and couldn't cover Julio Jones. Eli Manning threw two picks in the first half, David Wilson couldn't get going and the Giants were stopped cold on fourth-and-short three times.
The NFC East is now officially up for grabs.
Ugly start: Manning threw two interceptions in the first half, one on the second offensive play of the game when Asante Samuel picked him off at the Giants' 22 and returned it 6 yards to set up a Michael Turner touchdown run.
On the Giants' next drive, Lawrence Tynes missed a 30-yarder and the Falcons made them pay again. Ryan hit Tony Gonzalez on a touchdown pass to push the Falcons up 14-0.
In the second quarter, Tom Coughlin went for it on fourth-and-1 twice and was denied both times. At the Falcons' 32, Wilson ran to his left side only to be stuffed. Then with less than two minutes left, the Giants went for it again at the Falcons' 11, only to see Manning's pass to Victor Cruz get broken up.
The Falcons were able to go into the half with a 17-0 lead.
The Hokie rookie I: Jayron Hosley started at corner for the injured Prince Amukamara and had a tough day. He bit on a Ryan pump fake that led to a 37-yard pass to Harry Douglas. Hosley pulled up lame and injured his ankle on that play but returned.
He had a nice breakup on a deep pass to Roddy White but later gave up a 40-yard touchdown to Jones, who ran right by him to put the Falcons up 24-0 with 11:31 to go in the third quarter.
Jones beat Corey Webster on his second touchdown, in the fourth quarter.
The Hokie rookie II: Wilson started for Ahmad Bradshaw (knee) and ran as hard as he could, but there wasn't a lot of running room.
Wilson also didn't get a huge workload because the game slipped out of the Giants' hands. On the second play of the game, Wilson was practically flattened by linebacker Sean Weatherspoon while blocking on the play in which Manning threw a pick.
Backup Kregg Lumpkin saw a good amount of action, being used on several draw plays.
Wilson remained the kickoff returner but couldn't do much on kickoffs, either. Atlanta made sure to keep the explosive Wilson in check.
Wilson finished with 55 yards on 12 carries. Lumpkin rushed eight times for 42 yards.
Paying tribute: The Giants wanted to do what they could to honor the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
Coughlin spoke to his team about the tragedy during his Saturday night meeting, and the players had "SHES" on their helmets. Coughlin had it written on his hat, as well.
Cruz paid tribute to 6-year-old Jack Pinto. After learning that Pinto was a Cruz fan, the receiver spoke to Pinto's parents. They told him that they had been contemplating burying their son in a Cruz No. 80 jersey. Cruz had the words "Jack Pinto 'My Hero'" written on his cleats and "Jack Pinto 'This One is 4 U'" on his gloves.
What's next: The Giants travel to Baltimore for a slugfest with the Ravens.