NFC East: 2012 Week 3 Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: Cowboys 16, Bucs 10

September, 23, 2012

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The offense still has issues. The offensive line is shoddy. The starting safeties are hurt. But it doesn't matter because the Cowboys won Sunday afternoon, beating Tampa Bay 16-10 in the home opener at Cowboys Stadium.

Tony Romo was beaten up by the Tampa Bay pass rush, but two key fourth-quarter plays, a 45-yard punt return by Dez Bryant and a late sack by DeMarcus Ware on a third-and-4, sealed the game.

Still, the Cowboys (2-1) have to perform much better if they're expected to compete at an elite level.

What it means: After the Cowboys knocked off the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the opener, they put up a stinker in Seattle. Now, they fooled around with Tampa Bay for four quarters and survived. This tells us the Cowboys, as we said last week, are not ready to move up to an elite level in this league. Yes, they won the game, but I can't believe the Cowboys can beat elite teams playing like this.

Witten's bad day: Jason Witten dropped three passes Sunday. He's got an NFL-high six drops on the season, and he was penalized twice for false starts. When his day ended, the Cowboys' tight end finished with just two catches for 8 yards. This is one of the worst stretches for Witten since the 2008 season. During a five-game stretch that season, he had four catches for 53 yards and no touchdowns. This season, Witten has just eight catches for 76 yards and no touchdowns. He hasn't scored since Nov. 20, 2011, at Washington. Is this the beginning of the end for Witten? He is coming off a spleen injury that didn't cost him any regular-season games, and he said on Friday he's healthy.

Church injured: The Cowboys lost safety Barry Church to a right leg injury that appeared serious. Church suffered the injury with 7:31 to play in the third quarter, and he was replaced by Mana Silva. Several Cowboys players were tapping Church on the shoulder pads and offering him words of encouragement after he went out. Miles Austin also suffered an injury (ribs), but he returned and ended the day with five catches for 107 yards. Left guard Nate Livings left with a hand injury in the first quarter but returned and didn't have any more issues. With Church out, the Cowboys were left without their starting safeties. Gerald Sensabaugh didn't play because of a calf injury.

False start penalties: The Cowboys were riddled with false start penalties. Right tackle Doug Free was flagged three times and Witten twice. Left tackle Tyron Smith was also called for one. The false start penalties could be attributed to center Ryan Cook and the cadence with Romo or a lack of concentration.

Austin outplays Jackson: The two big-play threats from a receiving standpoint, Austin and Vincent Jackson, had opposing performances. Austin finished with five catches for 107 yards, his 12th 100-yard receiving game of his career. Jackson, the deep-play threat for Tampa Bay, had one catch for 29 yards, that one coming in the fourth quarter.

What's next? The banged-up Cowboys will face the Chicago Bears on "Monday Night Football." Among the missing starters: nose tackle Jay Ratliff (ankle), center Phil Costa (back), Sensabaugh (calf) and Church (right leg).

Rapid Reaction: Bengals 38, Redskins 31

September, 23, 2012

LANDOVER, Md. -- A few thoughts on the Washington Redskins' disappointing 38-31 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in their home opener Sunday at FedEx Field.

What it means: Plenty of excitement but ultimately disappointment for the 80,060 who bought tickets to watch the home debut of Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. The Redskins got their offense going in the second half with some gimmicky option plays, and Griffin gave them some thrills on the final series as he tried to drive them 99 yards in the final two minutes. But that drive fell short. Overall, Griffin was battered most of the day by the Bengals' aggressive defense, was sacked five times, fumbled twice and, though his final numbers were good, had his most difficult game yet as a pro. The loss was the Redskins' sixth in a row at FedEx Field. That's the longest current home losing streak in the NFL.

Secondary concerns: The Bengals opened the game with a shocker of a play, lining up rookie receiver Mohamed Sanu to take the snap in the shotgun while quarterback Andy Dalton split out wide. Star wide receiver A.J. Green beat the coverage and Sanu hit him in stride for a 73-yard touchdown catch. Now, had that been some sort of fluke, that would have been one thing. But it was the first of three Cincinnati touchdown passes in the game that covered at least 48 yards. The Redskins are playing without projected starting safeties Brandon Meriweather (knee injury, could be back next week) and Tanard Jackson (suspended for the year), and cornerbacks Cedric Griffin and Crezdon Butler both left this game with hamstring injuries. They weren't great in the secondary to begin with, and the injuries have left them short-handed on top of that. They're likely to continue to be beaten deep if they can't generate consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. And while they pressured Dalton pretty well for the most part, they were remarkably vulnerable on any play on which he had time to throw.

More injury problems: Redskins left tackle Trent Williams left the game in the first quarter with a knee injury. He came back in the second quarter but clearly wasn't right, and he didn't return to the game after halftime. Williams is the best player on the Redskins' offensive line, and his absence helped allow Carlos Dunlap and the rest of that Bengals defensive front to take their shots at Griffin.

Miscellany: Tight end Fred Davis made his return to the game plan, catching seven passes for 90 yards as top wide receiver Pierre Garcon missed his second straight game with a foot injury. ... The Redskins rushed for 182 yards. Griffin led the way with 85 and fellow rookie Alfred Morris once again led the running backs with 78 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. ... Rob Jackson looked good as the replacement for injured linebacker Brian Orakpo, catching an interception for a touchdown and making several nice plays on the edge. Jackson has the speed to play the position, but he likely lacks Orakpo's physical toughness.

History is made: With 3:02 left in the third quarter, something happened in this game that had never happened before. Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis fumbled the ball. Entering the game, Green-Ellis had carried the ball 631 times in his NFL career, postseason included, without fumbling once. But as Green-Ellis got the ball near midfield on a first-down carry, Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson came flying in to strip and recover the ball, and Green-Ellis' amazing streak was over. It appeared to be a big play in the game, too, since two plays earlier the Redskins had scored a touchdown to tie it at 24. But Washington couldn't cash in the historic turnover and had to punt the ball away.

What's next: The Redskins travel to Tampa, Fla., where they will face the Buccaneers next Sunday in a 4:25 p.m. ET game. It'll be the third straight NFC East game for the Bucs, who lost to the New York Giants last week in New Jersey and to the Cowboys on Sunday in Dallas.

Rapid Reaction: Giants 36, Panthers 7

September, 20, 2012

CHARLOTTE, N.C. –- Shorthanded and playing on little rest, the New York Giants and dominated Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers with an impressive 36-7 victory.

PanthersGiantsWhat it means: No Hakeem Nicks, Ahmad Bradshaw and David Diehl? No problem. The Giants jumped out to a 23-0 lead and never looked back, with huge performances from their replacements.

Andre Brown ignited the running game for a second straight game. Ramses Barden finally gave everyone a glimpse of what he can do as a starter, making big catch after big catch over the middle. The offensive line looked strong again. Perry Fewell's defense produced its strongest effort of the season.

The defending champs might just be gaining some steam after their slow start against Dallas in the season opener. And they have lots of time to get healthy before their next game.

Quick start: After slow starts in their first two games that saw them trail the Dallas Cowboys 14-3 in the third quarter and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24-13 at the half, the Giants got off to a terrific start against the Panthers.

The Giants scored on their first four possessions, and were methodical in doing so. The running game was clicking, and Eli Manning kept throwing to his receivers as though Nicks was on the field.

The Giants looked as though they carried over the momentum from the 25-point fourth quarter against Tampa Bay, and Carolina looked absolutely stunned.

The Replacements I: In his first career start, Brown rushed for 96 yards -- by halftime. He ran hard, looked patient and waited for holes to open up. He scored two touchdowns, and looked good in goal-line situations as well. He finished with 113 rushing yards on 20 carries.

It certainly looks like the Giants have found themselves a nice complement to Bradshaw, when he returns, and a very good replacement if Bradshaw (neck) is out for more time.

The Replacements II: Barden came up as big as his 6-foot-6 frame, with a monster first-half effort as well. He hauled in eight balls by halftime, and repeatedly came up with big receptions while absorbing some hits as well. He finished with nine catches for 138 yards.

Barden’s effort was huge, as he gave Manning another option when the Panthers tried to take Victor Cruz away. Nicks (foot) should be ready to play next week, but Barden showed the Giants that they have another weapon in the arsenal with Domenik Hixon recovering from a concussion.

The Replacements III: With Diehl (knee) out, the Giants' offensive line turned in another strong performance. Manning was practically untouched for much of the first three quarters until being sacked late in the third quarter.

Will Beatty started at left tackle and Sean Locklear started at right tackle, and the Giants' running game looked good while Manning had plenty of time to throw for much of the game.

The Replacements IV: Rookie Jayron Hosley, starting at cornerback and having his progression accelerated due to injuries in the secondary, continues to get better.

He came in and pressured Newton on blitzes, and had an impressive interception after a pass thrown behind Brandon LaFell went off LaFell’s hands.

Hosley did have to leave the game in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury. And Antrel Rolle also had to go to the locker room on a cart after appearing to bang his left knee on a camera in the corner of the end zone in the fourth quarter. He has a knee laceration, and was going to have an X-ray.

The Giants cannot afford any more injuries to their secondary.

What’s next: The Giants have a much-needed break before visiting Michael Vick & Co. in Philadelphia on Sept. 30 to renew a heated NFC East rivalry.