NFC East: 2012 Week 4 coverage

Rapid Reaction: Bears 34, Cowboys 18

October, 1, 2012

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Jay Cutler is not one to smile during a game. It's not in his nature.

Monday night, he did.

After Brandon Marshall caught a 31-yard touchdown pass to give the Chicago Bears a commanding 24-point lead against the Dallas Cowboys, Cutler slapped fives with linebacker Brian Urlacher and had one of those "I just won the lottery" smiles.

Tony Romo didn't have one of those smiles. He had frustration on his face and used a profanity after throwing a crowd-clearing interception with 5:51 to play in a distasteful, 34-18 loss to the Bears.

What it means: At 2-2, the Cowboys' odds of making the postseason stand at 35.3 percent. Under the current playoff format, 71 of 201 teams in their position have made the postseason. The Cowboys are heading into a bye week that will only raise questions about just how good or bad they are. This is the second consecutive season they have started 2-2 going into a bye. The last time the Cowboys had a record above .500 into a week off was 2009, and they were 3-2.

Turnovers hurt: Romo tied a career high with five interceptions. Some of the picks weren't his fault. Dez Bryant ran the wrong route that led to one pick; Kevin Ogletree failed to hold on to a pass for another. But the other three could be blamed on Romo. For the night, Romo completed 31 of 43 passes for 307 yards with one touchdown to go with the five picks. Kyle Orton replaced Romo late in the fourth quarter. It was a poor performance by Romo, who watched Jay Cutler outplay him. Cutler completed 18 passes on 24 attempts for 275 yards and two touchdowns.

Carr struggles: Brandon Carr did a nice job covering Vincent Jackson in the win over Tampa Bay last week, but not so much against Brandon Marshall. Marshall caught seven passes for 138 yards, and his only touchdown reception caught Carr in a pick play in which he failed to get past Kellen Davis.

Pass rush isn't there: Cutler was sacked just once Monday night, but he didn't get hit often by the Cowboys' pass rush. There were times when outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware couldn't reach Cutler, who got rid of the ball quickly. Without Anthony Spencer (pectoral muscle strain) and for a few snaps inside linebacker Bruce Carter (hip), the Cowboys were lacking in the pass rush. It was a long night for it as Cutler picked apart the Cowboys' secondary.

No drops for Witten: The NFL leader in drops, tight end Jason Witten had none. He finished with 13 catches for 112 yards and a late touchdown, coming with 34 seconds to play. Witten was just two catches shy of his career high. Witten has five drops through four games.

What's next? A bye week, and thank goodness, at least for the Cowboys. The Cowboys will have one practice this week, on Wednesday, before taking four days off. When they return, nose tackle Jay Ratliff (ankle), who has missed the first four games of the season, could make his season debut. Center Phil Costa, who played just three snaps in the season opener, could also make a return to the starting lineup.

Rapid Reaction: Eagles 19, Giants 17

September, 30, 2012
PHILADELPHIA -- A few thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' key divisional victory over the New York Giants on Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field.

What it means: In spite of all of their early-season struggles, Michael Vick and the Eagles are 3-1 and on top in the NFC East with a game in hand against their fiercest rivals and the defending division and Super Bowl champions. For the Giants, it means the Eagles still have their number. They've now lost eight of their past nine games against Philadelphia and, perhaps more importantly, are 0-2 this year against NFC East opponents.

Protecting the ball: When the Eagles commit to the run and do not turn the ball over, they can be as good as any team in the league. After a stop-and-start offensive first half, the Eagles came out running with LeSean McCoy in the second half and had tremendous success with it. Their issue on offense was an inability to finish drives and turn their hard work into touchdowns instead of settling for field goals. That's what left the Giants with the late-game opportunity to march down the field and take the lead in the fourth quarter. After turning the ball over 12 times in their first three games (and yet somehow winning two of them), the Eagles did not turn the ball over once Sunday night, and they beat the Super Bowl champs.

Eli Manning does not play favorites: The Giants' quarterback tells his receivers that, if they run their routes and get open, they will get opportunities to catch the ball. With Hakeem Nicks out last week, Ramses Barden got his catches and yards on slant routes all night. With Nicks out again Sunday, Domenik Hixon went more than 100 yards receiving and Bear Pascoe caught a touchdown in the fourth quarter to give the Giants their first lead of the game. Manning makes his receivers better, and maximizes their ability to produce in their specific roles and circumstances. He completed passes to eight different players Sunday night.

Mr. Wilson: I think Giants fans need to get used to the idea of first-round pick David Wilson as a developmental player who needs more work and practice before he's a factor in the run game. There's actually nothing wrong with that. The Giants like Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown and have a good track record of developing young, talented players. In the meantime, Wilson looks as though he has become a real weapon in the kick-return game.

The Prince: Last year's Giants first-rounder, Prince Amukamara, is playing very well at cornerback. He covered Jeremy Maclin most of the night, and Maclin didn't catch one pass in the first 55 minutes of the game. Amukamara looks like a good technician, and the Eagles seemed very comfortable testing out Corey Webster with DeSean Jackson rather than picking on Amukamara as many teams have so far in his short career. Amukamara could be a real asset to a banged-up secondary that lost safety Kenny Phillips to a knee injury in the first quarter.

What's next: The Giants will host the 0-4 Cleveland Browns on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET in East Rutherford, N.J., and should pound them senseless. The Eagles will travel to Pittsburgh for a 1 p.m. ET game against the 1-2 Steelers, who were off this week.

Wrap-up: Redskins 24, Buccaneers 22

September, 30, 2012

A few thoughts on the Washington Redskins' white-knuckle 24-22 victory over the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay on Sunday.

What it means: There's a pretty good reason the Redskins are OK with not having another first-round draft pick until 2015. Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III continues to impress as he helps lift the Redskins to 2-2. For the game, he completed 26-of-35 passes for 323 yards and no interceptions. He rushed for 43 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. He got the ball back on his own 20-yard line, down by a point with 1:42 left in the game and he marched the Redskins 56 yards into field-goal range, whence Billy Cundiff hit the game-winning 41-yarder. What you want from your quarterback is for him to give you the confidence he can bring you back and win a game late, and Griffin has the first fourth-quarter comeback victory of his young career.

Bentley rolls on: The Redskins' other star rookie on offense, sixth-round pick Alfred Morris, rolled up 113 yards on 21 carries, including a 39-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that built the Washington lead to 21-3. Morris has a lock on the starting running back job in Washington, as newly signed Ryan Grant wasn't even active and is clearly on the roster only for depth. Morris would have to get injured or see his play drop off dramatically for him to lose the job.

On defense: Ryan Kerrigan is a complete animal, and he led the high-pressure first-half assault on Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman. When the Redskins were pressuring Freeman early, he couldn't find open receivers and the Redskins' coverage issues on the back end were masked. When the Bucs stepped up their protection in the second half and Freeman had time to throw, he was able to exploit mismatches in the secondary with wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams against the Redskins' defensive backs. It's pretty simple, really. The Redskins' defense requires pressure in order to succeed.

Redemption... barely: You have to wonder if Cundiff would have been back next week if the kick had hooked any farther left. He'd already missed from 41 and 31 yards (and 57, but whatever) in the game, and his misses left the door open for Tampa Bay to mount its comeback. The Redskins got Cundiff (and cut Graham Gano) because of his ability to deliver touchbacks on kickoffs. But as much as NFL coaches prize field position in the kicking game, they almost certainly assumed he'd at least be reliable on field goals. Could be one bad game, but if the trend continues, the Redskins may have to sacrifice something on the kickoffs and look elsewhere for a more reliable kicker. It appears they're going to be in a lot of close games.

What's next: The Redskins play host to the 4-0 Atlanta Falcons on Sunday in Landover, Md. Having allowed 326.3 passing yards per game so far this season, they will try and stop Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones and an Atlanta passing game that's one of the deadliest in the league. They'll also be looking to break a seven-game home losing streak.