NFC East: 2013 Week 14 Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: Dallas Cowboys

December, 9, 2013

CHICAGO - A few thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 45-28 loss to the Chicago Bears on Monday.

What it means for the Cowboys: With this embarrassment, the Cowboys now find themselves chasing the Philadelphia Eagles, and they need to win intervening games versus Green Bay and at Washington to make sure the Week 17 meeting at AT&T Stadium is for the NFC East title.

If they can, they will be in their third straight de facto NFC East title game to close the season. If they can't, owner and general manager Jerry Jones will have to reassess his statement that Jason Garrett will be the coach in 2014.

It's December, so the Cowboys struggle because that's what they do. Tony Romo has taken the brunt of the criticism for that record, but Monday's loss falls squarely on the defense. Josh McCown threw for four touchdowns and ran for another score. Wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall did whatever they wanted against whomever they wanted. Matt Forte ran for more than 100 yards.

If there was ever a sign that Monte Kiffin should be out as coordinator after this season, it was this game. It's one thing to get lit up by Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. It's quite another to have it happen against a backup quarterback, even if McCown had been playing well in Jay Cutler's absence.

Stock watch: DeMarcus Ware, falling. Last week, Ware said the strength had finally returned to the quadriceps that kept him out for three games. But he was invisible versus the Bears before he was gifted a sack in the fourth quarter. Ware has two sacks since his return but is likely to see his streak of having at least 10 sacks in a season end at seven.

There's no defense in Dallas: Blame the injuries all you want, but Rob Ryan at least had an injury-riddled defense competitive last year. Kiffin has had to deal with injuries, but he had zero answers for the Bears.

The Cowboys allowed 24 points in Monday's first half. Only New Orleans and Denver had more against the Cowboys in an opening half (28 each). The Cowboys allowed 32 first downs. Only New Orleans (an NFL-record 40) and Denver (34) had more. The Cowboys allowed 498 yards. Only San Diego (506), Denver (517), Detroit (623) and New Orleans (625) had more. It's the fourth time a quarterback has had four touchdown passes against the Cowboys.

In the first half, the Bears had 12 plays of at least 10 yards. They scored quickly (a 37-second drive) and they ate up clock (90 yards, 8:10).

They did whatever they wanted to do.

Hurt again: Sean Lee made his return to the lineup after a two-game absence because of a hamstring injury but he could not finish the game after suffering a neck injury with 12:33 left in the third quarter.

Lee returned briefly for five plays before he went to the locker room for the rest of the game. Lee has yet to play a full season in his career because of injuries. He is the best playmaker on the defense, but even with him the defense has not been close to adequate. Imagine how bad things would be if Lee missed even more playing time?

The Cowboys might be about to find out.

Hey, a running game: Let's get about the only positive the Cowboys had from Monday's game: They ran the ball well. DeMarco Murray ran for 145 yards on 18 carries. He now has 842 on the year and has a shot at reaching 1,000 for the season.

But why be positive on a night like this?

What's next: The Cowboys return to AT&T Stadium on Sunday to face the Green Bay Packers. The biggest question is whether Aaron Rodgers will make his return from a collarbone injury. If he does, the task is much more difficult. The Cowboys are 5-1 at AT&T Stadium this season, but the Packers have some good memories there as well, having won Super Bowl XLV there.

Rapid Reaction: New York Giants

December, 8, 2013

SAN DIEGO -- A few thoughts on the New York Giants' 37-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers:

What it means: The Giants fell to 5-8 with three games left to play and therefore cannot finish with a winning record. Since the Eagles and Cardinals won, this loss eliminated the Giants from playoff contention. Obviously, they hung in longer than could have been expected after starting the season 0-6. But that 0-6 start meant they couldn't afford any more stinkers. And this was a stinker.

Stock watch: Run defense, DOWN. A Giants strength for much of the season, the run defense failed the Giants in this game. They went into the game concerned about Danny Woodhead because he and the manner in which the Chargers use him are different from any running back they'd yet faced. And Woodhead had a big game. But so did Ryan Mathews running between the tackles.

Nicks Watch: Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, a nonfactor in the passing game for most of this season, had catches of 51, 37 and 28 yards in the game. The middle one was a Hail Mary short of the end zone at the end of the first half. The other two were deep downfield in traffic. Nicks was able to outfight defenders for the ball all three times but still isn't separating from them. He also had a couple of drops on shorter patterns, though each of those seemed to be thrown a bit behind him. And he briefly left the game in the second half with some sort of leg injury. Nicks will be a free agent at the end of the year and is likely in his final month as a Giant.

Tuck Watch: Justin Tuck, also a pending free agent, had two sacks after collecting four last week in Washington and is now up to 8.5 for the season. Unlike Nicks, Tuck appears to be making an inspired case to stay.

Turnover redux: Eli Manning threw his 20th interception of the season and had another potential pick overturned by replay review. The Giants are the only NFL team with at least one turnover in every game this year.

What's next: The Giants return home, where they will host the Seattle Seahawks in a 1 p.m. ET game at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. The Seahawks are tied with the Broncos for the best record in the NFL.

Rapid Reaction: Philadelphia Eagles

December, 8, 2013

PHILADELPHIA -- Quick thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' 34-20 victory over the Detroit Lions in snowy Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.

What it means: If LeSean McCoy isn’t the best all-around back in the NFL, he made a case for being the best all-weather back in the game. In a game changed immeasurably by the measurable snowfall, McCoy’s fourth-quarter touchdown runs of 40 and 57 yards turned what looked like a dispiriting loss into a win with major playoff implications. The Eagles (8-5) scored 28 fourth-quarter points for their fifth win in a row. They took a half-game lead in the NFC East over Dallas -- which plays Monday night in Chicago -- and gained a tiebreaker edge over another possible wild-card contender.

Snow job: The forecast for Philadelphia called for a “wintry mix” of rain and light snow. Instead, a driving snow started about 90 minutes before kickoff and rendered both teams’ game plans useless. Lions quarterback Matt Stafford fumbled his first snap, one of six Lions fumbles in the first half. Visibility was terrible. Footing was worse. Field goals and PAT attempts were impossible. It was fun, in the way crazy-weather events are fun, but it wasn’t exactly NFL football.

Stock watch: Falling: Eagles special teams. The snow obviously had an impact on the footing, but the Eagles allowed two return touchdowns by Jeremy Ross. He returned a punt 58 yards and a kickoff 98 yards to account for all of the Lions’ second-half scoring. Ross also returned a fourth-quarter kickoff to midfield to give the Lions excellent field position.

What’s next: The Eagles continue their tour through the NFC North with a game at Minnesota next week. They host the Bears on Dec. 22. Those two games will have a huge impact on their season-ending showdown at Dallas on Dec. 29. If the Eagles can be tied or ahead of the Cowboys, a win would give them the division title without tiebreakers coming into play.

Rapid Reaction: Washington Redskins

December, 8, 2013

LANDOVER, Md. -- Thoughts and observations after the Washington Redskins' 45-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs:

What it means: The end of the Mike Shanahan regime. With stories now detailing the nature of numerous relationships at Redskins Park -- Shanahan and Robert Griffin III's; Griffin and Dan Snyder's; and Kyle Shanahan and Griffin's -- it’ll be tough for Shanahan to survive, especially after a disastrous and embarrassing 45-10 loss to Kansas City on Sunday. If Snyder fires Shanahan, it can be justified based on the record over the first three-plus years (24-37) and the fact that they have not improved this season. They’ll have salary cap room, but the direction they’re headed in is the wrong one. Shanahan has complained about how much noise accompanies coaching the Redskins. It certainly has annoyed him during his tenure and it probably makes coaching more difficult. Nothing is ever as bad as it seems, but it’s hard to paint this season in any sort of positive light. For a while bringing Shanahan back was a legitimate option. Players have maintained support, both privately and publicly. But there just seems to be too much ongoing “noise” for Shanahan to survive for a fifth season.

Stock watch: Down: special teams coach Keith Burns. The Chiefs returned a punt for a touchdown and then later a kickoff for a touchdown. Burns’ first season in Washington has been a disaster, whether it’s all his doing or not. The fact is, the special teams have been dreadful. They were not a great unit before he arrived; they’ve been terrible all year. Really, we could put an entire list of Redskins players -- and coaches -- on the “down” portion of the stock report.

QB watch: Griffin had a miserable day in the sloppy weather, completing 12 of 26 passes for 164 yards. He eyeballed a receiver leading to an easy read and interception by linebacker Derrick Johnson. Griffin was replaced by fellow second-year QB Kirk Cousins, who didn’t fare much better. He completed 7 of 16 passes for 59 yards. Both quarterbacks were put in obvious pass situations quite a bit. There are a lot of reasons the passing game didn’t work, but neither one provided much of a spark. In truth, the Redskins' offense was never in this game. Nor was their defense. Nor their special teams.

Up next: The Redskins play at Atlanta in a game that, before the season, looked like one that would have playoff implications. That notion died a long time ago.