NFC East: 2013 Week 17 Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: Dallas Cowboys

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
11:29
PM ET
ARLINGTON, Texas -- A few thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 24-22 loss against the Philadelphia Eagles.

What it means: For the third straight year the Cowboys failed in their Week 17 bid to win the NFC East and claim a playoff spot. As a result, they finished 8-8 for the third straight year under Jason Garrett and will spend the offseason lamenting close losses against the Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers, but should not neglect close wins that could have been losses to the Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins.

The effort was fine. The Cowboys simply lost. The Eagles made more plays when it mattered most, with Brandon Boykin sealing the game for Philadelphia with a pick of Kyle Orton with 1:43 remaining. It was a horrible ending for Orton, who finished with 358 yards passing and had the Cowboys in position to do what few thought was possible. The Cowboys had a chance for the game-winning drive, but like last year at Washington with Tony Romo as quarterback, their fate was sealed by an interception.

Stock watch: Jason Witten, rising. He did what he could to keep the Cowboys in the game. He finished with a season-high 12 catches for 135 yards. He was a difficult matchup all night for the Philadelphia defense, but it wasn’t enough.

Poor situational football: Garrett preaches the importance of situational football, but it has been something that has plagued this team for years under his tutelage.

Third-down offense was an issue for the entire season and it was an issue Sunday. The Cowboys converted on just three of 11 tries.

They also had to settle for field goals on their first two drives of the second half with the defense rising up. The second Dan Bailey kick was the killer because the drive started at the Philadelphia 20 after DeMarcus Ware recovered a Nick Foles fumble. The Cowboys gained only two yards before they called on Bailey. Two first-half turnovers were also costly with the Eagles turning them into 10 points.

On fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter, Orton’s pass to DeMarco Murray was knocked down by Connor Barwin. The Eagles responded with an 11-play drive that ended with Bryce Brown' 6-yard touchdown run and a 24-17 lead with 6:09 to play.

A failed two-point conversion kept the Eagles in front, and after Orton’s second pick the Cowboys were done.

The return of Hatcher: Maybe he felt like he was snubbed in the Pro Bowl voting, but defensive tackle Jason Hatcher had his best game in nearly two months. Hatcher had two sacks and forced a fumble. He was a nuisance all night for the Eagles' offensive line. He had not had a sack since Nov. 24 against the New York Giants. He had not had a two-sack game since that tilt as well. He finished the season with a career-high 11 sacks in what might be his final season with Dallas. He is an unrestricted free agent in March.

What’s next: The Cowboys can begin focusing on the draft and figuring out their salary-cap situation. They have plenty of decisions to make on players like Ware, Miles Austin and possibly even Brandon Carr. As far as the draft goes, the Cowboys need to find the defense help in all areas, but especially the defensive line.

Rapid Reaction: Philadelphia Eagles

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
11:25
PM ET
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Quick thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' 24-22 victory against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night.

What it means: Chip Kelly won the NFC East title in his first season as a head coach in the NFL despite a rough night on the sideline. The Eagles' defense bailed Kelly and his offense out, holding the Cowboys to one touchdown and three field goals. Linebacker Connor Barwin batted down a Kyle Orton pass on a crucial fourth-and-1 play in the fourth quarter to prevent Dallas from taking a late lead. Brandon Boykin intercepted a pass to seal the Eagles' win with 1:43 left. The victory gives the Eagles a 10-6 record -- six more wins than last year -- and a date next Saturday night with the New Orleans Saints in the first round of the playoffs.

Kendricks shows up: Second-year linebacker Mychal Kendricks has shown flashes of excellence all season, often negated by some lapses. He was the Eagles’ best defender all night. Kendricks forced a DeMarco Murray fumble after the Cowboys drove to the Philadelphia 25 on their first possession. He intercepted a pass to set up an Eagles touchdown just before halftime. Kendricks also made some big tackles to hold Murray and Jason Witten to little or no gain in key situations.

Head scratching: Kelly couldn’t resist trying another gimmick play with Brad Smith in the red zone. This time, on first-and-goal at the 6, Smith lined up wide left. He took a handoff from Nick Foles and rolled out to his right. He threw an incomplete pass to Zach Ertz in the end zone. Foles had to throw the ball away on second down, and hit DeSean Jackson for five yards on third. That set up the fourth-and-goal play. Kelly decided to go for it instead of kicking a field goal. Foles was stuffed on the keeper and Dallas had a huge shot of momentum.

Stock watch: Falling: Nick Foles. It didn’t tank completely, but Foles’ stock fell within the game. In the first half, he was terrific, completing 12 of 16 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns -- a passer rating of 155.5. In the second half, Dallas started getting pressure as Foles struggled to get rid of the ball. Foles was 3-of-8 for 41 yards and a passer rating of 54.7 in the third quarter. He was sacked twice in the quarter, fumbling the ball away on his own 20-yard line. It’s the kind of mistake Foles had avoided all season. The defense held the Cowboys to a field goal to minimize the damage.

What’s next: The Eagles host the Saints (11-5) Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field. The Saints are 3-5 on the road this season. The Eagles have won their past four home games after enduring a 10-game home losing streak. It will be Kelly’s first NFL playoff game, although he does have plenty of experience coaching on Saturdays.

Rapid Reaction: New York Giants

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
4:30
PM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the New York Giants' season-ending 20-6 victory over the Washington Redskins:

What it means: The game result couldn't possibly mean any less. But the injury toll in the Giants' finale was alarming. Quarterback Eli Manning and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks left in the second quarter with sprained ankles. Guard James Brewer and wide receiver Rueben Randle left earlier in the game with injuries. And left tackle Will Beatty had to be carted off the field in the third quarter with a broken right leg. The Giants have eight months before their next meaningful game, but obviously they'll hope none of those injuries is serious enough to affect the players' offseason preparations. You'd have to think Beatty's is, at least.

Stock watch: Justin Tuck and Jerrel Jernigan, UP. Tuck added two more sacks to give him six in two games against the Redskins this year and 11 total -- the third-highest single-season total of his career. Jernigan caught a first-half touchdown pass and ran 49 yards for a rushing touchdown in the third quarter, and his emergence as a legitimate weapon was one of the few feel-good stories of the latter part of the Giants' rotten season.

What's next: The Giants head into the offseason with a ton of questions on both sides of the ball. They have 24 unrestricted free agents and will pick somewhere in the No. 9-15 range in the first round of the draft in May. They need three starting offensive linemen (maybe four, depending on how bad Beatty's injury turns out to be), a wide receiver, a tight end, a running back, a cornerback and assorted linebackers and defensive linemen. Time to get to work.

Rapid Reaction: Washington Redskins

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
4:25
PM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Thoughts on the Washington Redskins' 20-6 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday.

What it means: The end of the Mike Shanahan era, as he will be fired shortly, perhaps as early as Sunday night, according to multiple reports. Shanahan’s tenure will end with a 24-40 record after a 3-13 finish this season. It became clear in the past three weeks that Shanahan would not be coaching the Redskins in 2014 thanks to multiple stories that emerged painting quarterback Robert Griffin III in a bad light, among other things. That brought a return of the circus atmosphere Shanahan said had ended. But it’s tough to pin his ouster on Griffin’s influence with owner Dan Snyder. One of Shanahan’s complaints, according to the reports, was his dislike of Griffin's supposed close relationship with Snyder. Rather, Shanahan’s ouster can be justified from a football decision. In a bottom-line business, a 3-13 mark in a fourth season is tough to overcome. The Redskins last finished 3-13 in 1994, Norv Turner's first season.

Quarterback watch: Kirk Cousins played a full game against the best defense he’s seen in his NFL career, and the results weren’t pretty. Cousins was inaccurate on a number of throws on this wet, dreary day -- too wide on some, high on others and inside on yet some more. It was a bad all-around day for Cousins, who also threw two interceptions (one off a high pass to Santana Moss, which could have been caught). Another pick was dropped -- actually a couple of more were in danger of being intercepted -- and he also lost a fumble in the red zone. Cousins showed he’s still a young, developing quarterback. There’s nothing wrong with that. But he has not shown that he’s worthy of being traded for a high pick by any means. Nor that there’s any reason to think anyone but Griffin should be the starter in 2013. Cousins has some skills that you like and other aspects he must overcome. A couple of passes were dropped, but Cousins really struggled, completing 19 of 49 passes for 169 yards.

Record day: Receiver Pierre Garcon became the third receiver in NFL history to catch at least five passes in all 16 games. Jacksonville’s Jimmy Smith (2001) and Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown (also 2013) are the other two. There are better receivers in the NFL than Garcon, but you have to admire his consistent play this season -- as a pass-catcher and run-blocker.

End of another era: Linebacker London Fletcher played his last NFL game. Linebacker Brian Orakpo, who was inactive because of a strained groin, corners DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson, linebacker Perry Riley and safety Reed Doughty also will become free agents. All have been with Washington for at least four seasons. Any new coach will have a lot of holes to fill, which is what happens when a team goes 3-13.

Next up: Search for a new head coach.

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