NFC East: Giants Reign Supreme Atop Shaky Division
By Justin Henry (@cynicjrh)
NFC East Beat Writer/Unsolved Mysteries Reenactment Actor
Be careful, New York. You don’t want to get too good, do you?
Both times the Giants have reigned as Super Bowl Champion in the Tom Coughlin era, they were the fourth seed or worse in the NFC bracket. In 2007, it was a wild card run of road games that led to their upheaval of the 18-0 Patriots. Last year, a pair of road wins over the ‘superior’ Packers and 49ers paved to way to another win over New England, and another Lombardi Trophy.
As things stand now, New York’s alone in first place in the NFC East, sitting pretty at 4-2. The Eagles and Cowboys both flamed out Sunday in frustrating fashion, but the Redskins came out victorious in their battle. As a result, the division experiences its biggest shakeup of the year so far.
Read on, as the Giants finish what they started in January, the Eagles give a game away, the Cowboys err late, and the Redskins are powered by their new big-man-on-campus.
1. Giants Dominant in Win over Defensively Strong 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers defense had only allowed 68 points in their first 5 games, averaging out to an NFL best 13.6 YPG allowed.
The number is even more impressive in the Golden Gate City’s 4 victories, where they allowed only 44 points, or 11 a game.
After watching the 49ers dominate the Jets and Bills in consecutive weeks, holding their hapless AFC East knock-arounds to 3 total points and 349 combined yards of offense, it seemed like the Jim Harbaugh-installed defense of 2011 was swelling to its projected proportions.
Leave it to Eli Manning and the New York Giants offense to deflate the air from that balloon, as they pounded the 49ers 26-3 by the bay.
San Francisco allowed 4 New York drives of over 50 yards (which netted 13 of 26 points), and had to put up with 3 Giants possessions that began inside their own 35 (2 in their own red zone).
Ahmad Bradshaw ran for 116 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries (4.3 YPA), as well as a touchdown. Bradshaw is only the second running back in Harbaugh’s tenure as coach, and second since the 2009 season, to go over 100 yards on the ground against San Fran (Marshawn Lynch had 107 on Christmas Eve a year ago).
David Wilson, for his part, ran for 35 yards on 7 carries (5 YPA) on San Francisco’s defense, which was only allowing an impressive 3.48 YPA heading into the game.
The defense also couldn’t keep Eli Manning from a relatively efficient performance. While Manning the Younger only completed 53.6 percent of his passes (15 of 28), he did throw a touchdown to Victor Cruz, and avoided being sacked or turning the ball over.
San Francisco’s Defensive Passer Rating before the game: 74.13
Eli Manning’s performance on Sunday: 87.4
2. Giants D Throws Alex Smith off His Game
Last time Alex Smith threw 3 interceptions in a single game: December 20, 2009 vs. Philadelphia.
Last time Alex Smith threw at least 2 more interceptions than he did touchdown passes: September 12, 2010, vs. Seattle.
Last time Alex Smith lost over 30 yards in sacks: December 11, 2011, vs. Arizona.
With San Francisco’s blowout win over the Bills last week, Alex Smith, for the first time in his career, had a winning record in the regular season as a starting quarterback, going 36-35. Under Harbaugh, the 2005 No. 1 pick had finally turned the corner.
And then the Giants introduced him to reality.
Smith did indeed throw 3 picks against the Giants, 2 to Antrel Rolle and the other to Prince Amukamara. Although the optimist would say that Smith didn’t throw them in New York’s red zone, thus squandering sure-scoring chances, the realist laments that Smith threw each of this picks in his own territory.
New York cashed in with 13 points, half of their final total, on those turnovers.
Only 5 times did the 49ers get inside the Giants’ 40 yard line. One, David Akers hit a 42 yard field goal. Twice, he missed kicks (his second two-miss game of the season). On another occasion, Smith completed a 7 yard-pass to Vernon Davis, which was sadly on a fourth-and-15.
The final occasion came when Colin Kaepernick entered the game late in the final quarter as the main quarterback, not just a novelty piece.
Smith was benched with the result no longer in doubt, only able to watch as the final seconds of what began as a golden opportunity ended in crushing defeat.
3. Vikings Defense Cannot Contain RG3
Like the cases of Tim Tebow, LeBron James, Alex Rodriguez, and others, do you find yourself rooting against Robert Griffin III, just because you know it makes the ESPN Hype Machine look foolish?
If so, steer clear of the Bristol Inanity Parade on Monday, because RG3’s 76-yard touchdown scramble, wherein he looked over his shoulder several times to enjoy the distance between he and the hopeless Minnesota defenders, is going to be perma-plaqued into that highlight reel.
Griffin’s star shined brightly in Washington’s 38-26 victory over the Vikings at FedEx Field, the Redskins’ first home win since September 18 of last year.
Minnesota’s defense was allowing only 3.2 YPA rushing, second best total in the league. In fact, the D did a fine job keeping dynamic youngster Alfred Morris from doing much damage outside of a touchdown; he had only 47 yards on 16 carries (2.94 YPA).
It was Griffin, however, who stole the show.
RG3 tallied 138 yards on 13 carries (10.6 YPA) and 2 touchdowns in the victory. This marks the first game in which Griffin has run for over 100 yards (previous high: 82), and the first time he’s had a rushing average of over 10 YPA.
Griffin’s first touchdown was a 7 yard lawn-darting early in the third quarter to make the game 24-9. At that point, Washington had scored 24 unanswered points after 3 early Blair Walsh field goals.
The 76-yard touchdown dash came as Minnesota had narrowed the gap to 31-26 with minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
RG3 also was serviceable in the passing game, going 17 for 22 (77.3 percent) with a touchdown and a pick. Griffin is the first Redskin to complete 75+ percent of passes, with a minimum of 20 attempts, since Jason Campbell in October 2008.
4. Eagles Let 10 Point Lead Slip Away Against Lions
For the first time since November/December 1983, the Philadelphia Eagles have gone 3 straight games without getting a sack on defense.
But hey, at least the Eagles topped 20 points for a change.
In Philadelphia’s 26-23 overtime loss to the Lions, the Eagles showed flashes of their old selves at times. This includes a moment when Jeremy Maclin busted Detroit’s coverage for a 70-yard touchdown reception to make it 23-13 with 5:18 to go.
But to paraphrase the transcendentally stentorian John Facenda, “The Eagles would score….no more….this afternoon.”
After that play, Detroit would gain 170 of their 449 total yards in the remainder of regulation, plus overtime, to score the 13 points needed to attain victory.
Michael Vick was reintroduced to the gut-slugging world of interceptions, throwing a pair of them. Vick did offset them with 2 touchdown strikes, to Maclin and LeSean McCoy, and added 59 yards on some well executed scrambles.
It was LeSean McCoy who struggled most, rushing for just 22 yards on 14 carries (1.57 YPA). The Eagles as a team could only muster 71 yards on the ground, which counts a 14 yard loss on a busted play to DeSean Jackson.
And despite all of this, the Eagles led by 10 points, their largest lead of the season, with 5:18 to go.
That’s what makes this loss especially frustrating for the Eagles: they had so many chances to win, and they just couldn’t make those intangibles work.
There were no sacks for the third straight week. For the sixth straight game, the Eagles did not score on their opening possession, and only have 7 first quarter points this year (a touchdown vs. Baltimore). After hemming in Calvin Johnson for most of the game, he (and Tony Scheffler) had long completions late in the fourth to help facilitate Detroit’s takeover.
Philadelphia heads into their bye at 3-3, with the knowledge that, under Andy Reid, they’re 13-0 in the game following their idle week. Playing against Atlanta, also coming off a bye, could be a harbinger of Big Red’s doom.
5. Dallas Beats Themselves, Blowing Chance vs. Ravens
Tony Romo didn’t throw 5 interceptions. In fact, he threw just 1 against a not-as-feisty-as-we-once-were Baltimore Ravens team on Sunday.
DeMarco Murray looked splendid, rushing for 93 yards on 14 carries (6.64 YPA) on Baltimore, who were averaging 3.48 YPA on defense this year.
Dez Bryant and Jason Witten both shined like diamonds in the receiving game. Bryant caught 13 passes for 99 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Witten had a nice haul with 6 catches for 88 yards.
And yet, Baltimore still won 31-29.
It’s a kick in the pants for the Cowboys, who came back from Jacoby Jones’ record-tying 108-yard kickoff return, ate away at the 24-13 Ravens lead to make it 24-23, endured a Ray Rice touchdown with under 5 minutes to play, and then nearly made the game theirs.
Romo found Bryant on a 4 yard touchdown pass to make it 31-29, but the 2-point conversion failed with nearly 30 seconds left.
No problem: Dallas got the onside kick as it squirted through Brendon Ayanbadejo’s legs, and, after a 20 yard pass interference penalty, found themselves in field goal range.
But a quick pass to Bryant for just one yard gave way to Dallas milking the clock down, setting up a 51 yard attempt for Dan Bailey. No need to drive closer, thought the Cowboys.
It would be their undoing, as Bailey missed, sinking “America’s Team” to 2-3, and dead last in the NFC East.
Dallas possessed the ball for over 40 minutes (40:03 to 19:57), went 8 for 15 on third down, and committed only 1 turnover after compiling 11 in their first 4 games.
The Cowboys just did everything but win.
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