Killer Giants? Giant Killers? You could almost hear the NY Post headline machine getting ready to crank out a good one as the Packers/Giants game headed to its inexorable conclusion. You couldn’t exactly say that the Giants’ defense, admittedly better than most the Pack have faced this year, shut down Aaron Rodgers. He threw for over 300 yards and four touchdowns while posting a QB rating over 100. But they did knock Rodgers around, sacking him twice, picking him off once and generally disrupting his rhythm enough to keep themselves in the game.
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But the Green Bay defense, suspect all year, was once again shown to be the teams’ achilles heel. Brandon Jacobs, who looked all but done in most of his action this year, rushed for over 7 yards per carry. Eli Manning matched Rodgers’ touchdown for touchdown, including a thriller to Hakeem Nicks with under a minute to go, and a surprising call on the 2-point conversion – a delayed handoff to DJ Ware, knotted the game with less than a minute to go. The Giants’ receiving tandem of Nicks and Victor Cruz was nearly unstoppable, combining for 14 catches, over 200 yards and 2 touchdowns. But even with all that, the ball was in Rodgers hands with under a minute to go, and in just two plays, he had the Pack in field goal range, thanks in part to a beautiful over the shoulder toss to Jordy Nelson, whose credits also included a remarkable catch earlier in the game. The tough Giants’ defense, that had harassed Rodgers all day, looked as if they weren’t even on the field as the Pack drove effortlessly downfield for the winning field goal.
Green Bay, who hadn’t been tested this hard since week 1 against New Orleans, proved that they could take a punch and still come out swinging. In the process, they added one more factor to the complex formula needed to try to beat this team: Make Sure You Have The Ball Last.
A running game and a defense can go a long way towards being a winning team, just ask Alex Smith, but the Bears and Texans were both faced with putting that theory to the test in the extreme this week. Paging Donovan McNabb? The Bears’ Caleb Hanie was dreadful this week, throwing three interceptions and posting a passer rating of 23.8 in a 10-3 loss to the Chiefs. Obviously, the Bears’ defense did their part, shutting down the Chiefs offense (of course, it was a Tyler Palko led Chiefs’ offense: newly signed Kyle Orton got hurt on the game’s first play and Palko went the rest of the way). Of course, Hanie was handicapped by the loss of all-world RB Matt Forte (just ask Kansas City about that – they’ve been missing Jamal Charles for weeks), but it would be hard to imagine a quarterback coming up smaller than Hanie did this week, and with the Bears in the thick of the NFC playoff race, speculation that McNabb, a Chicago native, might be called in, will intensify. The drawbacks: McNabb hasn’t exactly been lighting the football world on fire the last two years and he’s never played in a Mike Martz style offense. Still, it’s hard to imagine the Bears will continue to pin their hopes on Hanie, who looks badly overmatched.
The flipside of this coin is the Houston Texans. who at first blush might have seemed even more hamstrung, having lost both starter Matt Schaub and backup Matt Leinart, leaving them with their third string quarterback, rookie TJ Yates. Yates played passably last week after Leinart’s injury, and played well enough to win this week in a 17-10 victory over Atlanta. Most important stat: zero interceptions, putting the defense in position to continue to make stops. The Texans had already signed Kellen Clemens in the wake of Schaub’s injury and Jake Delhomme after Leinart’s, but unless Yates implodes, you can figure on seeing him down the stretch and into the playoffs for Houston.
Going hand in hand with Green Bay’s win over the Giants were San Francisco, New Orleans, New England, Baltimore & Pittsburgh all dispatching their opponents this week, and further separating themselves from the rest of the NFL in terms of who is in real contention for a championship. The formula for winning in the NFL is a complex one, and in reality there’s more than one way to do it, but just about every formula includes a few ingredients: stay healthy, be playing your best ball down the stretch, win the games you need to win. With the injuries they’ve suffered at quarterback, the Texans can’t meet the stay healthy component.
Other teams have different problems. The Raiders dropped their game to Miami right when they could least afford it, with Denver breathing down their neck (and now tied with them). Dallas will probably still the win the NFC East, no one else is stepping up to take it away from them, but blowing a game to the Cardinals is a poor way to start a stretch run. Chicago has their own injury problems. Detroit has lost 5 of their last 7. Cincinnati can’t beat a playoff team, and has lost three of their last four. Atlanta could have gained separation in the NFC Wildcard race, but couldn’t knock off a TJ Yates-led Houston team, and already has a loss at home to division rival New Orleans. If you’re looking for the list of teams that can reasonably go all the way this year, it ends with the six I mentioned in the first paragraph.
Head Coach Andy Reid. Defensive Coordinator Juan Castillo. That expletive deleted DeSean Jackson. Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweig. ALL the linebackers. Both of those expletive deleted safeties. General Manager Howie Roseman. This week’s annihilation of the Philadelphia Eagles by the Seattle Seahawks has angry Eagles’ fans calling for more people to be run out of town on a rail than Carter’s has little pills, but in reality, the turnover won’t be nearly so great. Reid, suffering through just his third losing season in 12 years, will probably be back. So will Howie Roseman. As for both coordinators, malcontent DeSean Jackson and a whole host of players on that expletive deleted defense, we’ll just have to wait and see.
What was most surprising about Cam Newton’s record setting day on Sunday? Certainly not that the set the record for rushing TD’s by a QB – I almost would have thought he had already done it before now. But the fact that the existing record was 12 was a bit surprising and the guy whose record he broke – Steve Grogan?! Maybe it’s hard to remember Steve Grogan circa 1976, but even back then he wasn’t exactly a speedster. Did the Patriots absolutely LOVE the QB sneak that year?
Is Chris Johnson back for real? For the second straight week, Johnson had a big game, this time running for 153 yards on 23 carries, including a 48 yard touchdown. Johnson has yet to show he can gash a really good defense (his last two efforts were against Buffalo and Tampa), but considering how he struggled against every level of defense in the first half, this is a very good sign for the Titans.
I was watching Tim Tebow and the Broncos barely beat yet another opponent this week. Remember, no matter how ugly you win, it’s still a win, and Denver proved they can in multiple ways. The defense certainly didn’t save them this game: Minnesota put up 32 points against them. And Tim Tebow, the guy who can’t throw?
;He threw for 202 yards and posted a passer rating of 149.3, while carrying the ball just 4 times for 13 yards. How’s that for winning a different way?
Almost like clockwork, December rolled around and Dallas promptly went out and lost to the Arizona Cardinals. Jason Garrett called a timeout that invalidated his own kicker’s game winning field goal – the subsequent attempt was no good. Eric Dickerson, I mean, DeMarco Murray rushed 12 times for 38 yards. Dan Bailey, who’d missed only one kick all year, missed two, including the potential game winner, as mentioned. It’s like the calendar changes over and these guys wilt like leaves on summer trees.
“This step, this game today is for all those strong and mighty men who have been carrying the flag for this many years.” – 49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh’s 10-2 team beat the 2-10 St. Louis Rams.
“You get the ball in your best playmaker’s hands. And fortunately for us, our playmaker touches the ball every play.” – Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams, on QB Cam Newton.
“We’ve got a lot of good guys. I can’t complain a bit about the effort or the work ethic that they put forth. I’ve got to make sure that I get them in a better position to make plays.” – Eagles coach Andy Reid, combining a flat-out lie (his team has completely quit on the field) with a platitude he has repeated at almost every press conference following a loss for 10 years.
“I was glad they iced their kicker so I didn’t have to.” – Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, on Cowboys coach Jason Garrett’s untimely timeout which cost his team a made field goal.
“Browns offense is (pick one) putrid, abysmal, needles-to-eyeballs-bad.” – Cleveland Browns beat writer Tony Grossi.
“It’s disappointing. I’ve never lost five in a row. This is new territory for me and I’m sure for a lot of guys. It doesn’t feel good. They don’t like it and I don’t like it.” – Bills LB Nick Barnett, who spent eight seasons with the Green Bay Packers before joining the Bills. Um, Nick, I’m pretty sure losing five in a row isn’t new territory for most of the Bills.
“We were able to spread the ball around and come up with some big plays. I hope our hopes and aspirations are bigger than setting records.” – Saints QB Drew Brees, downplaying questions about his chase of Dan Marino’s single season passing record.
“I know what losing feels like, and this isn’t that.” – Patriots G Brian Waters, following a win (31-24 over the Colts).
“It’s just embarrassing. You don’t feel good at all. When they’re beating you so bad that their fans leave, that’s just a bad feeling.” – Bengals’ S Chris Crocker, on Cincinnati’s 35-7 loss to the Steelers.