After a Thanksgiving shootout, a Sunday night blowout and a desperate Monday night game, the Giants have retaken a two game lead atop the NFC East.
New York Giants 7-4
Washington Redskins 5-6
Dallas Cowboys 5-6
Philadelphia Eagles 3-8
No team needed a bye more than the Giants did two weeks ago. They had lost two straight with Eli Manning having played his three worst games of the season consecutively.
But as you might expect, they took advantage of their time off and came into their Sunday night matchup with the Green Bay Packers prepared and looking like the defending Super Bowl champs, scoring early and often on their way to a 38-10 victory.
It’s pretty well established that the Giants can go as far as Manning can take them and he seemed to return to his former self, throwing for 249 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. The Giants’ offense also seemed to get their balance back. Their running back-by-committee rushed for a combined 147 yards, led by Andre Brown’s 64 yards.
Much more surprising was the fact that the Giants’ normally shaky secondary held the potent Packers’ passing game in check. Aaron Rodgers had just an 81.9 passer rating. Not coincidentally, Rodgers was sacked five times for a combined 29-yard loss.
At 7-4, the Giants are in firm control of the division with just one more game against the Washington Redskins.
If the Redskins are supposed to be planning for the future they sure seem to be having a lot of fun right now. Griffin is doing much more than proving he’s a promising rookie; he’s proving to be one of the best players in the NFL.
Griffin followed up a performance in which he had the rare perfect passer rating by coming into Cowboy Stadium and completing 20-of-28 passes for 311 yards and four touchdowns.
Their other rookie, running back Alfred Morris, ran for 113 yards and a touchdown of his own. So I think it’s safe to say Washington has a bright future.
At 5-6, the Redskins, while still a long shot, have put themselves back in the playoff race. If Washington isn’t able to put together enough of a streak to reach the postseason there will surely be a number of teams happy to avoid them. They have become one of the most dangerous clubs in the league with their balanced offensive attack. Against Dallas they threw the ball 28 times and ran the ball 30. Their defense is certainly flawed, but they compensate that by controlling the time of possession.
The Cowboys were full of newfound hope on the morning of Thanksgiving. They knew that if they could defeat the Washington Redskins and Aaron Rodgers could take down the Giants then the Cowboys would be tied atop the division.
Well, Robert Griffin III came into Cowboy Stadium and sucked most of that hope right out of the building. A 28-point second quarter by the Redskins put Dallas down by 25 at halftime. From there they were just playing catch-up and they fell short, losing 38-31.
The game featured a lot of the characteristics we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from Dallas’ Tony Romo throw an astounding 62 times for 441 yards. He also had two interceptions. And, the rushing game was non-existent. The Cowboys gave the ball to a running back nine times in the entire game, twice in the second half. They had a total of 35 yards rushing.
The defense played solid at times, but ultimately gave up far too many big plays to Griffin. Sitting two games behind the Giants for the division lead and losing tie-breakers to Seattle and Chicago for the wild card, the Cowboys’ only hope may be that DeMarco Murray’s eventual return can spark them with just enough momentum to stay in the running for the playoffs.
Former Packers linebacker Brady Poppinga has some things the Cowboys maybe can use – linebacker experience, a Super Bowl ring, and a splash of personality.
He spent his first day in the locker room at Valley Ranch talking about Batman and busting through doors and Jerry Jones driving the machine and … well, forget trying to describe it – here some of his quotes:
On how hard it was for him to sit out all year after not hooking up with a team out of training camp:
“You kidding me? I don’t know how many times I just wanted to run through the door and blast somebody. But you got to have patience and understand that you’re a regular civilian in this world and you can’t break laws and break doors. You got to hold you aggression inside of you and get it out when you’re lifting weights or what have you, so it’s good to be back.”
On what kind of training he did to stay in shape:
“A lot of training, a lot of fundamental work. It’s my eighth year, so it’s not my first rodeo. I understand the kinds of movements and the kind of feel I want to have. I’ve been taught very well by my position coach, by the strength and conditioning coaches. From them, I’ve been able to formulate a plan customized to how I like to feel. I was in what you would call Batman shape, meaning, when I get the call, boom, I put the mask on and I’m gone. So I got the mask on and here I am.”
On adjusting to a team trying to fit in so many new players:
“I’m still getting a feel for it. I just got here T-minus five hours ago, so I can’t give you the pulse yet. Check back with me on that one.”
On understanding the nuances of the defense:
“Every defense has the same concept. Mixing and matching those concepts is different from each team to each team and also with what they call it is different. It’s just like learning a new language. I’ve done that before. I spent two years traveling in South America, learned Spanish. In English, you learn apple is a fruit. In Spanish, it’s manzana. They mean the same things. It’s just figuring out what word means what. That’s the learning curve, and that’s what you have to memorize and get down and I’ll be doing that in T-minus 27 minutes.” (It was 27 minutes until the locker room closed to interviews).
On his personality and bringing energy to the locker room:
“This is just who I am. If you want to tap into that, go right ahead. It’s for the taking. I’m not trying to hold it in. I am who I am. I love who I am. I’m not afraid to show it. If people want to embrace that they can. If they don’t like it, I guess that’s great too. I just realize that half the people are going to like you guys and half the people aren’t, so you mine as well just be who you are. It’s always 50-50. It’s easy being who you are, too, by the way.”
On whether he’s been around a team that had so many injuries:
“Yeah, Green Bay, 2010, the Super Bowl year, so I’ve seen it done. Basically you have to have guys when they do come in, they’re the next guys up, whatever their role is, they have to commit to learning and they’ve got to be able to become part of the team. That’s what’s most important. That’s what separates championship teams from average teams, chemistry and guys wanting to play for each other. It’s about learning what you have to learn to do your job description and integrating yourself with the team for chemistry.”
On whether he was one of them:
“Yeah, I was one of them.”
On how his workout went with the Cowboys in November:
“This is a machine that keeps rolling, and the man driving this machine – well, his staff is – Jerry Jones and his staff is driving the machine. If you’re a part of this deal, you’re a part of this deal, and if you’re not, you’re not. I didn’t have any control of it, but this is a great organization, obviously. It’s highly followed. It’s a successful organization. They’ve won some Super Bowls with a lot of great players have walked through these halls. To be a part of this team it’s an honor and a privilege.”
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer’s strong season now includes more responsibility.
He’s going to be the play-caller for the defense now that Bruce Carter is lost for the season to injury.
Spencer got his first chance to wear the communication helmet last week in the second half against Washington, when Carter went out with a dislocated elbow that put him on the injured reserve list. Carter himself had taken over that job from Sean Lee, who went on injured reserve last month.
“It went pretty well,” said Spencer, who had two sacks against the Redskins to match his career high for a season, 6.5. “It was louder than I expected. But it went well.”
What was louder than expected?
“His voice,” Spencer said, breaking into a smile.
“Yes. Him in my head was louder than I expected,” Spencer said.
Everyone laughed in understanding. Ryan is certainly a vocal defensive coordinator. But Spencer knows what Ryan expects, and relaying the signals to the defense is just one extra step for him.
“I say them to myself in my head after I hear them, so it was just repeating,” Spencer said. “I mean, that was the only different thing, is he’s yelling, “Watch out for this!” and “Check with this!” and all of the other stuff like that.”
Was he ever tempted to say, “Coach, enough!”
“Nah. I mean, I can’t do that on the field,” he said and laughed. “I just throw him the thumbs-up like, ‘I got it! I got it!’ ”