Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett speaks to the media for the final time before taking on the Redskins on Sunday night at AT&T Stadium. Garrett discussed:
- Response from players this week in practice (after adversity)
- Importance of NFC East division games
- Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins rivalry
- View of Redskins-Cowboys rivalry as a player and coach
- Terrence Williams work ethic and NFL Draft impression
- Evaluation of Terrence Williams prior to draft; development
- Cole Beasley versatile as inside receiver, outside potential
- Robert Griffin III scouting
- Redskins pressure players and schemes
- Interior OL starters development and grade
- Travis Frederick standing out
- Thoughts on available roster spot
- Miles Austin progress and status for gameday
- Expectations for safety in this scheme
- Ratliff rehab and expected return to practice field
- DeMarco Murray role as a blocker, runner, and receiver
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Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett speaks to the media as his team continue their preparations for the Washington Redskins. Garrett discussed:
- Grading Texas-2 run defense this season
- RG3 differences this season compared to last year
- Miles Austin progress and practice
- Using Beasley, even with Austin, Dez, and Williams on field
- Dealing with criticism of Tony Romo, conversations about moving forward
- Tony Romo resilience
- Weighing Alfred Morris impact on Washington offense this season
- Recent history of containing RG3 and their run game
- Addressing Zone Read Option types of offenses with Texas-2 defense
- Defense Ends responsibility regarding Zone Read/Read Option
- Balanced offensive and attacking defenses
- Terrence Williams inclusion in offense going forward
- Who plays RG3 in team practices
- Development and confidence in Terrence Williams
- Scheme to take advantages of WAS passing yards surrendered
- Personnel looks and groupings on offense
- Intention for the teams open roster spot
- London Fletcher impact on game tapes this season
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Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett speaks to the media as his team begins their preparations for the Washington Redskins. Garrett discussed:
- Overcoming recent defensive struggles
- Evaluating pass defense after facing top AFC passers
- What went into decision to release veteran safety Will Allen
- Discussions about Dime packages vs. Nickel packages
- Assessment of plays by safeties on roster
- Challenging Morris Claiborne and related confidence
- Improvement expected on roster
- Planned roster moves with Allen’s spot available
- Miles Austin progress
- Justin Durant injury
- Team equipped to handle RG3 and defend that style of offense
- Changes in RG3 style recently, more pocket – less running
- Skewed stats and game factors when teams playing from behind
- Shoring up defense and making adjustments with blitz
- Ware and Hatcher drawing extra coverage
- Washington Redskin tape study
- Confidence in players in Texas-2 defense
- Personality traits in Tony Romo, bouncing back from loss
- Whether criticism justified for Tony Romo
- Thoughts on Washington Redskins name change
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The Dallas Cowboys had a chance to grab a commanding lead in the NFC East, and it didn’t happen. Below .500 and now faced with what looks like a must-win game against a division rival.
A loss to the Redskins, who defeated Dallas at Cowboys Stadium on Thanksgiving last year, would drop Dallas to 2-4 and 1-1 in the division with a two-game roadswing coming up on the schedule.
The script seems to have flipped quite a bit from the first few games of this season, as well. The Cowboys defense, which for a minute looked like the strength of the team, has been humiliated for more than 1,000 total yards in the past two weeks. Meanwhile, the offense, which drew criticism for its conservative play calling, exploded for nearly 600 yards in the loss to the Broncos.
The Broncos and Chargers and ranked No. 1 and No. 4, respectively, in the league through five weeks. So it’s reasonable to expect the defensive performance to improve against a less explosive opponent. Unfortunately, the Redskins are averaging 390 yards of offense per game despite their 1-3 record, and they had a Week 4 bye week to prepare for the trip to Dallas.
It’s also worth noting that Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is among the least-sacked quarterbacks in the league, going down just seven times in four games. That isn’t encouraging news for a Cowboys’ pass rush that has struggled in the past two games.
Washington is allowing the fourth-most passing yards in the league, and their rushing defense is giving up 142 yards a game. The Cowboys should be able to score points, but it remains to be seen if they can prevent points from being scored.
One week can make all the difference in the NFL, let alone two. The last time the Redskins played a game, they were happy just to avoid a 0-4 hole and get out of Oakland with a workmanlike 24-14 win.
When they take the field at AT&T Stadium, they’ll be playing for a chance to insert themselves into the NFC East race once again. The team that looked left for dead during September still has plenty to play for – especially considering how mediocre the division has been this point in the year.
A win would push Washington to 2-3 and drop Dallas two games below .500. Depending on what happens Sunday when Philadelphia plays Tampa Bay, it might even be enough to give the Redskins the lead in the division.
Of course, this is all assuming Washington can pick up where it left off two weeks ago in Oakland. Griffin had his most effective performance of the young season against the Raiders, as he completed 58 percent for 227 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. Alfred Morris only managed 71 yards, but he combined with Roy Helu Jr. to help Washington to 122 rushing yards on the day.
Griffin has not been the runner he was in 2012 during his trip back from his torn ACL. He has just 72 rushing yards after a quarter of the season, which has to make Dallas coaches happy. Griffin ran for 63 yards and a touchdown in last season’s playoff clinching win against the Cowboys. The lack of a second option to run the ball should make Morris slightly easier to contain.
Of course, the bye week will give Griffin 13 days of rest between live games – not to mention an extra week to prepare the game plan. Here’s guessing the Redskins will have some extra wrinkles in store, especially considering the Cowboys’ recent struggles to contain tight ends and running backs.
President Barack Obama says he would “think about changing” the Washington Redskins’ name if he owned the football team as he waded into the controversy involving a word that many consider offensive to Native Americans.
Obama, in an interview with The Associated Press, said team names such as the Redskins offend “a sizable group of people.” He said that while fans get attached to the names, nostalgia might not be a good enough reason to keep them in place.
“I don’t know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real legitimate concerns that people have about these things,” he said in the interview, which was conducted Friday.
An avid sports fan, Obama said he doesn’t think Washington football fans are purposely trying to offend American Indians. “I don’t want to detract from the wonderful Redskins fans that are here. They love their team and rightly so,” he said.
But the president appeared to come down on the side of those who have sharply criticized the football team’s name, noting that Indians “feel pretty strongly” about mascots and team names that depict negative stereotypes about their heritage.
Other professional sports teams have Indian names, including football’s Kansas City Chiefs and baseball’s Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians.
Numerous colleges and universities have changed names that reference Native Americans. St. John’s changed its mascot from the Redmen to the Red Storm, Marquette is now the Golden Eagles instead of the Warriors and Stanford switched from the Indians to the Cardinal.
The Redskins’ name has attracted a fresh round of controversy in recent months, with local leaders in Washington calling for a name change and some media outlets refraining from using the name. The name is the subject of a long-running legal challenge from a group of American Indians seeking to block the team from having federal trademark protection.
Congressional lawmakers have introduced a bill seeking the same goal, though it appears unlikely to pass.
Opponents of the Redskins name plan to hold a protest Monday outside the NFL’s fall meeting in Washington.
Team owner Dan Snyder has vowed to never abandon the name. But NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said last month that the league should pay attention to those offended by the name — a subtle change in position for Goodell, who had more strongly supported the name in his previous statements this year.
Despite the controversy, an AP-GfK poll conducted in April showed that nationally, “Redskins” still enjoys wide support. Nearly 4 in 5 Americans don’t think the team should change its name, the survey found. Only 11 percent think it should be changed, while 8 percent weren’t sure and 2 percent didn’t answer.
TEAM RESPONSE: The Washington Redskins released a statement through their attorney in response to President Obama’s comments:
“As a supporter of President Obama, I am sure the President is not aware that in the highly respected independent Annenberg Institute poll (taken in 2004) with a national sample of Native Americans, 9 out of 10 Native Americans said they were not bothered by the name the ‘Washington Redskins.’ The President made these comments to the Associated Press, but he was apparently unaware that an April 2013 AP poll showed that 8 out of 10 of all Americans in a national sample don’t think the Washington Redskins’ name should be changed.
“The Redskins respect everyone. But like devoted fans of the Atlanta Braves, the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Blackhawks (from President Obama’s hometown), the fans love their team and its name and, like those fans, they do not intend to disparage or disrespect a racial or ethnic group. The name ‘Washington Redskins’ is 80 years old – its history and legacy and tradition. The Redskins’ fans sing ‘Hail to the Redskins’ every Sunday as an expression of honor, not disparagement.”
Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan officially announced that Robert Griffin III will be under center when the defending NFC East champions open their 2013 season against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday.
Griffin, the 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, sat out the entire preseason while recovering from surgery in January to repair both the lateral collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments in his right knee. The standout quarterback sustained the LCL injury in a win over Baltimore in December, then tore the ACL in Washington’s loss to Seattle in the NFC Wild Card Playoffs.
The former Heisman Trophy winner was cleared to play by renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews last week, and Shanahan confirmed the expected during his Monday press conference.
“I feel very good where Robert’s at, and he’ll be our starter on Monday night unless there’s some crazy setback that we don’t anticipate,” said Shanahan.
Shanahan also reiterated that Griffin, who also tore his ACL in the same knee during his sophomore season at Baylor in 2009, will not be under any restrictions.
“If we didn’t feel like Robert was full-go and he wasn’t ready to play and do all the things that you ask a guy to do, then he would not be playing in this game,” he stated. “We believe he can do everything that a quarterback is asked to do and if that’s sprinting out, if it’s running the option, if it’s dropping back, we think he can do all those things because he’s proved it to us in practice, and there hasn’t been a setback so that’s been a great sign.”
Courtesy: Mike Jones | The Washington Post
Photo courtesy: Jonathan Newton | The Washington Post
The biggest change in Washington is that the team finally has a winner again. It was a tale of two seasons in 2012; after a 3-6 start, the Redskins were all but done. Then, they reeled off a seven-game winning streak and won the NFC East — the NFL’s biggest rivalry division — for the first time since 1999.
In 2013, the team’s fortunes hinge squarely on whether Robert Griffin III can be the same player he was before tearing his ACL for a second time and injuring his LCL. Griffin, 23, should be ready for Week 1, but it’s anyone’s guess at this point. Kirk Cousins has proven to be a fine backup in his stead, but Cousins isn’t going to put up 4,015 total yards and 27 overall touchdowns like Griffin did in 2012. The coaching staff remains largely unchanged outside of new special teams coordinator Keith Burns, who played on the Broncos’ two Super Bowl-winning teams, coached by Mike Shanahan, and later coached under him after his playing days ended.
Biggest Free Agents
» TE Fred Davis: Coming off a season-ending Achilles tear on the field and being one strike away from feeling NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s wrath off the field, questions abound regarding Davis. Fewer teams will have an interest in pursuing Davis, but he’s proven to be an important piece in the franchise’s young offense. Will the Redskins ink him to a long-term deal?
» LB Lorenzo Alexander: You would think that Alexander would be rewarded for his Pro Bowl season as a special teamer with a new contract. He strengthened his case for a bigger deal by handling the transition to inside linebacker well.
» DT/DE Kedric Golston: Golston played in every game last season as a backup, and his durability provides the defensive line with needed consistency. Plus, he’s versatile enough to play both the end and tackle spots. I don’t see any reason why the team wouldn’t keep him.
» Other key free agents: LB Rob Jackson, TE Logan Paulsen, S Madieu Williams, P Sav Rocca, CB Cedric Griffin, LB Chris Wilson.
What They Need
The Redskins need to fix the defense. Their pass defense ranked 30th in the NFL and 31st overall in touchdowns allowed. On third downs, they struggled to stop anybody. While defensive line is the Redskins’ deepest position right now, their biggest offseason need is at safety. Sitting at roughly $4.7 million over the cap and without a first-round pick after giving up the farm to take Griffin at No. 2 in last year’s draft, GM Bruce Allen and Shanahan will have to get creative in addressing that position.
The Redskins have long needed a true No. 1 receiver. Last season’s combined production of Pierre Garcon, who had injury problems, and Santana Moss makes for a nice No. 1 wideout, but individually, they’re not among the league leaders. Fans are clamoring for a big playmaker at receiver who can attract double teams and take the pressure off Griffin. The defensive backfield needs big-time help and talent, especially at safety, as does a thin offensive line.
Protecting RG3 is paramount. Look for the Redskins to draft an offensive lineman or two to shore up depth and versatility. The Redskins led the league in rushing at 169.3 yards per game, a high bar to set in year one of this new-look offense.
Offseason Crystal Ball
As they enter the second offseason of an $18 million cap hit hindering their plans, it’s up to Allen and Shanahan to get resourceful with the roster. An interesting subplot to follow is whether the team extends a long-term offer to Brian Orakpo, who went down with a season-ending pectoral injury in Week 2. Orakpo’s absence was noticeable, but given his injury history, the team likely has doubts about his long-term future.
Combine the team being $4.7 million over the cap with the league’s $18 million reduction plus the lack of a first-round pick, and it’s easy to say the Redskins won’t be their typically aggressive selves this offseason. Still, this is Dan Snyder’s team, and as long as he’s running it, the Redskins are liable to make a big splash in free agency.
MOBILE, Ala. – The switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense will come into effect next season for the Cowboys.
Now the challenge becomes fitting the current personnel into that scheme, but defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and owner/GM Jerry Jones aren’t concerned about growing pains or the subsequent changes that alteration could cause for the Dallas defenders.
“I think the personnel, looking at it, we looked at some things that might fit a 4-3,” Kiffin said. “I don’t believe we were going to hire a 4-3 coach. I don’t think that was ever the plans for Coach (Jason) Garrett. He just wanted to get the coach he thought would fit.”
That coach would be Kiffin, and now the job of fitting people into place belongs in large part to the defensive coordinator. He must figure out which players are suited best for a move to the 4-3, the same way he did masterfully in his 13 seasons as Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator. The head coach for the Bucs at that time was Tony Dungy, who said he thought it might take a couple years and drafts before Kiffin gets the right personnel for his scheme in Dallas.
Kiffin isn’t planning to wait that long for his defense to work.
“We were starting from scratch there at Tampa Bay,” Kiffin said. “It’s a process, but we want to hit it running. This isn’t a rebuilding four or five-year plan type deal. So hopefully we can get the process, speed it up a little bit.”
It’s possible Kiffin slightly tweaks his schemes to fit the Cowboys’ defense, which isn’t completely foreign to using four down linemen. As Jones mentioned, this defense has utilized more of a hybrid scheme in recent seasons than a straight 3-4.
“In training camp last year, I was asking some of the coaches, I said, ‘OK, let’s identify what we are,’ and they just wouldn’t go there,” Jones said. “They said, ‘We’re a combination of 4-3 and 3-4.”
Kiffin said it’s the coaches’ job to be able to fit his players into whatever defense he wants to call. He said a good coach should be able to lead any scheme.
“I totally believe that,” Kiffin said. “You could run a 4-4. As long as you’ve got 11 guys. Just make sure you don’t have 12. If you have 10, you’re not very smart.”
The Cowboys have utilized the 3-4 defense since Bill Parcells made the switch during his coaching tenure. Jones said he’s known “for some time” that he’s had the personnel to switch to the 4-3 defense, and the down linemen and linebackers have gone into a 4-3 defense “a reasonably good percentage of the time” in recent years.
He indicated there could be changes in technique and how the new defense is implemented, but he remains confident his current personnel can handle the switch.
“When we drafted (Tyrone) Crawford last year, we knew he could be an outstanding 4-3 lineman, not just handling the 3-4,” Jones said. “I look at who we drafted over the last several years, and we don’t have anyone that doesn’t fit in both schemes. (Kyle) Wilber, our linebacker, could easily be a Sam linebacker in the 4-3. We’ve always tried where we can to keep our options open there.”
The Cowboys hope a change in defensive philosophy might help stop division rivals in Washington and Philadelphia, both of which now have the personnel or coaching staff to implement fast-paced rushing schemes.
Kiffin said the read option is “making a name for itself,” but he’s more concerned with his own team’s staff and players than he is about his NFC East competitors at the moment. He said he’s in the process of figuring out where his front seven can play, and he emphasized the importance of finding the right fit for each player. But he doesn’t want to rush that decision.
If he doesn’t like a certain fit with his current personnel, he said the Senior Bowl offers a few prospects that could properly fit into the 4-3 scheme he wants to implement.
“To tell you the truth, we’re just trying to get our staff together and get the players in the right place,” Kiffin said. “We’ll run a 4-3, and we’re not going to make any quick decisions. We want to make sure we get the right people, the right place, and of course down there at the Senior Bowl, we’ve got some good players there. You’re always looking to upgrade, so we’re kind of busy with that right now.”
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wanted fans to know "I’m very upset, very irritated" after the Cowboys’ 8-8 season, gave a wholehearted endorsement of quarterback Tony Romo, but "I can assure our fans it’s going to be very uncomfortable from my standpoint, it’s going to be very uncomfortable over the next few weeks and months at Valley Ranch."
Jones addressed the Cowboys’ situation on KRLD/105.3 FM The Fan on Wednesday morning during his weekly show. He refused to address two hot topics: Who will be the Cowboys’ play-caller and the status of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
"We’re not having a meeting like that this morning. I haven’t even had a meeting," Jones said, but said that he will have that meeting in evaluating consecutive 8-8 seasons and losing back-to-back finales with the playoffs at stake.
“I’m going to spend a lot of time visiting with people outside of the organization that I have a lot of confidence in that will help us evaluate how to do the things that I know what our fans want to do, and that’s not be sitting here at .500,” Jones said. “There are a lot of teams that haven’t been at .500, but nobody hasn’t been at .500 and spent as much cash as I’m spending.”
On Romo, he said, "“Tony is a tremendous asset and he’s an asset that is going to be with the Dallas Cowboys for, as far as I am concerned, a long time." But asked if it should be inferred he would extend Romo’s contract, Jones said, "You shouldn’t infer anything, I’m just saying what I’m saying."
His one theme was that "we need to look at the fundamental things" and spend more time on "how we line up," on blocking and tackling. Jones mentioned Garrett and Romo had been together six years, but indicated he wanted to change fundamentals and not focus on schemes.
Jones didn’t mince words on changing things: "I can tell you change is necessary at 8-8. We’re going to have changes."
You can listen to Jones’ comments on KRLD here, or click on the button below:
WIDEOUT WIPEOUT: Dallas Cowboys wide receiver injuries neutralizes exploitation of Redskins poor secondary
First, Miles Austin went out. Then, Dez Bryant. Cole Beasley was shaken up, too, and Dwayne Harris left the field on crutches.
If the Cowboys had to play a playoff game this weekend, they would be hurting at receiver.
"We were banged up going into this game, and at this point, I think we would have a tough time having some guys back next week," Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said. "Some of the injuries don’t look very good."
At crunch time, with the Cowboys down two scores, Romo was trying to spearhead a comeback without his starting receivers. Austin was standing on the sideline with a left ankle injury. Bryant was in the locker room with a lower back injury.
"I went down with the high-ankle sprain, so that wasn’t a good thing," Austin said. "Very difficult [to push off], very difficult. Frustrating."
Romo threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Ogletree with 5:50 left. Ogletree had been chastised by Romo after Romo’s first interception, which was intended for Ogletree. Then, Romo hit Dwayne Harris for a two-point conversion to draw Dallas to within 21-18.
On the Cowboys’ final drive, they were without Harris, who had a left ankle injury on the Redskins’ last kickoff in the waning seconds.
"We got beat up pretty good at receiver," Ogletree said. "I know Miles went down and Dez left. As a group, we just try to pick each other up when we can. Missing those two guys is crucial, but we know it’s next-man-up system."
Tight end Jason Witten had seven catches for 56 yards and a touchdown. Bryant had four catches for 71 yards. Austin had no receptions (but several tackles!).
After 17 grueling weeks, the playoffs are finally here. The seeds are set and the field is stacked.
A quick look at the 12 teams that survived to play another game. Here’s a case for and against each squad in the race to Super Bowl XLVII:
1) Atlanta Falcons (13-3)
How do they make a deep run? The Falcons continue to be an excellent home team. The running game provides just enough balance to complement a potent passing attack, and the defense routinely baffles elite quarterbacks, producing several turnovers.
How do they get eliminated? The Falcons struggle to rush the passer, and they become too one-dimensional on offense. In their three losses this season, they produced just two sacks and were out-rushed, 487-146. A team like the Seattle Seahawks or San Francisco 49ers could pose a huge problem.
2) San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1)
How do they make a deep run? The defense dominates the line of scrimmage and Colin Kaepernick produces three or four big plays per game. Receiver Michael Crabtree continues to emerge as a top-shelf talent, and the running game benefits from the fresh legs of rookie LaMichael James.
How do they get eliminated? The49ers’ defense can be attacked; the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks provided a blueprint for doing so in Weeks 15 and 16. The 49ers’ offense, meanwhile, is capable of stalling for long stretches of time. The poor play of kicker David Akers could also end up costing San Francisco a game.
3) Green Bay Packers (11-5)
How do they make a deep run? Led by Aaron Rodgers, the Packers’ passing attack gets hot and puts up huge numbers, outscoring every opponent. A different receiver steps up every week and a healthy Clay Matthews closes out games with pressures and sacks.
How do they get eliminated? The offensive line can’t protect Rodgers and the running game fails to provide the necessary balance. The Minnesota Vikings match up very well against the Packers; they’re fully capable of quickly ending Green Bay’s postseason.
4) Washington Redskins (10-6)
How do they make a deep run? The Redskins’ unique offense controls the clock, shortens games and piles up just enough points. The defense covers up some soft spots by sending lots of pressure and creating key turnovers. Relishing their postseason opportunity, steady veterans DeAngelo Hall and London Fletcher produce game-changing plays.
How do they get eliminated? Robert Griffin III’s knee injury makes the offense more predictable, and a talented defensive opponent manages to take away Alfred Morris. The Redskins’ defense struggles to create a pass rush, and the safety play is exposed by a top-notch quarterback.
5) Seattle Seahawks (11-5)
How do they make a deep run? They carry their momentum right through the postseason. Russell Wilson continues to play clutch, mistake-free football, while Marshawn Lynch grinds out tough yards. The defense continues to create high numbers of turnovers and finds the end zone a few times, as well.
How do they get eliminated? An opponent stacks the box to take away Lynch, and the athletic Wilson is contained. The lack of a true No. 1 receiver ends up being an issue, and the offensive production takes a nosedive.
6) Minnesota Vikings (10-6)
How do they make a deep run? Adrian Peterson continues to carry the entire offense, and Christian Ponder protects the football. Jared Allen gets hot; his pressures create sacks and turnovers. Kicker Blair Walsh hits a long, game-winning field goal along the way.
How do they get eliminated? An opponent sells out to slow down Peterson, and Ponder is unable to make them pay for it. Peterson puts the ball on the ground, and Ponder struggles to play from behind. The defense allows a mobile quarterback to create plays with his legs.
1) Denver Broncos (13-3)
How do they make a deep run? Peyton Manning will have two weeks to prepare for his first opponent. The Broncos are the NFL’s most complete team, ranking in the top five in virtually every important statistic. This balance will make Denver very difficult to eliminate. The pass rush can take over a game, giving Manning’s offense a short field and allowing the Broncos to pile up points quickly.
How do they get eliminated? If the weather is horrible in Denver and the Broncos’ rushing attack is unable to get on track, they could struggle offensively. A matchup against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the snow would pose a very formidable challenge.
2) New England Patriots (12-4)
How do they make a deep run? Recently returned tight end Rob Gronkowski sparks an offensive explosion. Brady benefits from a solid ground attack, utilizing his tight ends to produce chunk plays down the field. The young secondary allows some big gains, but comes up with a few key turnovers.
How do they get eliminated? A physical Baltimore Ravens team pushes around New England’s offensive line, or the Pats simply run into a red-hot Denver team on the road and lose a shootout. I don’t see any of the other AFC teams giving New England much of a problem.
3) Houston Texans (12-4)
How do they make a deep run? They forget recent struggles and recapture their early-season form. Arian Foster shoulders the load on offense, and the defensive line creates numerous sacks and turnovers. The secondary avoids giving up the big play.
How do they get eliminated? Matt Schaub fails to make enough plays to outscore either the Patriots or the Broncos. Facing constant double-teams, J.J. Watt is unable to dominate the game.
4) Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
How do they make a deep run? A well-rested Ray Rice carries the ball more than he has during the regular season, and the Ravens physically pound their opponents. Tight end Dennis Pitta and receiver Torrey Smith produce big plays in the passing game. The defense is sparked by the return of Ray Lewis. Paul Kruger plays the role of unsung hero, making several impact plays.
How do they get eliminated? The offense features too much Joe Flacco and not enough Rice. Baltimore allows too many sacks; opponents manage to strip the ball from Flacco in the pocket, creating turnovers. The defense struggles to contain the run.
5) Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
How do they make a deep run? Andrew Luck continues to excel on third down, and the veteran pass-rushing duo of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis steps up to make several impact plays. Cornerback Vontae Davis keeps playing at an elite level, picking off a few balls.
How do they get eliminated? The offensive line is overwhelmed and Luck doesn’t get any time to throw the football. The defensive front is pushed around, giving up too many rushing yards to a back like the Ravens’ Rice or the Patriots’ Stevan Ridley.
6) Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)
How do they make a deep run? Receiver A.J. Green gets hot, producing several big plays through the air, and the pass rush dominates on the other side of the ball. Geno Atkins finally gets credit for his outstanding play after collecting several sacks and tackles for a loss.
How do they get eliminated? The running game is unable to provide balance, and Andy Dalton turns the ball over too much. The defense is on the field too often, and the unit runs out of gas late.
The Dallas Cowboys had their season ended at FedEx Field Sunday night, losing to the Washington Redskins 28-18.
Here are five thoughts on the Cowboys finishing the season at 8-8 and missing the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five years.
1.) Tony Romo had two first-half interceptions and they wouldn’t have mattered if he would’ve made the big throws in the final minutes. The Cowboys had three timeouts and were only down three with a little over three minutes remaining. Romo could’ve been the hero, marching his team down the field for a victory like the NFL’s elite signal callers are known to do. But when the game and the season were on the line, Romo made a mistake that elite quarterbacks don’t make. He lofted up a weak throw to running back DeMarco Murray that was easily picked off by linebacker Rob Jackson. Game over. Romo never looked comfortable Sunday night, a shock considering the calendar still says December. Romo has been outstanding during the month in recent memory. But like Romo has done throughout his career, when it’s a win-or-go-home situation he has disappointed.
2.) Why was it so difficult to score against a Redskins defense that is not very good? Like the Cowboys, they had significant injuries on that side of the ball — safety Brandon Meriweather, defensive end Adam Carriker and outside linebacker Brian Orakpo were all on injured reserve. The Cowboys’ offense needed to capitalize in the first half but never did, settling for a 7-7 halftime score. The offense had to carry the load on this night and Romo and Co. never did. There needed to be a sense of urgency, but for some reason the Cowboys play their best when their backs are against the wall. It’s happened all season. This time it came back to haunt them. You can’t play not to lose when the playoffs are on the line.
3.) What a game from Dwayne Harris. His returns were outstanding and his receiving game continues to improve. To go along with his 151 return yards, Harris had a 25-yard reception and a critical two-point conversion catch with 5:50 to go, pulling the Cowboys within 21-18. Not many bright spots Sunday night but he was certainly one of them.
4.) Give Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan one more year. This isn’t a popular suggestion right now but it’s the best option. Re-tooling the entire staff at this point would only make sense if there was an outstanding head-coaching candidate available. I don’t see one at this time. Put everything on the line next season: playoffs or bust. The injuries on defense changed this team, it put everything on Romo’s shoulders. That can be adjusted with healthy playmakers on defense. There is enough talent for this group to make the playoffs and make some noise, if healthy.
5.) Where do they go from here? I don’t think major changes are needed. Yes, you read that correctly. Romo’s not elite but he’s still very good. Getting healthy is most important. Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, Bruce Carter, Sean Lee and Brandon Carr have demonstrated that there’s enough young talent to aid some of the aging stars on the roster. In the draft, address the offensive line, add another pass rusher and select a quarterback at some point.
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Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III ran for a touchdown, and fellow rookie Alfred Morris rushed for 200 yards and three scores Sunday night as the Redskins won their first division title in 13 years by beating the Dallas Cowboys 28-18.
The Redskins are 10-6 and will host the Seattle Seahawks next Sunday, having won seven games in a row since their bye week. Washington is the first NFL team to rally from 3-6 to make the postseason since the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1996.
The Redskins would have been out of the postseason with a loss. Instead, the Cowboys will miss the playoffs for the third straight year. Dallas finished 8-8, stumbling in a do-or-die end-of-regular-season game for the third time in five years.
Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher is at that age where post-career planning is essential.
One possibility for the 37-year-old, 15th-year pro: Tony Romo’s publicist.
In a conference call with the Dallas media Wednesday to discuss Sunday night’s NFC East title game, Fletcher praised the Cowboys’ quarterback in the same enthusiastic manner he goes about slamming ball carriers.
“You look at the way he’s been playing lately,” said Fletcher, who leads the Redskins in tackles and interceptions. “He’s been playing as good a football as any quarterback in the league these last four, five ballgames. You look at all the numbers he’s been doing, all the plays he’s made, and then Dez Bryant playing the way he’s playing, (Jason) Witten playing the way he’s playing.
“You got some guys playing some great football, but it starts definitely with Tony.”
In forging a 3-1 December record, Romo has completed 66 percent of his passes for an average of 332 yards a game, with 10 touchdowns and only one interception.
But Romo got hot long before this month. Over his last eight games, he’s thrown 17 TD passes and three interceptions while totaling 2,612 yards for an average of 326.5 yards per game.
For the season, Romo has completed 66.3 percent of his passes for 4,685 yards, with 26 TDs and 16 picks for a rating of 92.5 (10th in the NFL).
“His (December) touchdown-interception rate is off the charts,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said in another conference call. “I think everybody knows how good Tony plays. His supporting cast is really complementing his play as well.”
Indeed, Bryant, Witten and DeMarco Murray provide Romo with plenty of options.
With 808 yards and 10 TDs in his past seven games, Bryant has emerged as the club’s No. 1 wide receiver. Witten last week set a season record for catches by a tight end with 103 and needs nine more to eclipse Michael Irvin’s club record. Murray has rushed for a TD in three of his last four games.
Still, it’s Romo who worries Fletcher the most. With the 32-year-old passer seemingly making all the right moves, the Cowboys are third in the league in passing offense (302.2 yards). The Redskins, meanwhile, rank 30th in passing defense (287.7 yards per game).
For the season, Romo is averaging 312.3 yards per game and needs 315 more to become only the fifth NFL quarterback to pass for more than 5,000 in a season.
And it’s not all because of his arm and legs, Fletcher said.
“I don’t know that he gets as much credit for being as smart as he is,” said Fletcher, who missed practice Wednesday because of a lingering ankle injury. “A lot of people look at his athleticism and the plays he’s able to make outside of the pocket. But he does a great job knowing where he wants to go with the ball based on the coverage.”
With the Cowboys falling behind 28-3 in the second quarter, Romo passed for a career-high 441 yards against the Redskins in the first meeting, won 38-31 by Washington. He also threw three TDs and two interceptions, including one picked off by Fletcher, who has a career-high five picks.
“Really, it’s just the coaches making the calls and being in the right place at the right time,” Fletcher said of his interception total. “It’s a pass-first league now, so you have to be able to make adjustments.”
With the way Romo is playing, the Redskins and Fletcher could be forced to make plenty of them Sunday night.
The Washington Redskins chose to take it easy on Robert Griffin’s injured knee last week, scratching most of the running out of the playbook for the rookie quarterback.
And now they know he can win that way, too.
Griffin ran only two times for 4 yards but still put up a 102.4 passer rating, completing 16 of 24 passes for 198 yards, two touchdowns and an interception (that went off the receiver’s hands) in a win last week against the Philadelphia Eagles.
It gives the team confidence that Griffin, even if he is slowed down a bit, still can be a weapon against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.
"We did not do everything that we would normally do," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan told Washington reporters. "I didn’t want to put that pressure on that LCL."
The ligament strain caused Griffin to miss a game two weeks ago against the Cleveland Browns. He came back last week with a bulky knee brace that hampered him.
"My mobility was down a little bit just because of the brace, but at the same time, I was still able to do everything a quarterback is supposed to do," Griffin said. "It didn’t necessarily slow me down by any means, and I was able to protect myself out there."
Tight end Chris Cooley has played the Cowboys 13 times, so he appreciates the rivalry.
"This game is going to be unbelievable," he said. "This is what should be one of the best rivalries in all of football, one of the top two or three games in all of football … but it hasn’t been Redskins-Cowboys where we both have great teams."
The Redskins’ six-game winning streak included a stretch of three games decided by one score, and four in all. But that’s good, Mike Shanahan said.
"You’ve got to get used to winning those tight games," he said. "I think that’s where our football team is right now. They expect to win."
The Redskins escaped Cowboys Stadium with a one-score margin, winning 38-31. They also beat the New York Giants 17-16, the Baltimore Ravens 31-28 and the Eagles 27-20.
Right tackle Tyler Polumbus did not play last week because of a concussion. The Redskins are optimistic he can play on Sunday.
Safety DeJon Gomes sprained a knee against Philadelphia. The Redskins were waiting to see how the knee responded today.
Center Will Montgomery played with a sprained knee against the Eagles, and defensive end Stephen Bowen suffered a torn biceps, but both are expected to play Sunday.
Ryan Kerrigan had two sacks and a forced fumble last week, giving him the team lead in sacks with 8.5.
Kai Forbath, who spent time on injured reserve with the Cowboys last year, has made 17 field goals to start his career, an NFL record.
Rookie Alfred Morris (1,413 yards) needs 105 yards to break Clinton Portis’ single-season club rushing record.
The Redskins haven’t won the NFC East since 1999.
RIVAL HEADLINE: Here comes the mystery team – Dallas Cowboys still a puzzle as finale vs. Redskins approaches
ARLINGTON, Tex. – They were playing this week to decide the meaning of next week, and it’s now clear that it will be winner take all when the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys meet for the NFC East title. The next question for the Redskins is, which outfit should they scout with the playoffs on the line: the Cowboys who can’t solve the riddle of their dazzling but often fatally confused personality, or the terrifying Cowboys who know exactly who they are?
Do you expect the perplexing, dumbfounding Cowboys who suffered yet another upset loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday in overtime, 34-31? Or the touchdown-a-minute monsters who almost won a game that seemed unwinnable? Do you plan for the team that can look like a still life? Or the one that can leave you thunderstruck with feats like two touchdowns in the final 3 minutes 35 seconds against the Saints?
Do you expect the strangely complacent team that allowed the Saints to possess the ball for a staggering 41:59 out of more than 64 minutes? Or do you brace for the biting, snap-jawed team that is never, ever out of a game with Tony Romo, who threw for 416 yards and four touchdowns and can make so much happen in such a short period of time? Their late fourth-quarter drives took just 1:10 and 1:14, respectively, the second one ending with Romo’s 19-yard zing to Miles Austin on fourth and 10 with just 15 seconds remaining to force overtime.
“We had a lot of good plays,” Romo said. “But we didn’t get off the field on third down, and didn’t stay on the field enough on third down, and that’s not a good recipe. . . .We didn’t make a play or two that can determine it.”
NFC EAST CHAMPIONSHIP FLEXED TO SNF: Dallas Cowboys and Redskins to end NFL 2012-2013 regular season in dramatic fashion
ARLINGTON, Texas — It had to come down to a final game. Had to. Just like it’s come down to the final drive over and over again. The white-knuckled way the Dallas Cowboys‘ season had gone, it would never end with coach Jason Garrett and his players watching the final day play out with their feet up, coasting into the playoffs. It wouldn’t fit. It had to be like this.
Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins on Sunday night. Prime time. A playoff spot and NFC East crown for the winner. Just like last year, when it was Giants-Cowboys. Like it should be.
The Cowboys got some much needed help from the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday afternoon, giving them a second chance to make the playoffs. The Ravens’ 33-14 victory over the New York Giants means the Cowboys will win the NFC East with a victory next week.
It is the same scenario as last season when the Cowboys lost to the Giants’ 31-14 in the season finale for the NFC East title.
"I think you’ve got to move forward. This one is tough, and it’ll stay there for a while," Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said. "…But you’ve got to be able to move forward, and regardless, we’ve got to go play the Redskins and play them tough and see where it falls."
The first tiebreaker is head-to-head, and the Cowboys lost to the Redskins 38-31 on Thanksgiving Day at Cowboys Stadium. The second tiebreaker to decide a division title is division record. The Cowboys would tie the Redskins with a 4-2 division record, with a victory over Washington next week. The third tiebreaker is common opponents and the Cowboys are 5-3 and the Redskins are 4-4 against common opponents outside the division.
ARLINGTON, Texas — The Cowboys lost control of their season.
It’s something coach Jason Garrett didn’t want. It’s something Jerry Jones doesn’t want but that’s the reality of things as the Cowboys head into Christmas Day.
New Orleans defeated Dallas, 34-31 in overtime at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday afternoon. The Cowboys playoff hopes are now on life support thanks to this defeat.
What it means?: The Cowboys needed to win their last two regular season games to clinch the NFC East. But the loss, combine with the Washington Redskins victory, keeps the Cowboys on the outside of the playoff picture. Later today, a New York Giants victory will also hurt the Cowboys chances of reaching the postseason. Wins by the Giants and Redskins only hurt the Cowboys. But any loss by the Cowboys’ rivals helps.
DeMarcus Ware’s injury: The Cowboys outside linebacker missed a bulk of the second half with a right shoulder strain. Ware was battling a hyper-extended elbow and a shoulder that was popping out of place. With Ware out of the game, the Cowboys asked Victor Butler and Anthony Spencer to pick up the pass rush in Ware’s absence. Ware did return with 12:05 to play in overtime for one snap then left.
DeMarco Murray’s fumble: With 4:17 to play in the third quarter, Murray fumbled at the Cowboys 5. He was stripped by linebacker Curtis Lofton, who also recovered. Murray lost the ball just before his knee hit the ground. The turnover, with the game tied at 17-17, was costly. Drew Brees found Pierre Thomas for the touchdown to give the Saints a 24-17 lead. It would be a lead the Saints would barely hold onto.
Dez Bryant’s big day: Dez Bryant finished with nine catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns. He’s scored a touchdown in his last seven games and continues to be a big play threat for the Cowboys. However, after a solid first half effort by Bryant, he didn’t make a catch until the fourth quarter.
The fumble or was it a catch?: The game turned in overtime when Drew Brees completed a pass to Marques Colston. Morris Claiborne striped Colston of the ball and the ball rolled down the field where Jimmy Graham and Eric Frampton gave chase. Graham recovered at the Cowboys 2. After a review to see if Colston gained possession of the ball before he lost it, the play was confirmed. Kicker Garrett Hartley booted a 20-yarder to clinch the victory.
Jason Witten sets single-season record: Tight end Jason Witten finished with six catches for 60 yards. He now has 103 catches on the season setting the NFL single-season record for catches by a tight end, breaking the mark set by Tony Gonzalez. Witten caught a five-yard pass in overtime to break the record.
Who’s next?: The Redskins host the Cowboys in the regular season finale and a victory by the home team clinches the NFC East. But the Cowboys need help to reach the postseason, like a Giants loss.
Four games went by before he even found the end zone.
And look at him now … Bryant is tied for second in the NFL with 10 touchdown catches, including one in six straight games. He’s scored eight touchdowns here in the last six games.
But that really shouldn’t come as a surprise. If you think about it, six games ago was the start of the second half of the season.
And all 10 touchdowns by Bryant … have occurred in the second half of games.
Bryant has literally been a second-half player this year, both in games and in the regular season.
After the game Sunday, Bryant talked about a never-say-die-attitude and said it stems from his teammates.
“Just don’t quit. When you look in this locker room and you look at the players, if we’re down going into half or we’re just down period, you can never sense it from anyone, that anyone is about to quit,” Bryant said. “It’s all about fighting, fighting, fighting and we’re about to score this drive and play football, and that’s what we do.”
Bryant fought more than just the situation or an opponent, he had to fight through the pain in his fractured left index finger, an injury that jeopardized his chances of playing earlier in the week. But it became clear Bryant was going to do everything possible to play. Even with the injury, he came through with a huge touchdown catch – in the second half of course.
Here’s a quick recap of Bryant’s second-half moments in the second half of the season so far:
Philadelphia, Nov. 11 – After another quiet first half where he had no catches, Bryant came on strong, finishing with 87 yards on three catches, including a diving 30-yard touchdown grab that tied the game late in the third quarter.
Cleveland, Nov. 18 – Bryant was pretty strong from start to finish, grabbing 12 passes for 145 yards. But his clutch moment occurred early in the fourth with a 28-yard touchdown catch in the end zone that gave the Cowboys their first lead. They would need overtime to win.
Washington, Nov. 22 – For the second straight game, Bryant totaled 145 receiving yards, and most of it occurred in the second half. He caught an 85-yard touchdown to get the Cowboys back in the game and then had a spectacular 11-yard scoring catch as well. He just missed catching a third score late in the game that could’ve made a big difference.
Philadelphia, Dec. 2– The Cowboys were again down by two scores and called on Bryant to make the big plays. His 23-yard touchdown catch tied the game in the third quarter and then he gave the Cowboys the lead for good on a 6-yard scoring pass in which he simply ran over the defender to the end zone.
Cincinnati, Dec. 9 – He had just four catches for 50 yards, but half of his production occurred after he suffered the broken finger, which didn’t stop him from a 27-yard touchdown catch midway through the fourth. Bryant had another nine-yard grab on the game-winning drive.
Pittsburgh, Dec. 16 – It took a while for the Cowboys to test Bryant’s finger but in the second half, he started to come alive again. He caught a 24-yard touchdown pass to give the Cowboys a third-quarter lead. He had four catches for 59 yards, but his presence alone made a huge difference.
With just two weeks left to play in the season, the drama only continues to build in the NFC East, as three teams are tied for the division lead.
Washington Redskins 8-6
Dallas Cowboys 8-6
New York Giants 8-6
Philadelphia Eagles 4-10
The Texas sized Terrible Towels fittingly became Texas-Sized Tear Towels for approximately 15,000 visiting Pittsburgh Steeler fans.
ARLINGTON — Brandon Carr intercepted a pass from Ben Roethlisberger to set up Dan Bailey’s 21-yard field goal in overtime, and the Dallas Cowboys beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-24 on Sunday.
The Cowboys won a Bailey kick on the final play for the second straight week since practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown was killed in a one-car accident that led to manslaughter charges against teammate Josh Brent.
Carr intercepted Roethlisberger’s pass along the sideline and returned it 36 yards to the 1. Bailey’s kick came after Tony Romo took a 2-yard loss to put the kicker in better position.
It was a disappointing ending for tens of thousands of Terrible Towel-waving Pittsburgh fans at Cowboys Stadium.
The Cowboys (8-6) moved into a three-way tie for the NFC East lead with the New York Giants and Washington Redskins. The Steelers (7-7) lost for the fourth time in five games.
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE NFC EAST STANDINGS
There were a pair of early Sunday games that had big implications to the Cowboys’ playoff hopes. One worked out for Dallas while the other didn’t. Here’s an updated look at the NFC East standings after the Cowboys’ win this afternoon, the remaining games for the NFC East contenders and a pair of recaps of the Sunday NFC East action (reminder: The Philadelphia Eagles played on Thursday and lost to the Cincinnati Bengals).
NFC East Standings
t-1. Dallas Cowboys: 8-6
t-1. Washington Redskins: 8-6
t-1. New York Giants: 8-6
4. Philadelphia Eagles: 4-10
Dallas Cowboys: vs. New Orleans, @Washington
Washington Redskins: @Philadelphia, vs. Dallas
New York Giants: @Baltimore, vs. Philadelphia
Recap: Redskins 38, Browns 21
CLEVELAND — Robert Griffin III watched as the Redskins’ other rookie quarterback won again.
Rookie Kirk Cousins threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns filling in for an injured Griffin, leading Washington to its fifth straight win, 38-21 over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
Cousins connected with Leonard Hankerson for both TDs in his first career start and the Redskins (8-6) barely missed a beat without the talented and multi-dimensional RG3, who sat out with a sprained knee.
Last week, Cousins came off the bench after Griffin got hurt and rallied the Redskins to an overtime win. Cousins was behind center from the start of this one and delivered a performance that extended Washington’s longest winning streak since 2007 and moved the Redskins into a tie for first in the NFC East.
Rookie Trent Richardson had a pair of TD runs for the Browns (5-9).
Alfred Morris, a childhood rival of Richardson, had two touchdowns for the Redskins.
Wearing a burgundy warm-up suit instead of his No. 10 jersey, Griffin, who sustained a mild sprain in the fourth quarter last week against Baltimore, cheered from the sideline as Cousins kept the Redskins (8-6) moving toward a possible spot in the playoffs.
Cousins may not have RG3’s talent, but the fourth-round pick from Michigan State was efficient, accurate and only made one major mistake — an early interception to set up Cleveland’s first TD.
Cousins finished 26 of 37 as the Redskins improved to 5-0 since their bye. They’ll end the season with games against NFC East rivals Philadelphia and Dallas, teams they beat in consecutive weeks to start their streak.
Griffin’s playing status was in doubt all week before the Redskins surprisingly announced late Saturday night that Cousins would start. If the Browns thought they were getting a break, Cousins proved to be as challenging to stop as his more elusive and hyped teammate.
The Browns (5-9) had their winning streak stopped at three and faint playoff hopes snuffed out. Coach Pat Shurmur’s fate may have rested on the Browns winning out, but that won’t happen and his days in Cleveland could be dwindling quickly.
Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden struggled from the outset. He went 21 of 35 for 244 yards and two picks, both leading to Washington touchdowns.
Cousins’ second TD pass to Hankerson, a 2-yarder, gave the Redskins a 24-14 lead. As Cousins came to the sideline, Griffin gave him a fist bump and then sat on the bench with his backup, who for the past two weeks has shown he too can lead the Redskins to victory.
Washington went ahead 31-14 on Evan Royster’s 4-yard run.
Weeden came back with a 69-yard scoring strike to speedy rookie Travis Benjamin to pull the Browns within 10, but Cousins calmly took the Redskins down the field again with Morris scoring from eight to make 38-21.
The Redskins needed this win, and Cousins made sure they got it.
He shook off the early pick and showed exceptional play faking ability. With Griffin out and inactive, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan had to alter his game plan and Cousins ran it with precision.
Linebacker Rob Jackson’s interception of Weeden helped the Redskins take a 17-14 lead less than two minutes into the third quarter on Morris’ 3-yard TD run.
Jackson picked off Weeden and returned it to the 15. Three plays later, Morris pulled in for his eighth rushing TD, tying the team rookie record set by Skip Hicks in 199
Richardson’s second TD run gave the Browns a 14-10 lead with 1:11 left before halftime.
Cleveland’s offense had been in a funk for most of the second quarter before Weeden completed five passes to get the Browns to Washington’s 3. Richardson did the rest, busting over the left side for his 11th rushing TD. Earlier, he broke Hall of Famer Jim Brown’s 55-year-old team rookie record for rushing TDs.
Kai Forbath’s 44-yard field goal put the Redskins ahead 10-7. Forbath has started his career 15 of 15.
Cousins threw a 54-yard TD pass to Hankerson in the first quarter to tie it 7-7.
The Redskins gained just seven yards on their first four plays before Cousins, rolling right on the kind of play Shanahan has devised to maximize Griffin’s wondrous skills, hooked up with Hankerson.
Browns safety T.J. Ward intercepted Cousins, on a ball tipped by cornerback Sheldon Brown, to set up Richardson’s TD run in the first quarter. Ward returned the pick to Washington’s 6-yard line, where he was tackled by Cousins, who showed good form in preventing an easy TD.
On the next play, Richardson took a handoff to the left side, was stopped at about the 2 and kept his legs and the pile moving into the end zone.
Recap: Falcons 34, Giants 0
ATLANTA — The Atlanta Falcons sent a message to all the skeptics with a resounding victory over the defending Super Bowl champions.
Matt Ryan threw three touchdowns passes and the Falcons defense handed New York its first regular-season shutout since 1996, stifling the Giants 34-0 on Sunday.
Julio Jones caught a couple of scoring throws from Ryan, who broke his own franchise records for completions and passing yards in a season. Matty Ice finished 23 of 28 for 270 yards.
The Falcons (12-2), who have already clinched the NFC South, moved a step closer to locking up home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs. One more win would ensure that any postseason contests before the Super Bowl are held at the Georgia Dome.
Eli Manning threw two interceptions for New York (8-6), which dropped into a first-place tie with Washington in the NFC South. Dallas had a chance to make it a three-way tie later in the day, hosting Pittsburgh.
The Giants also went 0-for-3 on fourth down and missed a short field goal.
Despite their lofty record, Atlanta has received plenty of criticism for winning ugly against inferior opponents. A 30-20 loss to last-place Carolina the previous week only seemed to reinforce the notion that the Falcons are headed for another short stay in the playoffs. They have yet to win a postseason game since Ryan took over as the quarterback in 2008, going 0-3.
But one thing the Falcons never seem to do anymore is lose two straight games. They extended the NFL’s longest active streak since consecutive defeats to 49 games, going back to the 2009 season.
For the Giants, it was a miserable performance when they desperately needed a win, at a time of year when they normally play some of their best football.
Manning threw his first pick on the second play of scrimmage, setting up a quick Atlanta touchdown. Coach Tom Coughlin made a curious call late in the first half, passing up another short field goal attempt when his team was almost 2 yards shy of the marker. Asante Samuel batted down a short pass intended for Victor Cruz, sending Atlanta to the locker room with a commanding 17-0 lead and all the momentum.
But even if the Giants had taken the field goal, it’s probably wouldn’t have made much difference.
The tone in this one was set right away.
When Manning attempted to hit Hakeem Nicks on a short pass to the right, Samuel stepped in to make the interception and return it to the Giants 16. From there, Michael Turner ran it four straight times, the last of those a 1-yard plunge that gave Atlanta a 7-0 lead less than 3 minutes into the game.
It was all Falcons after Lawrence Tynes missed a chip shot kick from 30 yards, ruining an impressive second possession by the Giants. Atlanta took it 80 yards from there, with Ryan going to Harry Douglas on a 37-yard gain for the big gainer. Then, on third-and-11 from the 12, Ryan went to his favorite target, Tony Gonzalez, in the end zone. The 16-year veteran leaped over safety Will Hill to haul in the high throw — and hopped up quickly for his customary dunk over the goalposts.
Early in the second half, the Falcons blew it open on Ryan’s 40-yard touchdown pass to Jones down the left sideline. Finally, after a drive that used up more than 9 minutes in the fourth quarter, Ryan went to Jones for a 3-yard TD.
The Giants turned it over one more time in the closing minutes, finishing off their first shutout in the regular season since a 24-0 defeat at Philadelphia on Dec. 1, 1996. The performance came just a week after they put up 52 points on the New Orleans Saints.
There was a moment of silence before the game honoring the Connecticut shooting victims, and the Giants also wore "SHES" decals on their helmets for Sandy Hills Elementary School.