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THE TOP STORYLINES:
Mason Crosby’s Last-Second 31-Yard Field Goal Lifts the Green Bay Packers Past the New York Giants 38-35; The Packers Climb to 12-0 and Clinch a Playoff Berth with Their 18th Straight Triumph
This thriller was the game of the day. When was the last time the Green Bay Packers (12-0) had to resort to last-minute heroics to pull one out? With less than a minute to play, NFL MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers led a quick scoring drive to set up Mason Crosby’s game-winning kick, completing passes of 24, 27 and 18 yards in a five-play drive. On the day, Rodgers (28-of-46 for 369-4-1) completed passes to eight different receivers with Greg Jennings (5-94-1), Jermichael Finley (6-87-1), Donald Driver (4-34-2) and Jordy Nelson (4-94-0) leading way. Rodgers also led Green Bay in rushing with 32 yards.
The New York Giants (6-6) deserve a nod for regrouping and playing well after a humiliating loss to the New Orleans Saints last Monday night. This loss to Green Bay, however, leaves the G-Men one game behind the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East standings. As usual, Eli Manning carried the team on his back, amassing 347-3-1 on 23-of-40 passing. Manning’s lone interception was returned for a score early in the second quarter. Victor Cruz (7-119-0), Hakeem Nicks (7-88-2) and Travis Beckum (1-67-1) were Manning’s main targets. Mario Manningham (knee) missed his second straight outing. Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) returned after missing four games, but he has ineffective (11-38-0 and 2-9-0 receiving), but Brandon Jacobs had a decent outing (8-59-1 and 0-0-0 receiving).
The Dallas Cowboys Squander a Sure Victory, Losing 19-13 in Overtime to the Arizona Cardinals
The Cowboys blew a chance to go up two games on the New York Giants in the NFC East standings. I’m not trying to slight the Arizona Cardinals (5-7) for squeaking out a win over a mistake prone and times bumbling Dallas Cowboys (7-5) team, but Jerry Jones Incorporated the Cowboys blew what was a winnable contest. I thought current head coach Jason Garrett was supposed to fix all the screw-ups, game-planning goofs and mental mistakes that we saw Dallas commit with gusto during the Wade Phillips era.
Let’s start with the offensive game plan: Tony Romo (28-of-42 for 299-1-0) slung the rock 42 times, but DeMarco Murray, who is considered the answer to the team’s we-need-a-franchise-running-back prayers, toted the rock just 12 times (12-38-0 and 0-0-0 receiving) in a contest that was close most of the time. How about shaky clock management? In the fourth quarter, the Cowboys were driving to set up a potential game-winning field goal. Romo had completed a pass to Dez Bryant (8-86-1) with 26 seconds left. However, instead of spending a timeout, Romo let the clock run down to seven seconds, spiking the ball to stop it, which set up a makeable, but long, 49-yard field goal attempt for Dan Bailey. He made the kick, but it was nullified because Garrett called a timeout. When the game resumed, Bailey missed the field goal attempt that counted, sending the game into overtime. In all the years that I have covered the NFL, I have never seen a coach ice his own kicker.
During Arizona’s first overtime possession, Kevin Kolb (16-of-25 for 247-1-0), who made his return after missing time with foot and toe injuries, threw a game-winning 52-yard touchdown pass to LaRod Stephens-Howling (2-16-0 rushing). It was just a screen pass and was Stephens-Howling’s only catch of the game.
The Denver Broncos Slip Past the Adrian Peterson-less Minnesota Vikings 35-32 on a 23-Yard Matt Prater Field Goal as Time Expired; You-Know-Who Set Up the Winning Scoring Drive and is Now 6-1 as Denver’s Starter
Yes, it’s another Tim Tebow story; get over it. I know there are quite a few of you Tebow bashers out there. When you’re done mumbling some colorful words about my decision to discuss him, let me point out three things: (1) He is 6-1 as the Denver Broncos’ starter, (2) the Broncos undoubtedly have rallied around him and (3) Denver has climbed into a tie for first place in the AFC West with the Oakland Raiders.
I had thought Tebow’s shortcomings as a passer would be exposed against a team that was capable of scoring more than 20 points in a game, such as the Minnesota Vikings. However, Tebow surprised me, compiling his best passing stat line of 2011: 10-of-15 for 202-2-0. If you want to nitpick, the Vikings' secondary is severely injury depleted. In addition, Demaryius Thomas (4-144-2) amassed a huge chunk of the team’s receiving production with Eric Decker (2-25-0) a distant second. In case you’re wondering, Tebow rolled up just 4-13-0 rushing.
As for tough-loss Minnesota, rookie Christian Ponder (381-3-2) capably carried the offense without Adrian Peterson (ankle), leading the Vikings to 30 points and 489 yards against an uncharacteristically generous Broncos defense. Percy Harvin (8-156-2) was Ponder’s main target. Toby Gerhart (21-91-0 and 8-42-0) played solidly in relief of Peterson.
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