THE TOP STORYLINES:
The New York Giants Pound the Dallas Cowboys 31-14 to Clinch the NFC East and a Playoff Berth as the Dallas Cowboys Choke in the National Spotlight Yet Again
Like many of you, I thought this Sunday night’s winner-goes-to-the-playoffs-and-the-loser-goes-home battle for NFC East supremacy would be way more competitive. Eli Manning torched the Dallas Cowboys (8-8) as usual, compiling 346-3-0 with no picks and no delay of game penalties. Manning’s chemistry with rising star Victor Cruz was absolutely lethal, and we’re going to see a ton more of the Manning-to-Cruz connection in the years to come. Cruz, who sat out most of his 2010 season with an injury, amassed 6-178-1, and he turned a short reception from Manning into a 74-yard touchdown jaunt in the first quarter. Hakeem Nicks compiled 5-76-1, and Ahmad Bradshaw accumulated 16-57-1 rushing and 3-12-1 receiving. The New York Giants (9-7) defense sacked Tony Romo six times and picked him once.
This loss was Dallas’ fourth in the last five weeks, and the ‘Boys have missed the playoffs for the second straight year. Romo deserves a nod of respect for playing with a bruised throwing hand. While he passed for a very respectable 289-2-1, Romo blew it on another big play. I’m talking about that hurried fourth-and-one sneak that failed deep in New York territory. Laurent Robinson caught both of Romo’s scoring strikes, compiling 4-61-2 while Dez Bryant amassed 6-70-0 and Jason Witten piled up 7-69-0. Felix Jones managed just 30 rushing yards on 11 carries and seven receptions for 47 yards. The vaunted Rob Ryan defense racked up just two sacks and one recovered fumble. You have to wonder if team owner Jerry Jones will ever stop overshadowing his coach and his team. I keep expecting Jones to appear on the sideline, pop on a headset and start calling plays.
Even some very questionable officiating – yes, I think Titus Young’s tippy-toe touchdown grab with 6:02 left in the second quarter should have counted – couldn’t sink the entertainment value of this game, and it’s a shame this clash wasn’t on national television. I think we have a quarterback controversy in Green Bay. Yes – I’m joking. With Aaron Rodgers inactive for what was a meaningless game for the defending Super Bowl champions, backup Matt Flynn amassed the best day ever by a Packers quarterback, going 31-for-44 for 580 yards and six touchdown passes against just one interception. If I’m not mistaken, Flynn is an unrestricted free agent after the season and likely will hit the open market. Jordy Nelson filled in nicely as the No. 1 receiver in place of the injured Greg Jennings, accumulating 9-162-3. Ryan Grant, Jermichael Finely and Donald Driver also caught touchdown passes. Despite allowing a ton of yards and points, the Packers’ defense forced four turnovers, including a game-clinching interception.
Stafford passed for 520 yards and five touchdowns against two picks in the loss, and he also topped 5,000 yards passing on the season. Calvin Johnson amassed a whopping 11-244-1 while Young caught a game-high two touchdown passes. Tony Scheffler and Kevin Smith also caught scoring strikes, while Brandon Pettigrew racked up some big yardage, compiling 7-116-0. The Detroit defense played like just a shell of itself away from Ford Field, allowing 550 total yards and 45 points. The loss dropped the Lions to the No. 6 NFC playoff seed, which earns them a trip to the Big Easy for a rematch with the high-flying New Orleans Saints. Seriously, it’s great to see Detroit lift their long-suffering fans by making the playoffs for the first time since 1999, but this team is still at least a year of experience away from becoming a serious Super Bowl contender.
The Bumbling New York Jets Blow Their Chance to Make the Playoffs, Falling 19-17 to the Miami Dolphins; Jets Team Captain Santonio Holmes Benched During Loss
No, I wasn’t surprised to see the amateurish New York Jets (8-8) blow a must-win game and miss the playoffs. Head coach Rex Ryan’s endless trash talking can’t cover up what many have suspected for some time – his team is not a true Super Bowl contender, and starting quarterback Mark Sanchez probably is not the guy to lead it. Hey Jets’ fans – who is more responsible for the offensive problems this season – Sanchez or offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer? Stud receiver Santonio Holmes was benched in the fourth quarter after exchanging words with teammates in the huddle. Holmes, who is a team captain (see if that is the case next year), was held without a catch for the first time in his 88-game career.
New York didn’t play badly, but Ryan’s crew didn’t play well either, blowing a 10-6 lead by allowing 13 fourth-quarter points. Sanchez passed for 207 yards and two touchdowns, but all three of his interceptions led to Miami Dolphins’ (6-10) field goals. By the way, the Jets led the NFL with 126 points allowed off turnovers. Sanchez’s touchdown passes went to Dustin Keller (7-45-1) and Patrick Turner (1-10-1). Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson combined for 25-111-0.
Although the Dolphins had nothing at stake in this contest, they were up for NFL active sacks leader Jason Taylor’s final game. They carried him off the field after the final gun. Matt Moore (135-1-2) hit Charles Clay on a one-yard touchdown pass for the Dolphins only house call of the game. Defensive lineman Randy Starks hauled in two of Sanchez’s interceptions. One pick for a defensive lineman in a game is rare but two is almost unheard of.