It was another eventful day in the NFC East. Three wins and a loss. Every Monday afternoon during the season, we break it all down in the Blitz:
I watched Jerry Jones stand at attention as his interim head coach Jason Garrett addressed his team after the game in a moment that was captured by the Fox cameras. Garrett had told his players at halftime that they'd have to "look in the mirror" following the game to see if they'd done everything possible to win the game. As usual, Garrett was very impressive with his delivery. He walks and talks like a head coach and it's pretty obvious the players are responding to him. If the Cowboys can go 3-3 down the stretch and pretty much stay in every game, I think this is Garrett's job to lose. You could see the admiration in Jones' eyes as he observed the postgame scene. He's walking a tricky path because he knows this fan base is still upset about a lost season. Jones once again reminded reporters how disappointed he is about the season, but he's also thrilled about these two wins. If the Cowboys can upset the Saints at home Thursday, Jones will begin preparing to remove the "interim" tag from Garrett's name. Obviously, the Rooney Rule prevents him from doing that during the season, but we'll know in two or three weeks whether Garrett's the man for the job.
This team also believes in Jon Kitna in a big way. At age 38, it's not like he's vying with Tony Romo for the starting gig. But he has a commanding presence that plays well with his teammates. His numbers Sunday weren't off the charts, but he didn't turn the ball over and he was accurate. And when he saw an opening late in the game, he raced for a 29-yard touchdown. Kitna is an extension of Garrett in this locker room right now. He reflects the coach's no-nonsense approach. I don't think young players such as Dez Bryant and Martellus Bennett could have a better mentor right now. They look at Kitna like a big brother, and that's no small thing. These players were begging for discipline, and Garrett and Kitna have delivered in a big way.
I wrote a column on Bryan McCann last Thursday for ESPNDallas.com and thought would be a one-time thing. But the former SMU Mustang once again made a game-changing play when he alertly picked up a punt that had been saved from the end zone by a Lions player and raced 97 yards for a touchdown. The Ravens have to be kicking themselves for letting McCann out of their grasp. They had him on the 53-man roster for about a week in September, but they cut him to make room for a struggling return specialist. McCann has been one of the main catalysts in the Cowboys' sudden return to relevance.
I'm one of Eli Manning's biggest defenders, but the guy is making too many poor decisions this season. I've been told more than once that Manning is the smartest player on the Giants' roster. But you couldn't prove it by the way he decided not to slide after running for a first down late in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 27-17 loss to the Eagles. I realize that Michael Vick has sworn off sliding. But Superman gets a free pass because he doesn't think of himself as a quarterback when he's embarrassing safeties in the open field. Manning only embarrassed himself Sunday night when he crumpled to the ground and fumbled away a chance to tie the game in the fourth quarter. He indicated that he was running too fast too slide, which made little sense. Manning's an excellent quarterback, but he has to do a better job taking care of the ball.
Justin Tuck took over the game in the second half. Tuck was well aware that folks across the league thought Vick was pretty close to invincible. But he had confidence in defensive coordinator Perry Fewell's game plan and he kept coming in the second half. Tuck finished with three sacks and he consistently beat double-teams. His strip sack of Vick early in the fourth quarter set up the Giants' second touchdown and allowed them to take a 17-16 lead. Tuck and safety Antrel Rolle gave Vick some problems with their constant pressure. It's still a bad loss, but I think the Giants' defense actually gained some confidence in this game.
Jason Pierre-Paul made a huge mistake in the fourth quarter. Lost in all the talk of the Eagles' impressive fourth-and-1 play that resulted in a 50-yard touchdown run was the fact that the circumstances could've been much different. The Eagles faced a third-and-5 from their 45-yard line when Pierre-Paul was called for being offside. That put the Eagles in a much better situation, allowing them the luxury of trying to throw on third down. We may never have heard about "39 Crunch" if not for Pierre-Paul's mistake. How can a team coached by the ultimate disciplinarian make so many critical mistakes? It's a mystery to me, but the Giants once again had a double-digit penalty game. And this was after they only had six penalties in a loss to the Cowboys.
Let's give offensive line coach Juan Castillo some credit for somehow holding this offensive line together. I realize the Eagles gave up three sacks to Tuck, but at least one of those was on Vick for holding onto the ball too long. On the "Crunch 39" play that McCoy took to the house in the fourth quarter, the much-maligned (by me) Jason Peters and Todd Herremans pulled to the left and engulfed two Giants defensive backs. Even before McCoy was at the Giants' 30-yard line, Herremans had already thrust his right arm into the air. Castillo designed the game-winning play and he doesn't receive nearly enough credit. He's recently inserted Nick Cole into the starting lineup at right guard -- and the Eagles haven't missed a beat. It's a little unfair to give Vick all the credit when he's able to camp out in the pocket for nearly four seconds on a routine basis. Some of that has to do with the guys up front.
The Eagles continue to be a great first-quarter team. They've outscored their opponents in the first quarter by nearly nine touchdowns this season. And this was only the second time in the past six games the Eagles didn't score on their first drive. Not to worry, the Eagles had a seven-minute drive on their second possession and then Vick punched it in with one of the most exciting 4-yard gains you'll ever see.
We had another scary moment in this game. Eagles cornerback Ellis Hobbs remained on the ground for about 10 minutes after his helmet-to-helmet collision with Dave Tollefson during a kickoff return. The league has addressed defenseless receivers, but I think there's more to be done with ballcarriers. Tollefson led with the crown of his helmet on the play. We're seeing way too many players spend time on the ground without moving. Some folks will argue that it's an inherent risk, but that doesn't mean the league shouldn't continue to be vigilant in its protection of players. I realize that's not supposed to be a penalty on Tollefson, but maybe it should be. Coaches are going to have to do a better job across the league teaching proper technique. Fortunately Hobbs had movement in his extremeties last night and x-rays were negative for a neck injury. Now, we'll see if an MRI reveals any damage.
What an enormous win for the Redskins. Washington had to overcome all sort of injuries and setbacks in this game. But the Redskins persevered and got a huge win in Tennessee. The Redskins will be severely short-handed against the Vikings this Sunday, but no one really seemed to care in the afterglow of a 19-16 win in overtime.
Is anyone on the team healthy? From what I've been able to tell, 10 players left the game because of injuries and eight of them didn't return. Stephon Heyer has enough trouble playing offensive tackle, but he was asked to play guard for the first time in his career. He played really well and earned the respect of head coach Mike Shanahan. For the second consecutive week, the Skins lost a player in pregame warmups. Chad Simpson suffered a broken foot and then Clinton Portis re-injured his groin in the first half. Keiland Williams touched the ball 29 times in this game and he was an absolute workhorse. I'm not saying the Skins are destined for the playoffs, but this was certainly the type of win they can build upon. If they can beat the hapless Vikings on Sunday, they'll head to the Meadowlands with a 6-5 record the following week.
I'd say that's a pretty good job on Randy Moss. By the fourth quarter, I'd forgotten that Moss was even on the field. Running routes for someone named Rusty Smith may have made Moss yearn for the buffet spread in Eden Prairie, Minn. It was a joke for Jeff Fisher to think that Vince Young and Moss would make a good pairing. They brought a chronic complainer to play with a man who attempts about 13 passes per game. Young tossed half of his uniform into the stands as he left the field in anger Sunday. It would be his most accurate throw of the afternoon.
Donovan McNabb responded beautifully to that stink-o performance against the Eagles. He was brilliant during a two-minute drill at the end of regulation and then he once again made a big play on the game-winning drive in overtime. McNabb delivered a perfect pass to tight end Chris Cooley in overtime after eluding a defender and throwing on the run. Mike Shanahan joked that he wouldn't have to talk about the two-minute drill this week. For now, it appears that McNabb and the Shanahans are on the same page.