by Justin Henry (@cynicjrh)
NFC East Beat Writer/Man Who Wasted 3 Hours Writing Piece on Falcons' Perfect Season Hopes
The Washington Redskins spend Week 10 in their easy-chairs, watching their mess of a division continue showing the world why this year's Super Bowl Champion will come from elsewhere.
The Dallas Cowboys won to advance to 4-6, but if not for the combined ineptitude of their opponents in general, as well as the adjustments made to assist a rookie quarterback playing in relief, "America's Team" would have been splattered by most opponents, thanks to needless penalties and other inadequacies.
The Philadelphia Eagles drop to 3-6, giving Andy Reid his first ever 5-game losing streak. Michael Vick sustained a head injury in the game, giving the world their first professional look at Nick Foles. Despite some flashes of brilliance, the Eagles continued with poor play and came up short yet again.
The New York Giants continue their fabled "November Pain" tour, finding it hard to hold a candle in the hard rain of, of all teams, the Cincinnati Bengals and their uncharacteristic all-around great play. Eli Manning continues his immense struggles, bringing the Giants to 6-4 along with his own spiral.
Does anyone want to be NFC East Champion? Anyone?
1. Michael Vick Out, Nick Foles In as Eagles Lose
Perhaps Marcus Vick was on to something when he implored the Eagles to let brother Michael fly the coop. After all, it was vitriolic Marcus who claimed that his sibling was going to get badly injured in Philadelphia, playing behind such a shoddy offensive line.
Six days later, Vick was indeed injured, but it was after he'd gained yards on a run. Diagnosis: a concussion with impaired vision as a side effect.
Third round pick Nick Foles was inserted into the game with 7:41 remaining in the first half, score tied 7-7. You'd think Reggie White was resurrected from the great beyond with the reaction that the "Texas Tower" received.
For his part, behind an offensive line made of tissue paper, and one prone to penalties (King Dunlap is more useless than a Band-Aid for a decapitation victim), Foles played fine.
The rookie completed 8 passes of 10+ yards, going 22/32 for 219 yards, with a touchdown and a pick. The touchdown was a 44-yard bomb to a wide-open Jeremy Maclin, while the pick was deflected by DeSean Jackson, and run back for a score by Brandon Carr.
Despite a respectable effort from a kid thrown into the fire behind a lousy line and perpetually-bad play-calling, the Eagles still lost 38-23.
The defeat marks the Eagles' fifth-straight loss, the first time in the Reid Era that the Birds have gone win-less over a five game set. The last time the Eagles lost five straight was the opening stretch of the 1998 season; Ray Rhodes' death knell.
2. Defense the Difference Maker in Dallas Victory
There was nothing wrong with how the oft-discredited Tony Romo played on Sunday. He failed to add to his 13 interceptions on the season, and made up ground with a pair of touchdown passes to Dez Bryant and Felix Jones. He also completed 73.1 percent of passes to add to an overall efficient day.
To put the cherry on top, Romo even avoided four sack attempts on one play, just to complete a pass to Miles Austin up-field.
And despite that great effort, it was the defense and special teams who shined.
For the third time this millennium, the Cowboys scored 2 defensive touchdowns in the same game. In 2001, it was a pair of pick-sixes by Mario Edwards and Dexter Coakley. 2 seasons ago, Sean Lee and Orlando Scandrick turned interceptions into points.
In this case, a split would occur with an interception return (Brandon Carr) and an end zone fumble recovery (Jason Hatcher), solidifying Dallas' victory.
The special teams even did their part, adding a 78-yard punt return from Dwayne Harris. This marks Dallas' first punt return for a score since Bryan McCann took one to the house from 97 yards out in 2010.
In other words, offensive and special teams miscues by the Eagles put 21 points in Dallas' bank. Otherwise, the Eagles had them beat by a touchdown, barring such mistakes.
But errors aside, Dallas now improves to 4-5, finding themselves merely a game and a half out of first place. A win next week over the currently-idle Browns puts the Cowboys just a game out from the Giants, whom they split with this year.
3. Eli Manning Continues Downward Spiral vs. Bengals
October 21, 2012 wasn't exactly a long time ago, but it must be an eternity to Eli Manning, as well as those who lovingly follow him statistically.
It was on that day that Manning threw his most recent touchdown pass, four full games ago.
Counting the game in which that pass took place, a fourth-quarter comeback win over the Redskins, Manning has thrown 1 touchdown and INTs over the last four games. During that stretch, the New York Giants are 2-2, having lost their last pair of games.
The latest woeful chapter comes Sunday in a 31-13 shellacking at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals. Rarely have Andy Dalton's orange-and-black crew beaten a playoff-caliber team, but Manning did his part to make it easier on them.
Manning, in all, committed 3 turnovers in the loss, all of which took place in the second half.
Pat Sims would be the first thief, nabbing a pass deep in Giants territory to set up a Jermane Gresham touchdown 3 plays later.
Now down 24-6 midway through the third quarter, Manning committed his first mistake, throwing an interception to Nate Clements on his own 37-yard line. 3 plays later, Mohammad Sanu was in for the stamp-of-completion touchdown.
But the Giants still tried to battle back. Down 31-6, Manning had the G-Men into Bengals territory before Wallace Gilberry forced him to fumble on a sack.
Manning's QB rating over the last 4 games is 60.5 (80/139, 869 yards, 1 TD, 6 INT).
4. Giants Defense Equally Inept in Cincinnati
But Manning wasn't the sole cause of New York's embarrassing loss to a team that had lost 4 straight, with nary a victory since September 30.
Andy Dalton had been sacked 22 times in 8 games this season. He also had 11 interceptions against 14 touchdowns.
Leave it "The Red Rifle" to have a career day, without once being sacked or picked against a team that's supposed to be the best in the league in just that category.
Andy Dalton ended up throwing 4 touchdown passes to 4 separate receivers, going 21 for 30 for 199 yards, and being aided by the heads-up play of his young teammates.
For one thing, as shaky as the Giants defense can be at times, there is no way that AJ Green should have been so wide open on his 56-yard touchdown reception early in the game. He practically teleported behind the Giants secondary, with nobody noticing the Bengals best (and one of the NFL's five best) receivers seeping through?
For the second time this season (first being the Cleveland game), New York's persistent defense failed to get a single sack, after Dalton was good for being dropped 3 times in your average game.
Instead, it was the Bengals doing the sacking. Carlos Dunlap led the way with 1.5 sacks and fumble recovery.
Much has been made of the Giants' November struggles, even dating back to their Super Bowl season of a year ago. But with the NFC boasting a more potent punch these days, the Giants can't afford a weak run, lousy division or not.
5. Division Winning Probability
Remaining Schedule: Bye, Green Bay, at Washington, New Orleans, at Atlanta, at Baltimore, Philadelphia
Projected Result: 10-6. They lose to the Packers out of the bye, then go on a tear in December, winning every game except for the Falcons one. The Saints can be exploited (even as they find themselves), the Ravens haven't beaten many good teams, and the division foes are sitting ducks.
Remaining Schedule: Cleveland, Washington, Philadelphia, at Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, and at Washington
Projected Result: 7-9. A split with the Skins, a loss to the too-little-too-late Eagles, and up-endings by the Steelers and Saints keep Dallas from the playoffs, and cost Jason Garrett his job.
Remaining Schedule: at Washington, Carolina, at Dallas, at Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, Washington, at New York Giants
Projected Result: 7-9. The Foles rejuvenation allows for a split with the Skins, and revenge over Dallas, but 3 hard losses to Redskins, Buccaneers, and the Giants. Since this is worse than a year ago, Jon Gruden may as well use the Monday nighter against the Panthers to scout real estate in Philly.
Remaining Schedule: Philadelphia, at Dallas, New York Giants, Baltimore, at Cleveland, at Philadelphia, Dallas
Projected Result: 6-10. The aforementioned splits with the Eagles and Cowboys will occur, plus downings at the hands of the Giants and Ravens, while beating the scrappy Browns. Mike Shanahan may be the third coach in this division to see an ousting come New Year's.