Squandered chances work overtime in tight NFC East

Gameday

November 28, 2005|By KEN MURRAY

One by one they fell in ghoulish fashion.

The Dallas Cowboys lost to Denver on Thanksgiving after their kicker missed a makable field goal in the fourth quarter.

The Washington Redskins lost to San Diego after they intercepted quarterback Drew Brees three times, but couldn't tackle running back LaDainian Tomlinson.

The New York Giants lost in Seattle when a kicker who missed only two field-goal attempts all season missed three with the game on the line.

Overtime losses, all; squandered opportunities that will be lamented later.

This is your battered, angst-ridden NFC East in Week 12. Well, except for the Philadelphia Eagles, who nudged the Green Bay Packers yesterday but who are currently in therapy of their own for divorce proceedings from Terrell Owens.

The NFC East is one of three NFL divisions with three teams in playoff position (the NFC South and AFC West are the others). If you want to include the Eagles, despite their 2-5 conference record and 0-4 division record, that's four teams in contention.

Which is why Week 12 was especially hard on these guys. Remember, it's a division race already skewed by the Giants' bonus home game awarded by commissioner Paul Tagliabue in Week 2, when a hurricane forced the Saints to abandon New Orleans.

The Saints went to the Meadowlands for their "home" opener and lost to the Giants, 27-10. Think Dallas coach Bill Parcells has forgotten that Big Apple gift? Not anytime soon.

In fact, the Giants went to Seattle seeking a road win they could be proud of. What they got was three missed field goals by Jay Feely and an ugly 24-21 loss that enabled the Seahawks (9-2) to hold onto the top seed in the NFC.

At 7-4, the Giants are technically tied with the Cowboys for first place in the division. But a 16-13 overtime loss in Dallas in Week 6 gives the Cowboys, for now, the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Guess what? The Giants get the Cowboys in New Jersey next week with a chance to play another overtime and maybe move on to another tiebreaker. After the extra period and a cross-country flight, the Giants may have a hard time shaking this one off. Plus, the Cowboys will have had 10 days to heal up and prepare.

One thought: The Cowboys play everything down to the wire, and that's when Giants quarterback Eli Manning is at his best. Manning and running back Tiki Barber gave the Giants every chance to win yesterday, either in regulation or overtime.

But Feely was wide left on a 40-yard try in the fourth quarter, short on a 54-yarder in overtime, and short again on a 45-yarder after that.

This was a game that was won as much on the sideline as on the field, however.

The Seattle sideline, where coach Mike Holmgren made two key calls late in the game. The first was in regulation when the Seahawks faced fourth-and-inches from the New York 4. A field goal earns a 17-13 lead -- but sets up the inevitable Giants' comeback.

Holmgren instead gave the ball to Shaun Alexander and his free agent-to-be rewarded him with a 4-yard touchdown run. Now it was 21-13.

After the Giants answered with a spectacular touchdown catch by Amani Toomer at the back of the end zone, and a two-point catch by Jeremy Shockey, it was tied.

It was still tied when a pass to Shockey and a forward fumble advanced the Giants to the Seattle 20. Because replays in overtime are controlled by the replay booth, Holmgren couldn't challenge the call. But he did call timeout, which gave the booth official time to look at the play. Upon further review, the pass was ruled incomplete and the Giants lost 16 yards.

Three plays later, Feely lined up for the 54-yarder he had no chance of making.

The Redskins, meanwhile, are in better shape than the Eagles -- both are 5-6 -- because they have a 5-2 conference record. But they've also developed a bad habit of blowing leads that probably makes it a moot point.

In the past two weeks, they wasted a seven-point lead in a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a 10-point lead in a loss to the Oakland Raiders. Yesterday, they led the Chargers 17-10 before Tomlinson ran 32 yards to a tying touchdown with 3:29 left in regulation.

On the second play of overtime, Tomlinson bolted 41 yards to a game-winning touchdown. He finished with 184 rushing yards on a day when Brees looked pedestrian at quarterback.

The Redskins get the Cowboys, Giants and Eagles in the last three weeks of the regular season, so they're not exactly out of it yet. In this division, no one is.

Hot reads

Here's the grim tally for the New England Patriots, 26-16 losers at Kansas City: Their defense has been torched for 400 or more yards in seven of the past eight games. The defensive average yield is 424. That's not going to cut it.

Had the Seahawks lost, the Chicago Bears would have taken over the No. 1 seed in the NFC with their 13-10 win over the Bucs.

Rookie quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, a seventh-round pick, gets the unsung hero award for Week 12. Pressed into duty when Jamie Martin suffered a concussion, he brought the St. Louis Rams back from a 21-point deficit to beat the Houston Texans in overtime, 33-27. Fitzpatrick, from Harvard, threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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