In Week 15 reality show, Giants star as survivors


December 19, 2005|By KEN MURRAY

Television reality shows have nothing on the NFL. You want survival drama? Try December's wild-card scramble. That's when reputations are gained, jobs are lost, and memories are made.

It's when the San Diego Chargers knock the immortality out of the Indianapolis Colts, not to mention the precision out of Peyton Manning's passing game. The Chargers remain the best team in the most jeopardy of missing the postseason.

It's when the Washington Redskins bury the Dallas Cowboys, proving that a 14-13 win in September wasn't the fluke everyone thought it was. Yes, there could be a January playoff in Joe Gibbs' future.

It's when the Pittsburgh Steelers bounce the Minnesota Vikings with a throwback game. The Steelers won handily yesterday when they threw just 15 passes, forced three turnovers and held the Vikings to 185 total yards.

But the team that best filled the survivor role in Week 15 was the New York Giants. Playing without their inspirational middle linebacker, and minus their two starting tackles on offense, the Giants clubbed the Kansas City Chiefs into submission on Saturday with a 27-17 jaw-dropper.

Give coach Tom Coughlin credit. He went 6-10 last year trying to indoctrinate quarterback Eli Manning to the NFL. This year, Coughlin has one of the most explosive offenses in the league, a gritty defense and perhaps a division title.

The Giants faced the hottest running back in the league -- Larry Johnson -- with Nick Greisen, an outside linebacker, plugging the middle for injured Antonio Pierce. They had to replace both starting offensive tackles because of injury and switched another lineman to a different position.

The result? Johnson rushed for 167 yards but couldn't crack the goal line in three tries from inside the 5-yard line in the first half when the Chiefs had a chance to take control. Greisen gave a yeoman's effort with seven solo tackles.

With different players at three positions in the offensive line, the Giants allowed one sack and punched out 406 yards of offense. And, oh yes, Tiki Barber rushed for a club-record 220 yards.

Barber, 30, has an Emmitt Smith-like quality to him. The bigger the game, the better he plays, much like the retired Cowboys great. He had a career-high 322 carries last season in Coughlin's first year. He has 313 now, in his ninth NFL season, with two games left. He established a franchise single-season rushing record Saturday with 1,577 yards.

Now the Giants can clinch their first NFC East title since 2000 -- the last time they went to the Super Bowl -- with a victory in either of their last two games: at Washington on Christmas Eve or at Oakland in Week 17.

Coughlin won't respond to reports that Pierce is done for the regular season; it would be critical if he can't return for the playoffs, however.

Not so perfect

In the ever-so-tepid NFC race, it would no longer be a surprise if the Giants somehow put themselves in position for a Manning vs. Manning Super Bowl.

That is, if Peyton, in fact, gets there.

The frustration on his face surfaced early in Indianapolis when the Chargers loosed a strong pass rush in his direction. It was easily the worst beating Manning has endured in a 13-1 season.

San Diego sacked him four times, knocked him down eight more, and intercepted him twice. Were it not for two defensive turnovers that preceded touchdown drives of 26 and 4 yards, the Colts wouldn't have gotten in the end zone.

As the New England Patriots can tell you, that's always been the secret to beating Manning: Get the pass rush on him quickly and frustrate him early.

To his credit, Colts coach Tony Dungy left Manning in the game to the end, even for the final 21 seconds after an 83-yard touchdown scamper by Michael Turner with 2:09 left had made it a moot point.

But in one big concession, Dungy didn't wear out his running back in a game he didn't need to win. Edgerrin James had just 13 carries for only 25 yards and his workload likely will be similarly reduced in the next two weeks.

As the AFC seedings stand today, the Colts and Patriots are on a collision course for the second round of the playoffs. The Patriots locked up their third straight AFC East title by drubbing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 28-0, on Saturday. And while their midseason struggles obscured this fact, they have some familiarity with the Super Bowl.

The Colts should make no assumptions, even if they get the Patriots in the RCA Dome.

"They are the best team in the NFL until somebody proves otherwise," Bucs quarterback Chris Simms said after he was sacked seven times by the Patriots. "I don't care who has what record. They've won three of the last four [Super Bowls] and they have proven they can get it done when they have to, always."

Hot reads

The Seattle Seahawks clinched a first-round bye with a closer-than-expected, 28-24 triumph in Nashville over the Tennessee Titans. Running back Shaun Alexander, front-runner for the Most Valuable Player Award, ran for 172 yards and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck threw for 285.

The Seahawks have lots of offense, but they barely beat the Giants in Week 12, when Jay Feely missed three field-goal attempts. That could be the NFC championship game.

The Cincinnati Bengals cruised past the hapless Detroit Lions, 41-17, to stay on the Denver Broncos' heels for the No. 2 seed in the AFC and first-round bye. The Broncos have the edge in conference record. They face the Oakland Raiders and visit San Diego in their last two games, while the Bengals get the Buffalo Bills at home and Kansas City on the road.

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