Coughlin at center of storm after Giants' latest setback

ON THE NFL

December 04, 2006|By KEN MURRAY

The New York Giants' locker room was awash in finger-pointing acrimony last week. In the wake of a shocking collapse in Nashville, players called out players and chaos ruled.

This week, the second guess is going to point directly at the coach, Tom Coughlin, after two controversial coaching decisions backfired in a wrenching, 23-20 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. More discord is almost certain to follow.

The Giants' fourth straight loss might have been averted with better defense or decision-making.

When they look back at this game, the Giants will lament the decision to run on fourth-and-one from the Dallas 23-yard line late in the first half, as well as the timeout they took on their final drive that gave the Cowboys just enough time to win the game.

Brandon Jacobs was stopped for a 2-yard loss on the fourth-down run with 1:22 left in the half. Not only did the Giants not get a field goal out of the possession, but the Cowboys drove to a 34-yard field goal by Martin Gramatica with five seconds left.

Late in the fourth quarter, while they were driving to a tying touchdown, the Giants used their first timeout of the half rather than milk the clock. It came back to haunt them when the Cowboys went 40 yards in 59 seconds to get a game-winning 46-yard field goal.

In his post-game news conference, Coughlin insisted the timeout isn't what lost the game. "They go the length of the field in a minute," he said, seemingly placing blame on a defense that gave up a 42-yard pass from Tony Romo to Jason Witten.

Neither did he second-guess the decision to eschew a 40-yard field-goal try just before the half. The Giants needed a foot on fourth down, but Jacobs couldn't get an inch. At the least, it was a poor play call.

Where that leaves the Giants is 6-6, scrambling with the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons for an NFC wild-card playoff berth.

Winning ugly in Windy City

Meanwhile, the Chicago Bears continue to look like the most lucky division champion in history. The Bears clinched their second straight NFC North title with a brutal 23-13 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

Brutal? Try a combined 10 turnovers, five by each team. Try a 6-for-19 passing performance for 34 yards by the Bears' Rex Grossman. Try 11-for-26 passing by the Vikings' Brad Johnson.

Johnson threw four interceptions and got benched in the third quarter. Grossman threw three interceptions and got the unqualified support of his coach, Lovie Smith.

At 10-2, the Bears own the top seed in the NFC's bizarre playoff chase. The New Orleans Saints and Cowboys, both 8-4, are within reach but not likely to overtake the Bears down the stretch.

The Bears scored three touchdowns against Minnesota - one each from special teams (Devin Hester's 45-yard punt return), defense (Ricky Manning Jr.'s 54-yard interception return) and offense (Cedric Benson's 24-yard run).

But the numbers on Grossman are deteriorating. He threw three interceptions for the second straight week and has 14 in the past seven games. And yesterday, he had a quarterback rating of 1.3, when a rating in the 50s would be considered bad.

That adds up to a quick exit in the postseason.

Colts' luster fading

The Ravens' loss on Thursday in Cincinnati got a little tougher to swallow when the resurgent Tennessee Titans toppled the Indianapolis Colts, 20-17, on a 60-yard field goal by Rob Bironas.

The Colts and San Diego Chargers are both 10-2, but Indianapolis still holds the top seed in the AFC with a better conference record (7-1) than the Chargers (8-2). Had the Ravens beaten the Bengals, they would be in position to get a first-round bye if not home-field advantage. They already own the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Chargers.

Suddenly, the Colts don't look so invincible. They face the Jaguars in Jacksonville next week, then play Cincinnati in the Week 15 Monday night game.

Giveaway day

Week 13 produced some of the ugliest football of the season. The 10 turnovers committed by the Bears and Vikings led the ugly parade.

Next in line was the New England Patriots' 28-21 victory over the forlorn Detroit Lions. Those two teams combined for eight turnovers.

In Buffalo, the Chargers and Bills combined for six turnovers, as a 178-yard rushing performance by LaDainian Tomlinson saved San Diego.

Rally caps

As flawed as it was, Week 13 produced four comebacks of note. The Titans trailed the Colts 14-3 before Vince Young authored his second straight upset win. The Patriots trailed the Lions 21-13 before rallying. The Falcons wiped out a 14-0 deficit to beat the Washington Redskins. And the Cleveland Browns came back from 28-14 down to beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 31-28, in overtime behind reserve quarterback Derek Anderson.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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