NFC East Spin cycle: Cowboys, Redskins win to set up Thanksgiving showdown

Posted Nov. 19, 2012 @ 12:21 p.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

Updated 3:15 p.m. ET, Monday, Nov. 19

While the Giants rested on bye, the Cowboys and Redskins — the only two other East teams with a remote chance of catching them — both won. It sets up an interesting Thanksgiving Day battle of Robert Griffin III and the Redskins at Dallas against the shaky Cowboys, who finally are back to .500.

COWBOYS

What we learned: For nearly four hours, the Cowboys and Browns tried their best to give each other a victory, but the Cowboys finally pulled out an overtime win that pulled them up to .500 at 5-5 on the season. Impressive? No. Costly? Yes. OLT Tyron Smith, the best member of a bad offensive line, suffered a high ankle sprain and will miss a few weeks. Even with Smith on the field, the Cowboys couldn’t pass-block for Tony Romo, who was sacked seven times and hit (at least) 10 times according to NFL statistics. Step on up, Jermey Parnell — it’s a big spot you’ve been thrust into suddenly.

What’s in store next: A Thanksgiving Day showdown looms with the Redskins, who come into town licking their chops to knock off the Cowboys, who appear more in the playoff race at 5-5. The Redskins came in off their bye well-rested, and it showed in a 31-6 whitewashing of the hapless Eagles. The Cowboys have yet to see rookie QB Robert Griffin III (they get him again in D.C. in Week 17), but you have to believe that the Baylor sensation’s return to the Lone Star State — and the national stage — will lead to a big performance against a Cowboys defense that failed to get much pressure Sunday against another rookie QB, Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden. “(Griffin is) a great football player, there’s no question about that,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said.

What the heck? It took the Cowboys’ coaches 30 minutes of football, and repeated failures of trying to go vertical, to figure out that the offensive line was in shambles. Mackenzy Bernadeau struggled in his first start at center, and Smith’s injury further complicated things. Even with Dez Bryant’s breakout day, the Cowboys should have protected Romo better and gone to a power run game and quick-hitting rhythm passing game that favored the strengths (or rather, hid the weaknesses) of the offensive line. Jerry Jones talked after the game about how well the coaches adjusted after halftime, but it was 13-0 then and with anything other than a two-win Browns team on the other sideline, the deficit would have been larger.

GIANTS

On bye

EAGLES

What we learned: Wait, it gets worse? At this point you have to assume the Eagles will finish the season 3-13 and not the better-than-8-8 record it was going to take to keep Andy Reid employed here. With Michael Vick out, rookie Nick Foles earned his first NFL start and played poorly. He consistently misfired, often overthrowing his receivers and looking rattled. He threw interceptions on his first two possessions, putting the Eagles in a hole, and gained only 4.4 yards per attempt on the day on 46 attempts. DeSean Jackson (two catches) and Jeremy Maclin (zero) were complete non-factors. Although Reid appears to be the head coach of the present, he most certainly is taking his first steps on the plank. His football team appears to have completely quit on him.

What’s in store next: Another game closer to the end of the season (mercifully), this one is against the Panthers and their head coach, (former Reid assistant) Ron Rivera, in a heap of gainful employment trouble himself. It’s not clear which of the teams is in worst trouble, but you can bet that if the Eagles play like they did Sunday (or the Sunday before that or … like they did in any of the team’s six straight losses), the fans could turn vile. More so than the offense, the defense has been to blame for the putrid turn. Since firing coordinator Juan Castillo, the unit has gone south, allowing 11 passing TDs in the past four games without recording an interception. SS Kurt Coleman played about as bad as a safety can play in a football game in Sunday’s loss.

What the heck? RB LeSean McCoy, the Eagles’ best player, suffered a concussion against the Redskins, which, of course, is filed under the “go figure” category with the way things have gone recently. But did it need to happen? The Eagles were down 31-6, a four-possession game by any name, with two minutes remaining from their own 36-yard line when they called a run play (go figure!) to McCoy. He was blasted by Redskins safeties Reed Doughty and Madieu Williams, and suffered the reported concussion. Why, oh, why on God’s green earth was McCoy in the game at that point? Have the Eagles run out of white flags? "We were trying to catch up and win the game," Reid said. Ah. It’s good to know the coach hasn’t quit on his team.

REDSKINS

What we learned: The Redskins are not dead. In what could resemble a 2011 Panthers-like finish, Robert Griffin III lifted his team to 4-6 with a pasting of the helpless Eagles with a near-perfect statistical performance: 14-of-15 passing for 200 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions and a can’t-do-it-better 158.3 passer rating. According to the NFL, his 93.3 completion percentage is the highest by a quarterback with at least four TD passes since Hall of Famer Steve Young back in 1994 with the 49ers. Griffin went vertical twice against the Eagles’ secondary, first hitting Aldrick Robinson for a wide-open 49-yard TD, then throwing it up for grabs as Santana Moss outjumped (seriously) two DBs for the 61-yard TD, Moss’ second score longer than 60 yards this season. But it was Griffin who was the show Sunday. "Except for that one incompletion," Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan said, "I thought he did OK."

What’s in store next: Griffin brings the show to Dallas, perhaps poised for a Randy Moss type of coronation of rookie greatness, on Thanksgiving for the turkey sandwich game (4:25 p.m. ET) in the middle of the three NFL contests that day. The Redskins remain a game back of the Cowboys and not really in the playoff race at this point, but a victory would knot the two teams at 5-6 and at least make things interesting. The Redskins pressured Eagles QB Nick Foles pretty well and will look to do so against the Cowboys, who will be without OLT Tyron Smith and who gave up seven sacks and 10 QB hits on Tony Romo. Look for some overload blitzes to replacement OLT Jermey Parnell’s side from coordinator Jim Haslett.

What the heck? Is this all the Redskins needed, Brandon Meriweather finally cracking the lineup? After it appeared the free-agent safety might never play for them this season, Meriweather got into a game and made a difference, intercepting a Foles pass, and injecting some life on a defense that had lacked some fire since Brian Orakpo went down for the season. But just like that — poof! — Meriweather is gone like a sneeze in the wind. The injury gods were not kind to him, as he left the game with what turned out to be a torn ACL. The Redskins received good performances from players such as DLs Stephen Bowen and Kedric Golston, LBs Ryan Kerrigan, Lorenzo Alexander and Perry Riley and fellow S DeJon Gomes, and they'll have to have that kind of team contribution to make up for Meriweather's loss — again.