NFC East Spin cycle: Redskins claim first division title since 1999

Posted Dec. 31, 2012 @ 10:47 a.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

The Redskins are in the playoffs and everyone else is home for the rest of the holidays. Surprised? So are we. See how it all went down with this stroll through the NFC East one final time from Week 17:

COWBOYS

What we learned: The season ended Sunday night with a familiar story line — with the season on the line, the Cowboys fell short. They battled gamely, as they have several times down the stretch, and had their chances to tie or beat the Redskins for the NFC East title and the home playoff game that comes with it. It wasn’t meant to be. Tony Romo threw a critical interception (his third of the game) and DE Jason Hatcher was flagged for a devastating roughing-the-passer penalty that pretty much ended their hopes in a 28-18 loss.

What’s in store next: The Cowboys will head into an offseason — yet again — filled with questions. It appears that Jason Garrett will remain head coach and Romo likely will be the quarterback again. Both performed well down the stretch prior to Week 17, but the go-home-or-die loss in the final game only will turn up the heat on both in the offseason.

What the heck? The Cowboys essentially had to win this game without OLB DeMarcus Ware or WR Dez Bryant playing at their peak form. Ware played with a shoulder injury that continued to give him problems and was largely ineffective. He registered no solo tackles (one assisted) and no sacks and fell victim to a few Robert Griffin keepers, looking lost out there. Bryant (lower back) had four catches for 71 yards but was covered well by DeAngelo Hall in the first half and was not the dynamic threat he had been against the Redskins in Week 12 or over the second half of the season.

GIANTS

What we learned: Even though the team won a 42-7 rout over the Eagles and finished with the same regular-season record (9-7) as they had last season in winning a championship, it was not meant to be for the Giants. After surrendering an onside kick to open the game, the Giants dominated from that point on, as Eli Manning (five TD passes) continually ate up the Eagles’ maligned secondary and the Giants’ defense made life miserable for Michael Vick, who likely wore Eagles green for the final time, and Andy Reid, who was fired on Monday.

What’s in store next: Tom Coughlin will be back. So will Manning. The Giants will pick 19th in the first round, but the biggest news is that several veterans and pillars for two championship teams, such as OT David Diehl and DE Osi Umenyiora, likely are moving on. It was worth noting that the Giants’ top three draft picks — RB David Wilson, WR Rueben Randle and CB Jayron Hosley — all played well in the final victory, perhaps signaling a shift to a new generation.

What the heck? The running game was a mild surprise after ranking 32nd a season ago. Ahmad Bradshaw battled through injuries to log his first 1,000-yard season and reemerged as a receiving threat down the stretch. Wilson came on late, flashing his first-round speed at various times after having problems early with pass protection and fumbling. Andre Brown, before getting hurt, was a revelation. But for all the run-game improvements, the team was not that much more dangerous offensively.

EAGLES

What we learned: There would be no emotional send-off for Andy Reid. In what turned out to be his final game as Eagles coach, Reid’s players fell flat after recovering a game-opening onside kick. Michael Vick started in what also could be his final Eagles game, but he badly overthrew an early interception, which was a harbinger for a long afternoon in a 42-7 thrashing at the hands of the Giants. But mostly, the blame can fall on the heads of the defense, which once more failed this season. Reid likely was fired for his handling of that side of the ball the past few seasons.

What’s in store next: There will be a new coach for the first time since 1999, and though he will inherit a good amount of talent and the No. 4 overall pick in the draft, there also will be a major rebuild in order. Figuring out who the starting quarterback is — not likely Vick, but perhaps Nick Foles — is a high priority. But fixing the “D” isn’t too far behind. The rest of the offense should be in fair shape, assuming the O-line returns its best injured members and reinforcements are added.

What the heck? After yet another half of struggling, the Eagles benched CB Nnamdi Asomugha for Curtis Marsh, who played most of the second half in Week 17. What took them so long? Asomugha was flagged twice for pass interference and gave up a TD pass to Victor Cruz in which he never played the ball. He looked lost, as he had most of the season. The Eagles saw little new from Asomugha, who either will take a major paycut or won’t return in 2013. The CB position, with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie’s future also up in the air, is a great unknown at this point.

REDSKINS

What we learned: The magic lives another week. Robert Griffin III was good not great, but fellow rookies RB Alfred Morris and CB-RS Richard Crawford helped pick him up, especially Morris. He ran for a career-high 200 yards, set the Redskins single-season rushing mark and helped vault the Redskins to a 28-18 victory over the Cowboys and the first NFC East title for the franchise since 1999. The defense flustered Tony Romo with pressure and turned in its first three-interception game of the season.

What’s in store next: A home playoff game against the fifth-seeded Seahawks. It’s a terrific battle between similarly built teams led by rookie QBs Griffin and Russell Wilson, strong running games (Morris and Marshawn Lynch) and aggressive defenses that play a lot of man coverage. It should be a fantastic battle in the wild-card weekend’s final game.

What the heck? The Redskins chose to cover Cowboys WR Dez Bryant almost exclusively with DeAngelo Hall in the first half before changing up their coverages in the second after sticking Josh Wilson on Bryant in the Week 12 matchup. The move worked: Bryant had four catches for 71 yards but no touchdowns and no game-breaking plays. Hall stuck with Bryant well, kept everything in front and might have gotten Bryant mentally off his game a little.