The only immutable rule we must follow each week in the NFL is that nothing is certain until 30 minutes after the final gun.
We all watched the Giants stick it to the Cowboys last week and go 3-0 all-time in Jerry's pleasure dome. We watched as the Cowboy defense ran around helplessly, trying to figure out who was supposed to cover whom, as the Giants had no trouble at all marching up and down the field and Eli looked like he was posing for his bronze bust in Canton.
As the schedule-makers would have it, the Cowboys got something of a reprieve after the loss to the Giants by getting a Saturday night game in Tampa Bay. And this Bucs team is beginning to rival some of those Creamsicle teams of John McKay from the 70's, the ones where somebody asked McKay after a game what he thought about his team's execution and he said, "I think it's an excellent idea."
In the matchup with the Bucs, won by the Cowboys 31-15, Romo was just as stellar as he had to be: 23-of-30 for 249 yards and three TDs. Not the kind of super numbers he sometimes puts up, but the kind he manages to find in games where he can sidestep the rush and peacefully find a receiver to hit instead of panicking and heaving the ball downfield. His two best pass-catching buddies, Jason Witten and Miles Austin, were in fine form, and the return of Austin allowed the always shaky Dez Bryant to play a lesser role.
But it was on defense where the Cowboys stood out.
Rob Ryan, the coach who gets the most in-game closeups of anybody on the Dallas staff, said he was going to simplify his defense for the game and try to take some of the pressure off his guys after they looked so absurdly confused the previous week. Whatever he did worked (although, facing Tampa Bay's offense instead of the Giants didn't hurt any). The Bucs wound up with 58 net rushing yards and 132 through the air. They had seven—as in how many days are in a week—seven first downs. It was a shutdown game for the Dallas D.
The Giants, on the other hand, had to face a division foe, the 'Skins—albeit in a home game at the Meadowlands. And while Eli Manning was throwing well, his receivers couldn't have caught Bird Flu if you breathed it in their faces. A series of horrible dropped passes cut the Giants' chances to win rather drastically.
The 'Skins benefited from field position, with two drives on turnovers starting deep in New York territory, while the Giants' best starting field position was their own 32. Maybe it was a sign for the Giants. They picked off the Redskins' first pass, but they were also guilty of unnecessary roughness. Discipline was lacking.
Heading into the last two weeks of the NFC East race, we keep hearing that both the Cowboys and Giants control their own destiny. If the Giants win out, they win the division. I don't think it's a stretch to say that most NFL fans are hoping the season ends between Dallas and the Giants in the Meadowlands is for the title. That's the way every regular season should end.
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