A Romo fumble gives the ball back to the Giants and they are able to run the clock down. The Giants head for the playoffs while the Cowboys must go home and think about the game they lost in Dallas in Week 14, when they were up by 12 points with just six minutes remaining. They will actually end up third in the division, behind the Eagles on a tie-breaker. End of the game: Giants 31, Cowboys 14
With this game settled, the NFC playoff picture is now set. Next week, the Lions will travel to New Orleans to play the Saints; while the Falcons will come to New York to face the Giants. Apart from a wobble in the third quarter, Tom Coughlin’s men have looked impressive tonight and looked good in their narrow loss to the Packers a few weeks ago. In their 2007 Superbowl run, the Giants caught fire late on and rode that all the way to the title, they will definitely be a tough out for anyone who faces them this January too. If they do end up going to Green Bay in the divisional round, it will be a repeat of the NFC Championship game from that 2007 season – Brett Favre’s last game for the Packers, which ended with an interception and the Giants winning with a field goal in overtime. The running-back tandem of Jacobs and Bradshaw may expose Green Bay’s defensive frailties, especially in a snowy game. But I get ahead of myself, the Falcons and the Lions will be trying to prevent that particular matchup from ever occurring.
In tonight’s game, the clock reaches the two minute warning with the Cowboys still inside their own half.
Cowboys drive: With less than 6 minutes left in the game and down by two scores, time is definitely running out on Dallas’ season. They don’t get the job done, however, and on third down Felix Jones drops a Romo pass and forces the Cowboys to punt the ball away.
Giants drive: After two rush attempts, Manning lets loose on third and 5 and finds Hakeen Nicks downfield for a 36 yard gain and a first down from the Dallas 4 yard line. Another touchdown here and this game is over – and that’s exactly what happens – Manning to Nicks again and the Giants are going to the playoffs. Extra point is good: Giants 31, Cowboys 14
Giants drive: New york starts from its own 25 and the first play is batted down by Ratliff, then a Jacobs run gains a couple but no more. On third down, Manning is under immense pressure then spins around and hits Victor Cruz for 43 yards – unbelievable play by the Giants QB. Two plays later, Manning again connects with Cruz to get New York inside the 10 yard line. After an incompletion, DeMarcus Ware sacks Manning, and then the QB has to scramble on third down – bringing out the field goal unit to make it a 10 point game. Tynes’ kick is good. Giants 24, Cowboys 14
Giants drive: The Cowboys really need a three-and-out and that’s exactly what they get – forcing the Giants to put the ball straight back to them. The return goes to the Giants 41 yard line, but a 15 yard unnecessary roughness penalty on New York gives Dallas the opportunity to start their drive just 26 yards from the end zone.
Cowboys drive: A screen pass to Dez Bryant gains 17 yards for Dallas and moves them to first and goal. Two plays later and Romo finds Laurent Robinson again in the end zone for a TOUCHDOWN! Extra point is good. Giants 21, Cowboys 14 – game on.
Cowboys drive continued: After the Giants commit a neutral zone infraction themselves, the Cowboys come up short by a single yard on third down – giving them a decision about whether or not to go for it – they do, with Romo trying to sneak through, but he fails and the Giants get the ball back on their own 10 yard line.
Cowboys drive: So the Romo interception and the penalty only cost the Cowboys nine yards in field position and now they can go about trying to continue their comeback. Tony Romo gets them going and makes two quick completions, both for first downs – and then finds Witten for a 20 yard gain and get the Cowboys inside the Red Zone. He is then sacked for a loss of 5 in the final play of the third quarter. End of 3rd quarter: Giants 21, Cowboys 7
Giants drive: Eli Manning gets to take over on the Cowboys 44 yard line after that interception. On third and 6, the Giants fumble the ball and Dallas recover the ball – but again their good work is undone by a penalty, this time for offside on DeMarcus Ware, and New York retains possession and has 3rd and 1. Manning throws just behind Cruz and the Giants decide to go for it on 4th & 1, given that they are out of Field Goal range and a punt would likely only put them 10 yards further down the field than if they fail on 4th down. Jacobs is stuffed by the Dallas defense and it is a turnover on downs.
Cowboys drive: After a no-gain run by Felix Jones and an incompletion, Romo finds Miles Austin on the far sideline to move the chains and get a new set of downs – but just when it looks like Dallas might be getting some momentum, their QB throws the ball right to Antrel Rolle – unfortunately for Romo he is a Giants player and that’s an interception.
Giants drive: The kickoff is returned all the way back to the 31 yard line by Devin Thomas – but an incompletion and a 4 yard run from D.J. Ware leaves New York with 3rd and 6. The Cowboys defensive line finally breaks through and sacks Eli Manning forcing the Giants to punt and giving Romo a chance to build on this comeback.
Romo played fantastically well on that drive – he gets his fair share of criticism for late game blunders, but when he is on his game, the Dallas QB is a dangerous opponent. The Cowboys went 94 yards for that TD and Robinson had three big catches, including the score. Given that I fully expect Eli Manning to throw an interception returned for a touchdown at some point, this could still be game on.
Cowboys drive: It goes without saying that the Cowboys need to put 7 points up on the board and fast – well it did not actually go without saying
but it could have done. After a Felix Jones run for a gain of 4, Romo finds Robinson for a first down – then fires a pass to tight-end Jason Witten to move Dallas up to their 41 yard line. Another completion to Robinson, followed by a Felix Jones run moves the Cowboys across half-way – then on a third down, RB Sandy Morris manages to stay alive and get the first down. Romo then targets Laurent Robinson deep and finds him for 34 yards and a TOUCHDOWN! Extra point is good. Giants 21, Cowboys 7
Any chance the Cowboys copy the Saints from the Superbowl two years ago and try an onside kick to start the half? Nope – they smack it away and the Giants will begin from their own 17 yard line.
Giants drive: Eli does his best Peyton impression by pretending to do a hot-read of the Dallas defense before the snap, then completes for a massive 6 yard gain – not quite like his big brother. On the next play, he makes me eat my words by throwing a beauty to Victor Cruz for 27 yards – New York are already up to half way. The Cowboys defend well against the rush though and prevent Manning from scrambling too far on third down, forcing New York to punt – which is downed at the Dallas 5 yard line.
Half time thoughts – the Giants have been far superior and look on their way to a home playoff game against the Falcons – the winners of which would be traveling to Green Bay in the Divisional round (unless the Lions upset the Saints) – after the classic encounter between New York and the Packers in Week 13, that would be a tantalising prospect. But the Giants cannot assume they have won here – in their game against the Cowboys in Dallas, they trailed by 12 points with just six minutes to go and came back to win – Tony Romo and his team have 30 minutes to try to save their season. In the first half, Eli Manning played fantastically well – completing 15 of 20 pass attempts for 199 yards and 2 touchdowns with no picks.
Cowboys drive: Dallas only has 1:09 left in the half to try to get themselves on the scoreboard, with two timeouts remaining. Given that they kickoff to start the second half, you have to think the Cowboys need a touchdown here to have any chance of winning this game. They can only return the kick to their own 24, so they have 76 yards to go in 65 seconds. Romo is looking frantic between plays, but then just dumping the ball off for short gains when he actually takes the snap – the Cowboys are forced to use one of their timeouts while they’re still inside their own half. A holding penalty moves them another 10 yards back with just 21 seconds left of the half – at which point the Cowboys run suggesting they may be giving up on trying to score here. The Giants call a timeout though, to ensure Dallas does not get away with it that easily. On third down Romo finds Bryant for a first-down and he gets out-of-bounds to stop the clock. 9 seconds to go, Dallas on the Giants 46 and he completes a pass to the 35 yard line and the field goal unit comes out. Dan Bailey’s kick is wide left. End of First Half: Giants 21, Cowboys 0
Giants drive: One consolation for Cowboys fans must be that you know at some point Eli is liable to throw a bad interception – so far he’s been playing tremendously well though. Once again, New York is able to move the ball and Bradshaw gains 29 yards to get them deep into the Cowboys half once again. The two-minute warning comes up and the Giants are now inside the 25 yard line – another leap, this time from Hynoski, gets them to first and goal and Manning links up with Bradshaw for another score – TOUCHDOWN! Extra point is good, Giants 21, Cowboys 0.
Cowboys drive: After the field goal miss, the Cowboys get to start from their own 30 which is the best position they have had all night. Romo gets things moving and within two plays has Dallas inside the New York half. On third and five, Romo scrambles around and evades three tackles fantastically well – then throws the ball after he had passed the line of scrimmage undoing all of his good work and forcing the Cowboys to punt once again. Nothing is going Dallas’ way and when they down the ball a penalty flag is thrown as the player who caught it had previously gone out-of-bounds – meaning the Giants will start from their own 20, rather than their own 5 yard line.
Giants drive: Rushes from Jacobs and Ware move the Giants to the Dallas 27 yard line – from there Manning finds Hakeem Nicks at the 14 yard line for another first down. Jacobs rushes but fumbles the ball, it pinballs around and Manning continues his impressive day so far by jumping on the ball to keep the Giants in possession. The loss off yardage on that play prevents them from getting another touchdown and they are forced to kick a field goal – Tynes slices it wide to the right and the score remains: Giants 14, Cowboys 0.
Cowboys drive: The kick is returned by Dallas just to their own 15 yard line so they will have to start from there – they really need to get something going or their season will be over. It’s just not happening for them though and Romo gets sacked again on third down – they punt again and the Giants will start their drive inside Cowboys’ territory.
Giants drive continued: A run by Bradshaw goes for just a yard to bring up a third down – before the snap the Cowboys call a timeout. After that intermission, Dallas commit another neutral zone infraction penalty moving the Giants to the 10 yard line. Eli Manning finds Victor Cruz at around the 5 yard line to set up first and goal for the Giants. Following an incompletion, Bradshaw runs untouched into the Dallas End Zone for a TOUCHDOWN! Extra point is good. Giants 14, Cowboys 0
Giants drive: Eli Manning looks like he is getting into a rhythm – having moved the Giants to the half-way line, he makes an impressive completion on the sideline on third down to keep the chains moving. He then looks for Victor Cruz downfield again and the pass is dropped, but the officials call pass interference on the Cowboys and the Giants have a first down a the Cowboys’ 16 yard line. The final play of the quarter is an incompletion by Manning out of the End Zone. End of First Quarter – Giants 7, Cowboys 0
Cowboys Drive: The kickoff is returned to the Dallas 18 – they are unable to make any progress however, and on third down Romo is sacked again. The punt is mishandled by the Giants return man who spills it straight back to the Cowboys…who give it straight back to New York – comedy of errors but the Giants will start again from around their own 32.
Giants Drive: A stuffed run and a misplaced pass leaves the Giants at 3rd and 10, but an athletic play from Bear Pascoe – leapfrogging a defender – gets them a new set of downs and away from their own End Zone. On third and 1, Manning finds Victor Cruz towards the sideline and the Giants wide receiver wins the footrace all the way for a 74 yard TOUCHDOWN! The extra point is good – first blood New York. Giants 7, Cowboys 0
Cowboys Drive: A 10 yard run by Felix Jones moves the Cowboys to their own 42 – he then attempts to repeat the trick but is tackled at the line of scrimmage. On second down, Pierre-Paul breaks through the block to sack Romo making it 3rd and 21. The Cowboys try to run but only get 11 yards out of it and again are quickly punting back to the Giants – it is a gem though and New York will have to begin from their own four yard line.
Giants drive: After an 8 yard completion to Victor Cruz on first down, Manning hands the ball off to Bradshaw for no gain, then collects the first down with a pass to Pascoe who is just past the first down marker. After a run by Jacobs, Manning gets scared when he is being chased down on 2nd and 5 so fires a pass low and uncatchable, a trick he repeats on third down but is saved by a neutral zone infraction penalty by the Cowboys defense which makes it third and one. Running back Brandon Jacobs gets stuffed though and the Giants have to punt the ball back to Dallas, who just about collect on their own 32.
The Giants kickoff – it’s returned back to the 25 yard line by Harris for the Cowboys and Tony Romo has his firs opportunity to show that the bruising on his hand is not going to impair him tonight. He just overthrows Dez Bryant on a deep pass down the sidelines on third down and so Dallas goes three and out. The punt is returned back by the Giants to their own 31 yard line, but an illegal block in the backfield means they have to start from their own 15 instead.
Game time is in half an hour. Quick note – there is no auto-refresh on this page so you’ll need to keep pressing F5 for my updates. Comments can be made at the bottom of this post, or sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or sent via Twitter: @politicalftball
With just the Giants/Cowboys game remaining in the regular season – the playoff picture is almost complete set. This is how the lineup looks for next week:
1. Green Bay Packers 2. San Francisco 49ers (First round byes)
6. Detroit Lions @ 3. New Orleans Saints
5. Atlanta Falcons @ New York Giants or Dallas Cowboys
1. New England Patriots 2. Baltimore Ravens (First round byes)
6. Cincinnati Bengals @ 3. Houston Texans
5. Pittsburgh Steelers @ 4. Denver Broncos
As Oakland and Denver lost today, the AFC West was won by the Broncos with an 8-8 record, clinching the division on a 3 way tie with the Raiders and the Chargers, who narrowly missed out on a playoff place despite a late season surge. Because the Steelers were only a Wild Card having finished below the Ravens on a tiebreaker as both ended up at 12-4, they will still have to go on the road to face a Denver team who won four fewer games than them.
This Sunday’s games are the final ones in the 2011 regular season and there is still a lot to play for. In the NFC, the big matchup is the Giants vs
the Cowboys in New York (well, New Jersey) – the winner will win the East and get the 4 seed for the playoffs which begin next weekend. The San Francisco 49ers will earn themselves the 2 seed and first week bye should they win in St. Louis, but if they falter then the Saints can grab that position by beating the Panthers in New Orleans. As Green Bay already has home-field advantage wrapped up for the conference, the only other playoff issue to be decided is who will be seeded 5 and 6 between the Lions and Falcons – a difference between going on the road to face New Orleans/San Francisco rather than Dallas/New York.
In the AFC, there are still two playoff berths up for grabs – the winners of the West and the second Wild card – but virtually all of the seedings are still to be decided.
1. New England Patriots – if they beat the Bills at home – should they lose, Baltimore or Pittsburgh can still grab home-field advantage.
2. Baltimore Ravens – if they win in Cincinnati – who are also playing for the Wild Card. Should the Ravens lose, a Steelers win would give Pittsburgh a first round bye.
3. Houston Texans – they have been faltering in recent weeks, but are locked in as the 3 seed and will have a home game for their first playoff appearance in franchise history next week.
4. Winners of the AFC West – Will be the Broncos if they beat the Chiefs at home, but Kansas City will be starting former Denver QB Kyle Orton who will have plenty to prove against the man who replaced him, Tim Tebow. If they lose, the Raiders can clinch the division with a win over the Chargers in Oakland.
5. Baltimore Ravens/Pittsburgh Steelers – whoever does not win the AFC North will face a trip to either Oakland or Denver in the first round of the playoffs, while the other team will have a week off.
6. If the Bengals beat the Ravens, they clinch the final Wild Card spot – should they lose, this could go to the Jets, Raiders (if they do not win the West), Jets or Titans.
I’ll be here from 8:20pm to cover the Giants and Cowboys game live – before that – this week’s predictions:
Last week, 5-11; Season 129-111
Home teams in bold
Patriots -12.5 over Bills
Vikings +0.5 over Bears
Lions -1.5 over Packers
Titans -2.5 over Texans
Colts +4.5 over Jaguars
49ers -10.5 over Rams
Jets +1.5 over Dolphins
Panthers +7.5 over Saints
Eagles -8.5 over Redskins
Falcons -13.5 over Buccaneers
Bengals +2.5 over Ravens
Steelers -7.5 over Browns
Chiefs +3.5 over Broncos
Chargers +2.5 over Raiders
Cardinals -3.5 over Seahawaks
Cowboys +3.5 over Giants