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The Playoff Hunt Heats Up

How our teams fared yesterday

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The Giants’ starting and back-up QBs last night.(The author)

The greatest NFL rivalry of the past ten years has been the New England Patriots versus the Indianapolis Colts—indeed it is the greatest situational (as opposed to divisional) rivalry since either or both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders battled for the opportunity to represent the American Football Conference in the Super Bowl for nine straight years in the 1970/80s (the still-strong Steelers, incidentally, crushed the perky Raiders this weekend). As for Colts-Pats? Tablet Magazine’s team, the Patriots, pulled this one out, 31-28.

The Pats have to feel good about the victory—but not that good. They were playing at home—where quarterback Tom Brady has now won a record-tying 25 consecutive regular season games (the last time he lost in Foxboro, Massachusetts, in the regular season, it was 2006)—against a team so injury-depleted that there have been jokes about there being something in the water in Indianapolis. Moreover, they won only when Colts QB Peyton Manning, driving up the field with a chance to go ahead as time ran out—much like last year’s legendary game, which the Colts did win on Manning’s three fourth-quarter touchdown throws—launched a somewhat inexplicable interception (especially inexplicable given that a field goal would have pushed the game to overtime, so the Colts should have been playing it at least somewhat safe). On the other hand, they beat Peyton Manning. Period. True, the Colts have been mortal this year—they are only 6-4, and actually not even in their division’s lead. But Manning can always beat you. And beating him makes it that much more likely that if these two teams, clearly among the top five in their conference and maybe in all the NFL as well, meet again in the playoffs, it will again be in Foxboro, Brady’s preferred place of employment.

“Manning can always beat you.” That requires a qualifier, doesn’t it? Peyton Manning can always beat you. Eli, quarterback of the New York Giants, is a bit more of a mystery. Last night, without the aid of his most valuable possession receiver, Steve Smith, he threw two touchdowns—and three interceptions (though the final one didn’t matter). Put in Sage! The Giants lost to their archrival Philadelphia Eagles only 27-17, which isn’t so bad, considering the game was in Philly, and considering the utter beat-down the Eagles put on the Redskins last week. But still. The fact is, the Giants came in and executed the perfect game plan against astounding quarterback Michael Vick’s offense—taking star receiver DeSean Jackson out of the picture (five catches, 50 yards, 0 TDs), flushing Vick out of the pocket toward his right, containing the edge so he couldn’t break free—and the guy still managed to put 27 points on the board (which really should have been 31, given that receiver Jason Avant dropped a pass in the end zone that anybody reading this post would have been able to catch). So while the Giants will have one more chance, at home, against Philly, the Eagles made it pretty clear last night which team is the best in the National Football Conference is—and even more clear which team isn’t.

The Washington Redskins came into Tennessee needing a win badly, both morale-wise—last week’s 59-28 thumping at the hands of Vick and the Eagles demanded it—and playoff-wise—a loss would have dropped them to 4-6 and, more or less, out of contention. Moreover, the Skins came to Tennessee with every reason to expect a loss: The Titans have been an offensive dynamo this year, and that has been without future-Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss, a new addition; and the Skins’ defensive MVP, LaRon Landry, as well as starting cornerback Carlos Rogers, did not play due to injuries.

A great deal many other Redskins, including running back Clinton Portis and center Casey Rabach, were injured in the course of the game, but for the third time this season, the Skins pushed the game to overtime, and for the second overtime they won, 19-16. Amazing statistic: The Redskins are 0-4 when they have scored 20 or more points, and 5-1 when they have scored fewer than 20. Simply put, they play down to bad teams (the St. Louis Rams, the Houston Texans, and the Detroit Lions—combined record 10-20—all beat the Skins this season), and they play up to good teams (the Green Bay Packers, the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Chicago Bears—combined record, 21-9—all got beat by the Skins this season). It is becoming increasingly clear that the two most important games that both the Redskins and the New York Giants have left to play are their two match-ups, on December 5 and January 2. Circle the dates.

Our record: 19-11.

Earlier: Week 10: Melting Steel
Week 9: Enter Sage, and the Giants
Week 8: Bye Week
Week Seven: Three for the Road
Week Six: Just Win, Baby
Week Five: True to Form
Week Four: Winning Ugly
Week Three: A Whole Lot of Crap
Week Two: Three Up, Three Down
Week One: Check The Scoreboard!

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The Playoff Hunt Heats Up

How our teams fared yesterday

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