Monday December 24th, 2007

Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we ponder what Bill Parcells thinks of his one-win Dolphins about now ...

• There were no 52 passes this time. And because of it, the New York Giants own a 10th win and are going to the playoffs for a third consecutive year.

The Giants finally woke up and figured out they don't need Eli Manning to fill the skies with footballs in order to win. On a blustery Buffalo day made for running the football, New York stopped outsmarting itself by half and took the game out of the turnover-plagued Manning's hands.

The result? Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride called a game that made sense, letting New York ride the broad shoulders of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw to get the win it had to have. With Jacobs rushing for a career-best 145 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and Bradshaw adding 151 yards in relief of the injured Jacobs, the Giants scored 38 of the game's final 45 points in their 38-21 win over the Bills.

After last week's 18 of 52 passing performance by Manning in that sloppy 22-10 home loss to Washington, it was only logical to stick to the ground at Buffalo. If your quarterback keeps getting you beat, don't let your quarterback beat you.

Manning still had his problems in the elements against the Bills, throwing two more interceptions and losing two of his alarming five fumbles. But with New York rushing for 291 of their 385 yards, not even Manning could doom a Giants team that can now afford to rest key players such as Jacobs (sprained left ankle) and receiver Plaxico Burress next Saturday night against undefeated New England. With wild-card-winning New York playing on the road in the first round of the playoffs (probably at No. 4-seeded Tampa Bay), that's a huge plus for the Giants' chances in the postseason.

Not that the road really intimidates New York. The win at Buffalo was the Giants' seventh in a row away from home, a franchise single-season record. New York hasn't lost on the road since falling 38-28 in Week 1 at Dallas.

And for all their troubles at times this season, with all the suffocating speculation about coach Tom Coughlin's tenuous job security, the Giants also deserve some credit for becoming just the second NFC team to make their way back to the playoffs for a third straight year. Seattle's the only other team that can say that.

• Remember when Brett Favre couldn't win in domes? The Metrodome in Minnesota and Detroit's Silverdome bedeviled him for years. Favre doesn't struggle at those two NFC North locales anymore, but now he can't beat the Bears -- no matter where the game is held. Chicago has swept Green Bay twice in the past three seasons and is now 6-2 against the Packers and Favre in head coach Lovie Smith's four-year tenure.

For a guy who walked in the door saying nothing would be a higher priority than beating Green Bay, the Bears' longtime division rival, that's delivering on a promise.

As for Favre, there's got to be a little concern when you realize he's had his two worst games of the season in the past four weeks -- at Dallas in the Packers' Week 13 loss, and against the Bears, in a game in which he was 2 of 7 for 9 yards passing at the half.

Derek Anderson picked the worst possible time to rip off his first four-interception game of the season. The Browns quarterback has had a wonderful year, virtually coming out of nowhere to lead Cleveland to nine wins and the cusp of the playoffs. But if the Browns (9-6) somehow lose out to Tennessee next week in the race for the AFC's final postseason berth, Anderson's egg-laying in Cincinnati is going to haunt Cleveland all offseason. And it just might help sway the decision the Browns face at quarterback, where Brady Quinn awaits his fate.

• Do you realize the NFC East could still send three teams to the playoffs -- Dallas, the Giants and Washington -- and yet no one in the division is playing better right now than the last-place Eagles? Philly has won at Dallas and at New Orleans the past two weeks, and embattled Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb just had two of his best games of the season.

With a win next week at home against the Bills, Philadelphia can finish the season on a three-game winning streak, salvaging an 8-8 finish and maybe solidifying Andy Reid's case to return for a 10th season.

• We know this much: Terrell Owens is a quick healer. That's what his showing in the Super Bowl three years ago taught us, when he played well after breaking his fibula in mid-December. A high ankle sprain is a pesky injury, and T.O. probably won't be full speed when the Cowboys open their playoff drive in three weeks for the divisional round.

Terry Glenn wouldn't generate the double coverage that Owens has prompted all season, but if Dallas can get the veteran receiver back up and running for next week's regular-season finale at Washington, the drop-off without T.O. wouldn't be quite so steep.

• Has anyone in the history of NFL punting ever had a worse day than Green Bay punter Jon Ryan did in windy Chicago? In the first half, Ryan fumbled away the first punt snap he saw, coughing it up at Packers' 32. He had his next punt blocked at his own 7. Later in the half, he shanked one for all of nine yards to the Bears' 45. Then, in the coup de grace, Ryan had a second punt blocked in the third quarter, with Chicago's Corey Graham returning the loose ball seven yards for a Bears touchdown. It had been 12 years since Green Bay had a punt blocked, let alone two in one game.

All that special teams damage by Chicago, and to think Devin Hester wasn't responsible for any of it.

• Does anybody out there still not think Fred Taylor is Pro Bowl-worthy this season? Taylor had another long scoring run on Sunday against the Raiders (62 yards on the first play from scrimmage) and finished with 111 yards on just seven attempts. He has 100 yards or more of rushing in five consecutive games, his longest streak since 2000.

And is there anyone playing better on offense than the Jaguars as they approach the playoffs, New England included? In their past nine games, the Jaguars have scored 49, 29, 37, 25, 36, 24, 28, 24 and 24 points. Jacksonville is 7-2 in that span. The Jags have topped 400 yards of offense a team-record five games in a row.

• It's just like the Lions (7-8) to wake up now that it doesn't really matter anymore. Though I suppose avoiding a double-digit-loss season for the first time in the seven-year Matt Millen era probably added a little juice to Detroit's win over stumbling Kansas City (4-11).

• I'm shocked that Brian Urlacher had never returned an interception for a touchdown in his eight-year NFL career before taking that Favre pick 85 yards to the house. It certainly seems like I've seen Urlacher make every kind of big play you can make on a football field.

• Our first extended look at Oakland rookie quarterback JaMarcus Russell didn't exactly make anyone want to see more anytime soon. Russell played plenty in the Raiders' 49-11 blowout loss at Jacksonville; but the numbers said it was about as ugly as it could be: 7 of 23 for 83 yards, three interceptions, four sacks and a lost fumble.

The next step would seem obvious: At 4-11, what's keeping Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin from giving Russell his first career start in next week's regular season finale at home against AFC West champion San Diego?

• Speaking of the Raiders, they can't end their disappointing 2007 season fast enough. In its last four games of the season, Oakland will play at Green Bay, Indianapolis, at Jacksonville and San Diego. All four teams are playoff-bound, with combined records of 45-14 at the moment.

• In the end, the Saints were doomed by their defense. Until they fix that side of the ball in New Orleans, it's next to impossible to see the Saints as anything more than a lopsided team capable of scoring plenty -- but giving up even more.

• We've all been way too Patriots-centric this season, but it would be a mistake to somehow overlook the 13-2 defending Super Bowl champion Colts. I still say they're the only team capable of going into Foxboro and coming out alive in January.

• I'm starting to think Cleveland receiver Braylon Edwards can make any play he puts his mind to. Edwards' two touchdown catches at Cincinnati gives him 15 this season, and he also surpassed 1,200 receiving yards.

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