By Don Banks
November 18, 2012

FOXBORO, Mass. -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight from a wild, overtime-drenched Week 11 in the NFL...

• When exactly did the NFC East stop making sense? The once-proud division is a jumble of mediocrity again this year, the same way it was last season when the Giants somehow fought their way out of it as a 9-7 champion, nipping the Eagles and Cowboys by a mere game, and then steam-rolling everyone in their path en route to a second Super Bowl title in five years.

Entering Week 11, the bye-taking Giants already owned the worst first-place record in the NFL at 6-4, but now they have Dallas (5-5) and Washington (4-6) still entertaining playoff dreams thanks to vital wins on Sunday. If the Cowboys can beat Washington at home on Thanksgiving Day, and the Giants lose next Sunday night at home against red-hot Green Bay (7-3), the NFC East remarkably enough will be a 6-5 tie between New York and Dallas with five games remaining. It'll be Groundhog Day again in the division.

They don't play the best football these days in the NFC East, but you have to admit, you can't take your eyes off it. Between the top three teams still being in postseason contention, and the last-place Eagles (3-7) hitting rock bottom every week, the East has a certain mesmerizing quality to it. You watch to see how low the division can go, and what might happen next.

The thrill-a-minute Cowboys finally won two in a row for the first time all season, but they needed overtime to put down the pesky Cleveland Browns 23-20, getting a game-winning 38-yard field goal from Dan Bailey, after Bailey forced the extra period with a 32-yard conversion. In Washington, the Redskins stayed alive (no matter what Mike Shanahan thinks), routing the dispirited and disintegrating Eagles 31-6, giving Philadelphia its first six-game losing streak since 1994.

Dallas is the only team in the division that has any semblance of momentum entering the stretch drive of the season. The Cowboys still play four of the final six games at home, have already split with the Giants this year, and if they take care of business against the visiting Redskins and Eagles the next two weeks, they'll enter the season's final four weeks with a four-game winning streak and a good shot of dethroning New York. Remember, the Giants still have home games remaining against Green Bay and New Orleans, as well as challenging road trips to Washington, Atlanta and Baltimore.

Once upon a time (about three weeks ago), I didn't think it was possible for the Giants to not win the East, such was the sorry state of their competition. But I should have known better. For one, New York is doing the second-half slide thing again. And secondly, the division seems destined to stay clumped again, even if it did take everything Dallas had Sunday to beat the lowly Browns, who own the league's longest active road losing streak at 12 games and have an NFL-worst 2-14 record since Week 12 of 2011. Cleveland hasn't won away from home since at Indianapolis in Week 2 of last year.

And don't sleep on the Redskins either, who are still in this division race despite winning Sunday for just the second time in their past six games. Washington has plenty of control of its own situation, with games against the two teams they trail the next two weeks (at Dallas, then a visit from New York in Week 13), with another pair of division games to close out its season (at Philly in Week 16, Dallas in Week 17). Give the Redskins a win Thursday in Dallas, and Washington's look-to-next-year approach is going to be shot chock full of holes before December dawns.

Maybe we shouldn't try too hard to figure out the NFC East, because it lacks for rhyme or reason once again this year. It's competitive though, and plenty entertaining, and maybe that will just have to suffice.

• If Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie called a press conference and ended the Andy Reid coaching era in Philadelphia on Monday, it would register as a mercy firing at this point. Sunday's ugly loss to the Redskins was just another brick in the wall sealing Reid's fate, and the sooner this debacle of a final season ends for the league's longest-tenured coach, the better.

Philadelphia has now lost four games in a row by 13 points or more for the first time since 1976, a painful low-water mark for one of the NFL's most distinguished franchises since 2000. Reid is clearly out of answers, and nothing is going right for his team. There was no spark of any sort against Washington from playing rookie quarterback Nick Foles, and you can't blame this loss on Michael Vick's turnovers, Juan Castillo's defense, or any other handy excuse.

On top of everything now, the Eagles' best player, LeSean McCoy, suffered a concussion with under two minutes left and the Eagles down 25. Reid defended the decision to keep McCoy on the field, saying, "We were trying to catch up and win the game," but at that point in the contest the risk outweighed the reward.

This is a team in full-blown meltdown, and its performances are getting progressively more embarrassing as the season unfolds, with a Reid-era worst six losses in a row looking like a good bet to become a 12-game collapse by year's end. The last time the Eagles were this outclassed came at the end of the Rich Kotite coaching era, when his 1994 team dropped its final seven games, paving the way for Ray Rhodes' hiring in 1995. Rhodes lasted four seasons in Philly, before he was replaced by Reid in early 1999.


Robert Griffin III could play another 15 years in the NFL and never have a crisper game than the one he turned in against Philadelphia. Griffin had just one pass hit the ground, going 14 of 15 for 200 yards, with four touchdowns -- nicely spacing them one in each quarter.

I think it's safe to say Griffin came out of Washington's bye week refreshed and ready to go. No sign of hitting the dreaded rookie wall just yet.

• Well it certainly looked like Upset Sunday for a while there in Week 11. But then it all fell apart. Arizona couldn't close the door on Atlanta, Dallas rallied to nip Cleveland, Houston fought back to win in overtime against Jacksonville, Green Bay hung on to edge Detroit and Tampa Bay put together a memorable comeback with 17 unanswered points at Carolina to win in overtime.

The Jaguars could have registered the upset of the year in the NFL if they had beaten Houston -- it was 1-8 versus 8-1, after all -- but credit the Texans for overcoming a two-touchdown fourth-quarter deficit to post a historic 43-37 victory at Reliant Stadium.

• And what a shootout in Texas it was. Houston quarterback Matt Schaub throws for 527 yards and five touchdowns, tying Warren Moon for the second-most passing yardage ever in a game. Texans all-world receiver Andre Johnson quiets his doubters with a monster 14-catch, 273-yard game, including the game-winning 48-yard touchdown in overtime.

And let's not overlook the losing Jaguars. You think maybe some folks in Jacksonville today are wondering if they've been playing the wrong quarterback all season long? When Blaine Gabbert left the game in the first quarter with an elbow injury, veteran Chad Henne entered and went nuts, throwing for 354 yards and four touchdowns, without an interception. Rookie Jacksonville receiver Justin Blackmon came up with seven catches for a whopping 236 yards, (33.7 average), making it just the second game in league history with a pair of 200-yard receivers.

If I'm Jaguars head coach Mike Mularkey, fighting to keep my job, I know Henne would be my starter next week. I get the need to develop Gabbert, but the gap between he and Henne is way too sizable to penalize the rest of the team in the name of the future. No wonder a member of the Jaguars organization predicted to me during the offseason that Henne would beat Gabbert out for the starting job by Week 3 of the preseason. Maybe he was never given a real opportunity to do so.


• As good as Houston's defense looked last week in that 13-6 win at Chicago, that's how bad the Texans were against Jacksonville, a team that has scared no one offensively all season long. Houston is an AFC-best 9-1, but Gary Kubiak's team still has plenty to prove, and I'm sure Sunday's outcome cast the race for the AFC's No. 1 seed in a whole new light for the other contenders.

• Pretty eventful week on the league's quarterbacking front. Henne subs spectacularly for Gabbert in Houston; John Skelton is benched in favor of rookie Ryan Lindley by Arizona, despite leading 13-3 in an upset bid at Atlanta; Kansas City switches back to Brady Quinn at halftime of a blowout loss at home to Cincinnati, giving Matt Cassel the thumb yet again. And another rookie, Foles, does nothing to make anyone think he's the savior in Philadelphia, completing just 21 of 46 passes for 204 yards and two first-half interceptions.

I guess we can throw Mark Sanchez in that grouping, too. He was solidly efficient in the Jets' much-needed 27-13 win at St. Louis, completing 15 of 20 for 178 yards and a touchdown, and more importantly having zero turnovers.

You Know Who will have to wait at least another week to rescue the Jets' season, because Sanchez did his part to keep it barely afloat against the Rams.

• The sloppy Falcons managed to rally past Arizona 23-19 to improve to 9-1, but you have to think Matt Ryan's MVP chances took a major blow with the career-high five interceptions he threw (Atlanta had six turnovers overall for the first time since Dec. 1999). Ryan had three picks in the first quarter alone.

Ryan didn't have a touchdown pass against the Cardinals, and he now has 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions on the season. Those are good numbers, but they're not MVP caliber in today's pass-happy NFL.


• Atlanta head coach Mike Smith lost what could have been a pivotal replay review of a second-half fumble by Falcons running back Jason Snelling, because Smith threw a red challenge flag when a review in that situation is supposed to be initiated by the replay assistant. Atlanta was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for Smith's premature challenge, and the replay review was then not conducted.

My question is: What's the real crime here? A minor delay of game while the officials explain to a coach that all turnovers are now reviewed automatically? What am I missing here? I don't get the severity of this rule. At all.

• So much for Brian Schottenheimer's revenge. I guess the ex-Jets offensive coordinator was smart to lay low and not make it revenge week in St. Louis. His Rams opened the game with an impressive 81-yard touchdown march, but then went largely silent the rest of the day in the 27-13 loss to New York.

The Rams were 3-2 at one point this season, but they're 0-4-1 in their past five games and play some maddeningly inconsistent ball. St. Louis (3-6-1) can push San Francisco to the max on the road last week, then turn around and lose to the mostly punchless Jets at home. Go figure.

And when are we going to finally see quarterback Sam Bradford take a big step for the Rams in his third NFL season? Bradford was pretty horrible after that first St. Louis scoring drive, going just 5 of 13 for 29 yards, with one interception and one lost fumble in a particularly bad stretch.


• The Jets avoided the all-out crisis that would have come with a fourth consecutive loss, and sixth in seven games, but linebacker Bart Scott didn't exactly take New York's victory at St. Louis in stride. According to the New York Post, the mercurial Scott tried to lead a media mutiny by the Jets defense in the winning locker room, ordering defenders to give only quotes saying "both teams played hard.''

Scott is obviously still angered by the New York Daily News story last week where an unnamed Jets player was quoted calling backup quarterback Tim Tebow "terrible.'' But Scott only makes himself look like a jerk with moves like Sunday's, and even his teammates didn't all follow his lead. Safety Yeremiah Bell told Scott to "stop it, just stop it,'' when Scott went off on Bryan Thomas for speaking to reporters beyond his approved talking points.

If it looks like a circus, and sounds like a circus, it just might be a circus. And even a win can't disguise that.

• Another gritty win by Green Bay, but the 24-20 nail-biter at Detroit only underlined the Packers' need to get kicker Mason Crosby on track. Crosby hit just 1 of 3 attempts in the game, that being a 39-yard effort with 19 seconds remaining, helping put the Lions away for good.

But Crosby is in the throes of his worst season in the NFL, and is now only 11 of 18 on the year, converting just six of his most recent 13 attempts. That has to make Green Bay (7-3) nervous as another playoff run looms in the not too distant future.


• I might have been a bit hasty to bury the Bengals during their recent four-game losing streak. Cincinnati has won two in a row to get back to .500 at 5-5, and at the very least Marvin Lewis' team is squarely in the AFC wild-card hunt. With games against Oakland, at San Diego and Dallas just ahead, the best news is the Bengals have some remaining ceiling room to work with.

The Bengals' MVP is easy to identify. A.J. Green logged a touchdown catch in his ninth straight game, tying San Diego's Lance Alworth for the third-longest such streak in a single season in NFL history. Jerry Rice (12 games) and Elroy Hirsch (10 games) are still to be caught by Green, whose 4-yard first-quarter touchdown was a feat of athletic beauty.


• Nobody wants to play the Saints about now, with New Orleans winning its fifth game in six tries and scratching its way to .500 after that dreadful 0-4 start. The Saints are so much more balanced on offense now that their running game is humming. The three-headed monster of Chris Ivory, Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram rolled to 134 yards rushing on 25 carries in a 38-17 rout at Oakland, and Drew Brees threw three more touchdowns on 20-of-27 passing.

For the Saints, it's that Week 3 overtime loss at home to Kansas City that remains the real killer. But at least New Orleans has life in the NFC wild-card chase. The schedule is about to turn difficult, however: San Francisco, at Atlanta, at the Giants, Tampa Bay, and at Dallas are the next five opponents. If the Saints are to continue their comeback to relevancy, they're going to richly earn it.


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