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ARLINGTON, Texas -- When Tony Romo left AT&T Stadium on Sept. 7, the Dallas Cowboys quarterback felt doubt for the first time in his career.

He threw three interceptions in a 28-17 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Maybe this was it for him. Maybe two back surgeries in less than a year were too much. How many 34-year-old quarterbacks get better after a diskectomy?

“I felt maybe I wasn’t as good as I once was,” Romo said in a moment of reflection after the Cowboys beat the Indianapolis Colts on 42-7 Sunday to clinch a playoff spot for the first time since 2009. “That was tough. I didn’t physically feel right.”

After that game, he promised that he would be better. Things would be different. It didn’t really start to happen for him until he changed his practice schedule, sitting out Wednesdays from the second game of the season on.

The confluence of feeling as good as he has all season -- the back still nags him, as he also fractured two transverse processes and has had torn rib cartilage during the season -- came together with an historic game Sunday.

Romo completed 90 percent of his passes (18 of 20), a franchise record. He threw four touchdown passes and was not intercepted. He threw for just 218 yards, but it was enough to surpass Hall of Famer Troy Aikman for the most passing yards in franchise history.

He has 32,971 yards in his career and holds Cowboys records for passing yards and touchdowns.

“Statistics are just something that are part of the game, but we are all about winning and losing,” said Romo, who completed 16 straight passes at one point. “At the same time it is always an honor any time you are just mentioned with Aikman or [Roger] Staubach or [Danny] White. It is just a fraternity of QBs that is special to be a part of.”

As he spoke, Romo wore a T-shirt that read "Cowboys run the East," a nod to their NFC East title. In the previous three seasons, the Cowboys had T-shirts and hats ready for them if they had won Week 17 matchups against the New York Giants, Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles. But they lost each one.

Romo did not play in the game against the Eagles last December because of the diskectomy. After his first game back this season, he questioned whether he could play at the highest level after telling everybody in the offseason that his best years were ahead of him.

Now, maybe they are.

“It’s hard to play better than he played today,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Great decisions. Great poise. Again and again and he delivered for us.”

Romo’s four touchdown passes went to four different receivers. It was fitting that he broke Aikman’s record with a 25-yard TD throw to Witten down the seam that increased the Cowboys’ lead to 35-0 with 4:41 left in the third quarter.

They were on the same bus to the team’s hotel for their first rookie minicamp in 2003. They became best of friends off the field and nearly unstoppable on the field since Romo became the starter in 2006.

“We’ve been through hell and back together,” Witten said. “To come back the other side on this day and to get a little bit of success and experience that, it was special for sure.”

Nobody has defended Romo more than Witten. After every heartbreaking loss, Witten stood up for his quarterback and sometimes paid a price for it. When he realized that throw broke Aikman’s record, he made sure Romo got the ball.

After the game, Romo wasn’t quite sure where the ball was.

“We’ve got game balls stored away [at home],” Romo said, “and I’m sure we’ll put them together some day so the kids can see their dad did something at one time.”

Always knocked for his late-season performance, Romo is 3-0 this December. He has 10 touchdown passes and no interceptions. In his past 16 regular-season games in December and January, he has 39 touchdown passes and eight interceptions.

But because of the uniform he wears and the quarterbacks he follows in Cowboys history -- Staubach and Aikman are Hall of Fame quarterbacks – Romo needs more than just individual records to achieve a similar legacy.

“I’m going to say it one more time: Somehow, someway,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said, “he needs to have a Super Bowl by his name. He’s that good.”
ST. LOUIS -- There are eye-popping numbers all over the box score from the New York Giants' 37-27 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. Rookie Andre Williams ran for 110 yards. Eli Manning passed for 391 yards and three touchdowns. Odell Beckham Jr., of course, had his usual eight catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns. Orleans Darkwa had a touchdown run. This was a serious group effort right here.

[+] EnlargeRueben Randle
Jeff Curry/USA TODAY SportsGiants receiver Rueben Randle had a breakout game against the Rams, notching his second 100-yard game this season.
But of all the offensive contributors, few were as flat-out relieved to have a big game as wide receiver Rueben Randle, who caught six passes for 132 yards and a touchdown.

"Yeah, I guess you could say that," Randle said. "I'm just out there trying to make the most of my opportunities. But the coaching staff was expecting a big game from me, and I was able to deliver, so I'm happy about that."

It's been a rough season for Randle, a player the Giants hoped would take a big step forward in his third season. Sunday was only his second 100-yard game this season, and his touchdown catch was his first since Week 5. Moreover, he'd been benched for parts of two of the previous three games by coach Tom Coughlin for disciplinary reasons relating to being late for meetings.

Neither Randle nor Coughlin have discussed the most recent benching in detail, but Coughlin made it clear last week he believed the issues with Randle could and would be resolved, and Randle was on the field for the very first play Sunday. He also was on the field for the fourth play, which was a 49-yard second-down completion that moved the ball from the Giants' 33-yard line to the Rams' 18 and helped set up the Giants' first field goal.

"I usually don't get the ball on that one," Randle said. "I'm the decoy on that play. But I guess everything else was covered, so I was happy I was able to make the play."

It was the kind of play the Giants hope to see more from Randle, as he used his size to go up and out-fight the defender for the ball.

"I was real happy to see him get back in the end zone," said Beckham, who's been stealing Randle's thunder and basically all of the touchdowns lately with his own brilliant run.

As for all of the other stuff, Randle insists he's focused on finishing strong with another big game next week and "just trying to move forward from here on out."

Coughlin had no comment on Randle, because he cut his news conference short and stormed out after he didn't like the first few questions.
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ST. LOUIS -- He faked a corner route, which took care of the cornerback in front of him, then he zipped past the safety on what was suddenly a post route, and Eli Manning's pass found him in stride. Seconds later, New York Giants rookie Odell Beckham Jr. was back in the end zone on the tail end of an electrifying 80-yard touchdown catch. And this time, instead of spinning the ball on the ground or doing some bizarre dance, Beckham just handed the ball to the official standing nearby.

"Just celebrate with your team, that's what we're supposed to do," Beckham said. "It feels good when all those big guys are running down 80 yards to celebrate with you. I didn't want to hear anything else."

[+] EnlargeOdell Beckham Jr.
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesOdell Beckham Jr. was flagged for taunting for spinning the ball after the first of his two touchdown catches on the day.
It had indeed been a cacophonous day in the life of young Mr. Beckham. With eight catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns -- eye-popping numbers that have become routine for him over the past few weeks -- he broke Jeremy Shockey's Giants rookie record for receptions, went more than 1,000 yards receiving for the season (in just his 11th game) and jumped into the top 10 in the league with 11 touchdown catches.

But he also got flagged for a taunting penalty for spinning the ball after his first touchdown. And while he obviously didn't start it, he did admit to and apologize for his own loss of temper that helped escalate the second-quarter brawl that got three players thrown out of the game for fighting.

"He has a little something, a little flair to him, which obviously we like, the fans like and people like, but opposing teams will try to get into his head," Manning said. "He's a young guy. They're going to try to not let him high-step and do his things on the sidelines, and today it looked like they weren't going to let him get away with that and showboat. So he's just got to know, around the sidelines when people can take shots, they're going to."

Beckham's talent is undeniable and formidable. There is no one in the NFL playing the wide receiver position better than he's playing it right now, and Sunday was only his 11th NFL game. He's having dinner with LeBron James and exchanging texts with Michael Jordan. He is a shooting star. But as Manning points out and Beckham readily admits, he's also still a rookie with a lot to learn about life in the NFL. Sunday's lesson was about the manner in which his "flair" has a chance to make him a target for opposing teams.

"Since the first play, it felt as if there were a bunch of hawks all eyeing you," Beckham said. "And we knew it was going to be like that. I was just trying to find a way to keep my composure. It was sometimes difficult today, but I tried my best to keep my head in the game and stay the course."

He said he didn't think spinning the ball after his touchdown should have resulted in a taunting penalty, because it wasn't directed at anyone. But Giants coach Tom Coughlin felt otherwise and let Beckham know about it.

"He finally got flagged for a celebration," Coughlin said. "So I hope that lesson is learned. He will tone it down. He will. He did."

"I didn't quite understand the penalty, but Coach Coughlin addressed it with me and said, 'You know we can't get those,' and I completely understand," Beckham said. "That's just being young and trying to learn the rules of what you can and can't do."

But in terms of post-touchdown celebrations in general, Beckham doesn't expect to stop completely. And he doesn't believe it gives his opponents extra motivation to mess with him.

"I don't think it fuels them; I think it fuels me," Beckham said. "Of course I don't want the penalty, but we're out there having fun. If you get into the end zone, you deserve to celebrate. It's what we work for."

That is completely true. Contrary to the way Beckham makes it look on a weekly basis, it's hard to score touchdowns in the NFL, and celebrating them is perfectly all right. I'm not here to tell Beckham he has to stop dancing or even spinning the ball after touchdowns if that's the way he chooses to express himself.

But the lesson of Sunday is that this stuff doesn't happen in a vacuum, and Beckham has to be conscious of the way his antics are viewed by officials and opponents. Moving forward, he must find a way to walk a line -- to find ways to have fun and be his ebullient self without causing a problem for his team or putting himself in unnecessary danger. It's entirely possible to be a great, thrilling NFL player and still not give opponents a reason to treat you as rudely as the Rams tried to treat Beckham on Sunday. If Beckham can cultivate that skill as effectively as he has polished his speed, hands and route-running, there will be very little that can stop him.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Dallas Cowboys' 42-7 win against the Indianapolis Colts at AT&T Stadium on Sunday.

Mincey
Built for a run: For the first time since 2009, the Cowboys are in the playoffs. They have the T-shirts and hats to prove it. But they also have a team that can do some damage in the playoffs with its style of play.

The Cowboys have a running game that controls the clock and wears down defenses. They have a passing game that is equal parts efficient and dangerous.

"I would be scared of the Cowboys," defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. "I mean the film speaks, man."

Murray
Fighting on: DeMarco Murray was held to a season low 58 yards on 22 carries, but his numbers didn't tell his story Sunday. Six days after undergoing surgery to repair a broken left hand, Murray played and inspired his teammates.

"It was incredible," quarterback Tony Romo said. "Make no mistake, that's an uncomfortable thing he had to go through tonight. [I'm] just proud of him. He's exactly what you want from a running back. Emotionally, he has the right temperament. Physically and mentally, he's there every day. He's the ultimate team guy that we have, and I just love the kid. He's a great kid. He works as hard as anybody I've been around. He deserves the success coming his way."

Rest or not? The Cowboys will have a decision to make as to whether they want to sit their starters if the season finale against the Washington Redskins will not alter their playoff standing. Romo came out early in the fourth quarter. Murray had eight carries in the second half. The backups on defense played a lot of the fourth quarter.

Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones wants to build on the momentum.

"I'm not a sitter, especially under these circumstances," Jones said. "I'm going to act like an amateur and play it all. I want to win every first down."
ST. LOUIS -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the New York Giants' 37-27 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday:
  • McClain
    Linebacker Jameel McClain walked from the field to the locker room hollering, "Dirty-ass team! That dirty [stuff] doesn't help you win! They suck as an organization!" This was in obvious reference to the Rams, as the Giants felt they'd been targeting Odell Beckham Jr. with cheap shots all game and trying to get under his and the Giants' skin. "I'm just not interested," McClain said later. "I had a lot of respect for the things their defense did. I'm just not interested in chippiness and dirty play. It's not what this game is about, and it has no room in the league." Jason Pierre-Paul and Antrel Rolle were among the other Giants to use the word "dirty" to describe the Rams.
  • lastname
    Coughlin
    "Doesn't anyone want to talk about the game?" a frustrated Giants coach Tom Coughlin asked after several questions about Beckham and the first-half brawl. Seconds later, he ended his postgame news conference early with a sarcastic "Happy Holidays" and stormed out before his "game" questions could be asked -- or before someone could explain to him that when you're 6-9 and were eliminated on Thanksgiving, it's not unreasonable for people to ask about the brawl that saw two of your players get kicked out of the game or the continued maturation and development of your superstar rookie before they ask about the game. Not Coughlin's finest moment.
  • For his part, Beckham said Coughlin spoke to him about his ball-spinning end zone celebration that drew the flag, and Beckham apologized on behalf of himself and the team for his role in sparking the brawl. But he said he wouldn't apologize for playing with passion or for his teammates' standing up to protect him and one another. Damontre Moore, who along with Preston Parker was ejected for his role in the brawl, said he felt bad he let his team down by getting ejected, but he wouldn't do anything differently if the same circumstances presented themselves.
PHILADELPHIA -- For the second year in a row, a team rose to the occasion at AT&T Stadium and claimed the NFC East title.

Last year, it was the Philadelphia Eagles. This year, it was the Cowboys. By blowing out the playoff-bound Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, the Cowboys also eliminated the Eagles from playoff contention. Of course, the Eagles made that possible by failing to rise to the occasion Saturday at Washington.

“That’s how fast it happens,” Eagles running back LeSean McCoy said Saturday night after the 27-24 loss. “I mean, just a couple weeks ago I was planning on the playoffs and who we were going to be playing and those types of things.”

The Eagles lost their past three games to fall from 9-3 to 9-6. In doing so, they surrendered control of the NFC East -- earned with a Thanksgiving Day win in Dallas -- back to the Cowboys.

After that Thanksgiving game, Eagles coach Chip Kelly talked about what his team had accomplished at that point in the season.

“We’re just getting better,” Kelly said. “Our approach is good because we’re going to play meaningful football in December.”

The Eagles are 0-3 in those “meaningful” December games. They lost to Seattle, 24-14, at home. Then came the stunning 38-27 loss to Dallas, also at the Linc. On Saturday, a 3-11 Washington team managed to beat the Eagles, 27-24.

They finish the season Sunday against the Giants at the Meadowlands. With a win, the Eagles would finish 10-6. That would match their record last season. It would make them the fifth NFC team to miss the playoffs with a 10-6 record since the current alignment of divisions was adopted in 2002.

Missing the playoffs makes this season feel like a step backward for Kelly’s team, despite the record. That’s because of the way the Eagles got to this point.

Sitting at 9-3, they had a second consecutive NFC East title in their control. All they had to do was win three games against division opponents they had already beaten this season.

Instead, they lost the first of those two divisional games. That made the third meaningless, except for the chance to get to 10 wins and garner a little useless information.

Kelly will have to decide who to start at quarterback. If Nick Foles is cleared to play, is it worth risking re-injury of his collarbone to see if he looks better behind the relatively healthy offensive line? Kelly would also have to factor in the line’s surprisingly poor play Saturday against Washington.

The easy alternative is to start Mark Sanchez, who has started the past seven games. But the Eagles have lost four of those seven starts and Kelly has a pretty clear idea of what Sanchez offers. There may be more value in seeing Matt Barkley play quarterback for a full game, if only to determine whether the second-year pro is ready to handle to primary backup role next season.

The Eagles have questions at positions other than quarterback. They have seen all they need to see from cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams. There might be value in letting Nolan Carroll and rookie corner Jaylen Watkins get some playing time.

Marcus Smith? The first-round pick managed to remain on the sideline for the entire game Saturday. If he can’t play, either at inside or outside linebacker, then it will be fair to wonder just what the Eagles coaching staff has been up to for the past six months with Smith.

Kelly’s approach -- basically, to win every possible game and try to get to the postseason -- justifies sacrificing a certain amount of player development and team building. Now that the postseason is beyond reach, the Eagles might as well focus on getting better. The future is coming, whether they prepare for it or not.

Rapid Reaction: Dallas Cowboys

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21
7:16
PM ET
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ARLINGTON, Texas - A few thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 42-7 win against the Indianapolis Colts at AT&T Stadium:

What it means: There is not a soul who saw this coming. Not even those inside the Cowboys' locker room.

With their 35-point win, the Cowboys (11-4) not only clinched their first playoff berth and NFC East championship for the first time since 2009, but they also served notice to the conference that they just might be for real.

The Cowboys have a slim chance for a first-round bye. That will require the Arizona Cardinals to lose their final two games and the Seattle Seahawks to lose in Week 17 against the St. Louis Rams.

That the Cowboys are in the playoffs at all is a major accomplishment for a team that had low expectations entering the season and had lost de facto NFC East title games in each of the past three seasons.

Jason Garrett's mantra all year has been to fight. The Cowboys finished the fight Sunday.

A gritty effort: DeMarco Murray missed 11 games in his first three seasons with ankle, foot and knee injuries, which left many to question his durability. Just six days after undergoing surgery to stabilize a fractured fourth metacarpal in his left hand, Murray showed a toughness that should take away the durability question. He was held to a season-low 58 yards on 20 carries, but he was able to score a touchdown in his fourth straight game. He needs 29 yards to surpass Emmitt Smith's team record for yards in a season, but he won't get that chance if the Cowboys rest some of their regulars in Week 17.

Game ball: On a day a Hall of Famer's record was broken, it's hard to give this to anybody but Tony Romo. With a 25-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten in the third quarter, Romo surpassed Troy Aikman as the franchise's leader in passing yards. Aikman had 32,942 yards from 1989-2000. Romo now has 32,971 yards, and he has started 122 games in his career. He completed 18 of 20 passes for 218 yards with four touchdown passes and no interceptions. It was the fifth time in the past six games Romo has had at least three touchdown passes. His completion percentage (90 percent) is also a team record.

Stock watch: Facing the NFL's top quarterback in Andrew Luck, the Cowboys' defense offered up their best performance of the season. It was aided by how well the offense played, but it opened the game by not allowing a first down until the second quarter. They flustered Luck -- who was without his best receiver, T.Y. Hilton, because of a hamstring injury -- into two interceptions before he was sent to the sideline, and they forced three turnovers overall. The Cowboys lost their chance at their first shutout since Week 17 of the 2009 season with 5:24 to play after a borderline pass interference penalty on Brandon Carr.

What's next: The Cowboys conclude the regular season at FedEx Field to take on the Washington Redskins. In 2012, they finished the season there by losing a winner-take-all game on three Romo interceptions. They don't have to worry about a playoff spot now. The question is whether the Cowboys play their regulars a lot with little on the line.
PHILADELPHIA -- It is the tender spot unprotected by every coach's armor, having his team accused of being undisciplined. So it's no wonder Chip Kelly wasn't particularly receptive to a question about the 13 penalties his Philadelphia Eagles team drew during Saturday's 27-24 loss to Washington.

"They aren't lacking discipline," Kelly said, jaw muscles tensing. "We just aren't doing the right thing during the football game."

Jones
Kelly
A year ago, Kelly had the Eagles on a 7-1 march toward the NFC East title and a berth in the playoffs. This season, his team is in the midst of a hard crash. The Eagles were 9-3 and in control of their postseason destiny. Three losses later, they are 9-6 and gasping for air.

The Eagles should have come out and dispatched the 3-11 Washington team they were facing. Washington had lost six games in a row. There was internal sniping going on, especially surrounding head coach Jay Gruden and his quarterbacks. The Eagles had the superior record and had to be viewed as the better team.

All they had to do was step onto the field and be that better team. Simple, right?

"They were just the better team tonight," Eagles safety Nate Allen said. "We knew what was on the line and what we needed to do. They just beat us. You might as well not even have records in the NFL. On any night, anybody can beat anybody."

When a lesser team beats a better team, people look at the coach. When a team draws 13 penalties, people look at the coach. When a team succumbs to mistakes that it has been committing all season long -- turnovers, penalties, egregious defensive play -- people look at the coach.

The Eagles committed three roughing-the-passer penalties. Each helped keep Washington drives alive. Cornerback Cary Williams committed an unnecessary roughness penalty that gave Washington three more chances to score a touchdown in the red zone. Eagles offensive linemen were called for five holding penalties.

"You aren't going to win a football game that way," Kelly said. "We left [the defense] on the field too long on third downs when we got penalties to extend drives you feel like you had to stop. Thirteen penalties and two turnovers is not going to win football games in this league."

The Eagles had been penalized 97 times all season going into the game. That put them right in the middle among NFL teams. Drawing the most penalties in a must-win game in Week 16 is not the mark of a disciplined team, whatever the coach may say.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- While the Dallas Cowboys will have the services of running back DeMarco Murray today against the Indianapolis Colts, they will not have right tackle Doug Free.

Free
Free is inactive because of a bone spur affecting his left ankle. He also has a stress fracture, but the bone spur is more problematic. Jermey Parnell will start in Free’s place. He replaced Free earlier in the year for three games when he had a broken right foot. Rookie Zack Martin will start at right guard after he did not practice during the week. He had been listed as questionable.

Veteran Tony Hills will serve as the backup offensive tackle.

Also inactive for the Cowboys are: QB Dustin Vaughan, OT Donald Hawkins, DE Kenneth Boatright, LB Dekoda Watson, S Jakar Hamilton and DT Josh Brent.

Brent has missed the last two games with a calf injury but he was running sprints on the field before the game.

The Colts will be without leading receiver T.Y. Hilton, who has a hamstring injury. Also inactive for the Colts are CB Jalil Brown, CB Sheldon Price, G Hugh Thornton, OL Joe Reitz, OT Gosder Cherilus and DL Montori Hughes.

Welcome to AT&T Stadium

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21
2:30
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Welcome to AT&T Stadium where the Dallas Cowboys can win the NFC East and clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 2009 with a win against the Indianapolis Colts.

The Cowboys need a win not only to make the playoffs but also to avoid a second losing record at home since moving to Arlington in 2009. They finished 2-6 at home in 2010 on their way to a 6-10 finish.

The Cowboys are expected to have the NFL’s leading rusher in DeMarco Murray despite a broken left hand, but how effective will he be? The Cowboys have used the running game to get to this point in the season and can’t allow a hampered Murray to change their formula for success.

Do what they do: While Murray is expected to play today there will be questions about just how much he plays because of his surgically-repaired left hand.

Murray has 63 carries in the last two games. His backups, Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar have 60 carries combined on the season.

But the Cowboys have built their success this season on the running game. It has made Tony Romo better. It has made the defense a lot better. And it has to continue whether Murray gets his full workload or not.

The Cowboys don’t want to put more on Romo, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten or the rest of the passing game.

“I think everyone’s job is to go out and do their job regardless of circumstance,” Romo said. “That’s weather, home, away -- whether I was playing or not. I think that’s the approach everyone has to take. I suspect that DeMarco is going to get himself in position to try and play. We’ll see what happens but we just got to go out and do our jobs.”

Don’t get started: Colts quarterback Andrew Luck leads the NFL with 38 touchdown passes and 4,492 yards. He has more than capable targets in T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, Coby Fleener, Donte Moncrief and Hakeem Nicks, although Hilton is questionable with a hamstring injury.

While the Cowboys have to be ready for Luck to beat them with his arm, they also need to be prepared for his legs. Even at 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, Luck has an ability to escape trouble. He has 268 yards rushing on 63 carries.

His counterpart today, Romo, has 22 carries for 33 yards.

Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said the Cowboys demonstrated “a little bit of a professional pass rush last week,” against the Philadelphia Eagles with four sacks and that has to continue this week. But Luck’s ability to move can make that more difficult.

“He’s a good athlete,” Marinelli said. “This guy is a terrifying athlete, man. Boy, he can run now, especially he’ll hit up and inside and he takes off. He can break both ways. And he’s strong. Really strong and fast. And very decisive when he goes. It’s not like he sees it and goes.”

The ref: Bill Leavy will be the referee for today’s game against the Colts. It is the second Cowboys game his crew has called this season. They worked the win at the Seattle Seahawks in Week 6. Here is a breakdown of what Leavy’s crew did last week in the Green Bay Packers-Buffalo Bills game.
LANDOVER, Md. -- The last time he started and finished a game the Washington Redskins won felt like a long time ago. Then again, that’s because it was.

Robert Griffin III hadn’t played an entire game in a Redskins victory since a Week 9 win in 2013 over San Diego. He started a Week 2 win over Jacksonville this season but only lasted two series before dislocating his left ankle.

Griffin
So until Saturday's 27-24 win over Philadelphia, it had been nine games in which Griffin started and played the whole game since his team had won.

“It really isn’t about me,” Griffin said. "This win’s about this team, and we’ve been through the ringer a little bit this year. We’ve been through a lot of adversity, a lot of mess. Guys have responded. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Griffin completed 16-of-23 passes for 220 yards and an interception against the Eagles. He connected on passes of 51 and 55 yards to receiver DeSean Jackson. Another pass to Jackson in the end zone resulted in a pass interference penalty. At times Griffin hung in the pocket more than he had in the past. Redskins coach Jay Gruden pointed out Griffin’s 14-yard pass over the middle to receiver Andre Roberts on third-and-7 on the first series. Another time Griffin hung in and made a nice throw on a deep out that Roberts jumped for but dropped.

“The line gave him good protection, too,” Gruden said. “It works hand-in-hand. ... It was great to see Robert compete and play and he looked like he had a lot of fun out there and the players responded to him. It’s huge to get a win for him.”

Yes, not every player loves Griffin. But they love production and they love winning even more. It’s why you didn’t hear anything on this topic when Griffin was starring in 2012.

On the game-winning drive, Griffin only needed to complete one pass, but it was a hitch to Pierre Garcon, who broke a tackle and turned it into a 23-yard gain. A roughing-the-passer penalty added 15 more yards.

In the huddle before that drive started, fullback Darrel Young said he told Griffin, “Hey, this could be a chance to get people off your back a little bit. Go get this win, do something good.” Sometimes the smartest play is an easy one, and that’s what Griffin made in throwing it to Garcon.

“Those things are great and you feel that joy inside when you go get those wins, but you cherish those moments late in games when you can make a play,” Griffin said.

The win changed the mood, and that’s how narratives change, too.

“He’s the ideal quarterback,” Jackson said. “Has a lot of talent, he’s young. He just suffered some unfortunate injuries. ... He works hard, so a lot of characteristics, everything is there to be that guy. He just needs to be consistent. He needs to stick with it. Even when it’s not going right, he still has to stick with it.”

Redskins 27, Eagles 24: 10 observations

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21
9:15
AM ET
LANDOVER, Md. -- Thoughts and observations after the Washington Redskins' 27-24 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday:
  1. Robinson
    Robinson
    During the week leading up to the game, the Redskins did not look like a team ready to spring an upset. Their practices, demeanor and locker room atmosphere were the same as what had produced a 3-11 record. Now, could the Redskins be competitive? Sure. I had not sensed players quitting. The hard part was looking at the players who couldn’t play -- Keenan Robinson in particular -- and figuring out how the defense could stop this attack. Then they lost Trent Murphy during the game. It’s not that he’s a great player, but they had to replace him with two guys not on the roster a couple weeks ago.
  2. Look at the numbers: The Redskins were bad on third down (2-of-9); were outgained by 190 yards; and were only even in the turnover margin. It helped that the Eagles missed field goals of 36 and 46 yards. But it helped even more that Washington committed only three penalties to the Eagles’ 13. For the season, the Redskins had the daily double no team wants: a team that commits a lot of penalties but also turns the ball over a lot. You can overcome penalties, but you can’t hurdle both problems.
  3. Four of Philadelphia’s penalties directly affected scoring drives. The Eagles had defensive penalties on third-down incompletions in the red zone on two Redskins touchdown drives, so instead of a potential six points the Redskins scored 14. Washington also drew a pass interference penalty on a second-and-8 from the 11-yard line; again, another touchdown. Maybe the Redskins would have scored a touchdown anyway on that drive (and it was interference to prevent a touchdown). Still, the penalty helped. Finally, there was another roughing penalty on the game-winning drive. That, plus two pivotal turnovers, is how you win when the other numbers don’t add up.
  4. Britt
    Williams
    Also, it matters when you have players such as Trent Williams and Kory Lichtensteiger return to a game in which they clearly are hurting. Williams in particular has played hurt for much of the last half of the season and has struggled. He re-entered a meaningless game for his team against the wishes of his position coach. “I was like, man, we’re right on the cusp of a big win,” Williams said. “I didn’t want to quit on my guys.” That mindset spills over onto others.
  5. The Redskins caught the Eagles’ defense in the right look on Alfred Morris' 28-yard touchdown run. The Eagles were in a nickel package and the Redskins had the numbers on the left side, at least enough to make it one-on-one blocking. For tight end Niles Paul, that meant blocking a defensive back, which he does well, rather than a linebacker, which can be spotty. Receiver Pierre Garcon had a good block as well and corner Cary Williams stayed wide, giving a clean cutback lane for Morris. Good call; good execution.
  6. The Eagles’ front causes problems because they do more movement than most. I saw them run blitz, stunt with their linemen on a run down -- right into the play -- or shift at the last second to the play side. They’d pack their three interior linemen in tight with the outside 'backers shading wide. It’s partly why they’ve done well against the run, but it leaves them susceptible when it doesn’t hit. So Morris had the 28-yard TD run but managed only 55 yards on his other 20 carries.
  7. While the Redskins had 29 runs to 23 passes, keep in mind that Robert Griffin III kept the ball five times and was sacked twice or the pass attempts would have been higher. The Redskins are best when he’s around 25 pass attempts. I’ll focus more on his game in a later post; there were some things I definitely liked that he showed more of Saturday. There are real things he must fix, of course, to be consistent. But you can’t ignore the good, either.
  8. Griffin
    Also, it’s up to coach Jay Gruden to make it work. He’s a straight shooter, which is good. But he won’t exactly have the juice after this season to force this issue with owner Dan Snyder, so he’ll have to adapt what he wants vs. what Griffin can do (if Griffin ends up as the 2015 starter; he must earn that distinction). The question is: Will that be good enough? Does Gruden trust Griffin with his future? I doubt one game changes a whole lot. But the other problem has always been: If not Griffin, then who? We can pick to death every one of these quarterbacks. It’s just that only one was the No. 2 pick in the draft and former Rookie of the Year. So the scrutiny of his game always will be more intense. That’s the way it is, folks.
  9. Rookie corner Bashaud Breeland does a good job, typically, of adjusting to what’s happening. The Eagles ran a ton of hitches and had just done so with tight end Zach Ertz (18 targets, 15 catches; good lord. Yes, the Redskins missed Robinson). Breeland noticed earlier that the Eagles would then return with a hitch to a receiver. That’s why he played so tight on Jeremy Maclin on the game-changing pick. The throw was bad, but Breeland was in good position because of his anticipation. “That was their bread and butter,” Breeland said. “Send the tight end out and send the receiver on a hitch. As a game goes on, you get a feel for what they’re doing to you. Just about everything they ran, they showed on film.”
  10. Yes, the Eagles miss DeSean Jackson. Here’s what I loved about Jackson’s two deep receptions: He gave Griffin plenty of room to work with, and that allowed the quarterback to take the safety even more out of the play by throwing to the outside. There was room to the outside on the interception, too; Griffin knows he underthrew Jackson and tossed it too far inside.

LANDOVER, Md. -- The meter shifts every time he takes the field, with every game a proclamation on his career. Sometimes it’s based on every throw. Robert Griffin III makes a pass from the pocket -- see, he’s worth developing. Griffin misses a target -- see, he’ll never get it.

It’s his football life right now, and until he proves over a period of time he’s one way or the other, it will continue. That’s the life the Washington Redskins have now, too. If you’re owner Dan Snyder, why would you unload Griffin after what he’s shown the past two weeks?

Oh, it’s not as if he’s suddenly playing at a Pro Bowl level, but Griffin played well enough in Saturday’s 27-24 upset of Philadelphia. There were plays his cynics can point to as evidence he won’t ever develop; there were plays his fans can point to just as fast.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Mark TenallyRobert Griffin III could celebrate a strong performance that led to a Redskins win on Saturday.
We’ve already debated, quite a bit, the merits of bringing Griffin back next season and how the circus has a good chance of continuing and how the coaches aren’t sold on him long-term. I doubt one win will change anyone’s thinking. Give Griffin credit for what he did well, but the issues before this game were deep enough and the concern over his development real enough that coaches will need to see a lot more.

However, it was a win Griffin needed, and it was a win Washington needed. It’s Griffin’s most significant win since the Redskins beat Dallas to win the NFC East in the 2012 season finale because of what’s now riding on every game for him.

Even coach Jay Gruden, who hasn’t been shy at all when it comes to criticizing Griffin -- publicly or in front of the team -- said Saturday of his starting quarterback, “I thought he did a great job.”

Griffin didn’t throw a touchdown pass, and he badly underthrew DeSean Jackson on a third-down deep ball that was intercepted (serving, in essence, as a 37-yard punt), and a potential pick-six was dropped. However, Griffin also connected with Jackson on deep balls of 51 and 55 yards, both of which led to touchdown drives. Griffin did his part on those plays by maneuvering the safety with his eyes, starting on one side of the field and then turning his attention to Jackson. Jackson gave him plenty of room to throw and created good space. Maybe a better throw results in a touchdown, but Griffin did connect.

The Redskins only needed Griffin to pass 23 times, and he completed 16 for 220 yards. At times, he slid well in the pocket or hung in there more than he has in the past.

“He did an outstanding job of managing the game, not only in the passing game but he did a lot at the line in the running game, which is very, very important,” Gruden said. “We were just trying to get him comfortable, trying to get him an opportunity to get the ball out of his hands and make good, sound decisions like he did.”

Sometimes the difference in his game is two throws. On Saturday, those two throws to Jackson were completed. Against Tampa Bay in Week 11, Griffin failed to connect on two deep balls to Jackson, and the offense struggled; they scored seven points, and Griffin was benched a week later. Those big plays have a way of overshadowing a lot of negatives.

It should be pointed out just how important Jackson is to the offense, regardless of who is at quarterback. He draws attention, makes plays and can make any quarterback look good.

But for Gruden and Griffin, games such as this are why they will be together at least one more year, for better or worse. It’s up to Gruden to make it work with Griffin; they successfully used some zone-read play-action passes, in addition to a few regular play-action throws. That’s Griffin’s game -- and needs to be for a while. There will be more frustration; there will be more moments of head-scratching and more big plays.

It’s up to Griffin to keep making plays and trying to restore his reputation and building on this game. Perfect Saturday? No. Bad? No. A winning effort? Yes.

“A lot of guys in the locker room told me that everything I have personally been through this year, it was big for me to go out and play like I did and help lead this team to a victory,” Griffin said. “I would say to them, 'Without them, I wouldn’t be able to do it.'"

No, he would not, and that’s a change. Griffin needs to rely on others -- the run game, the protection, the wideouts -- more than in his rookie year, though even then a lot of elements helped him. If Griffin wants to keep the job beyond next Sunday’s finale against Dallas, it’s what he’ll have to keep doing.

Saturday was a good team win, and in the end, it was far from just about Griffin. That’s the way it should be. What Saturday did, however, was add another layer to the debate over his future. It’s one that will linger for a while.

Missed opportunities haunt Eagles

December, 20, 2014
Dec 20
10:50
PM ET
LANDOVER, Md. -- After a discouraging loss like the Philadelphia Eagles experienced on Saturday, there are plenty of missed opportunities to linger over.

Two especially hurt.

On the opening kickoff of the second half, Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins tore the ball from the arms of Washington return man Andre Roberts. Nolan Carroll saw the ball come out and made a beeline for it. Carroll dove on the ball before it could bounce out of bounds, and the Eagles had the ball on the Washington 16.

Four plays later, the Eagles had nothing. No ball, no points, no ground gained against Washington.

“That was big,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said after the 27-24 loss. “You want to come away with points, obviously. You start off, it was a momentum swing and Malcolm makes a nice play on the kickoff. You think you are at least coming away with three points, but you always want seven in those situations.”

LeSean McCoy ran around left end for 1 yard on first down. He caught a Mark Sanchez pass but was dropped for a loss on second down. On third down, Sanchez threw the ball into the end zone. Unfortunately, none of his teammates were near where it landed.

Rookie kicker Cody Parkey, who had missed just two field goal tries all season, came out for the 34-yard attempt. Parkey has had some issues with his groin muscle, but Kelly said that did not bother Parkey on Saturday. He just kicked the ball a few feet wide to the right. Parkey missed a 46-yard attempt later in the quarter.

“I just left my hips open a little bit and missed it wide right,” Parkey said. “I’m still confident in my ability because I know what I can do and I know what I’m capable of doing. Tonight just didn’t go my way.”

In the fourth quarter, the Eagles had driven from midfield to the Washington 4-yard line. On third down, Sanchez dropped back. Tight end Zach Ertz had slipped out, picked his way through Washington’s zone coverage and found a spot in the end zone.

“I tried to squeeze it in to Ertz,” Sanchez said. “They ended up dropping eight [players into coverage], so I was just trying to get a quick one over the middle to him. They converged on him pretty quick. A safety got a hand on it. [Ertz] came over and was, like, 'I’ve got to catch it, I’ve got to catch it.' That’s just the way he is. He’s an awesome guy and wants to catch every ball.”

Parkey kicked a 22-yard field goal to tie the game at 24, but the Eagles had blown a chance to take a four-point lead there.

“I was hoping to have another [chance],” Parkey said. “Obviously, I wasn’t able to do that. It falls on me because if I make those two [missed] kicks, it could be a different story.”
LANDOVER, Md. -- Eagles fans no doubt used some choice language to describe the way the team’s defense chose to handle Washington wide receiver DeSean Jackson.

Jackson
 Jackson didn't hold anything back after the game.

“That’s how they play,” Jackson said of the Eagles defense. “They’re very na´ve, and they play how they play, so they can care less who’s out there or who’s at wide receiver. They’re going to play their defense the way they play it. I’m just glad I was able to get the opportunities I got on them.”

Jackson found himself lined up across from cornerback Bradley Fletcher. During the week, Jackson enjoyed watching tape of Fletcher giving up three touchdown passes to Dez Bryant last Sunday.

In the first quarter, Jackson ran past Fletcher and under a pass from Robert Griffin III. Jackson veered to his right and caught the ball for a 51-yard gain.

On the next play, Alfred Morris ran 28 yards for a touchdown and a 7-3 Washington lead.

In the third quarter, with Washington holding a 17-14 lead, it happened again. Fletcher was singled up on Jackson. The receiver blew past him, drifted toward his right and caught another Griffin bomb. This one went for 55 yards.

After that play, Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis took Fletcher out for a while. Nolan Carroll played cornerback in his place.

“He’s had two bad weeks,” Davis said. “I was hoping he could get out of that slump. He didn’t. They went at him deep. They made the plays on him, so I made the switch. I think Fletch is a good corner. He’s just lacking confidence right now.”

Two plays later, Jackson drew a pass interference penalty in the end zone. Darrel Young ran for a 1-yard touchdown on the next snap.

“We felt like our corners could stay with him and obviously, they didn’t,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said.

That was the second miscalculation the Eagles made regarding Jackson this year. Back in March, Kelly decided Jackson was a poor fit for the kind of team he was trying to build. Jackson was released.

He caught an 81-yard touchdown pass when the teams met in September at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. The Eagles won that game, though. This time, Jackson didn’t get into the end zone, but his team won.

“As far as my ex-teammates, I think a lot of guys miss me,” Jackson said. “They tell me that during the game. I still have good relationships with a lot of guys over there. They constantly tell me how much they miss me and wish I was still there. But that’s a decision they chose to make in the front office.”

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