Richard Martin

The NFC East Has Fallen On Hard Times

Created on Dec. 16, 2013 10:50 PM EST

Does anyone really and truly want to win the once-proud bastion of quality, the NFC East? If so, it sure wasn’t apparent on what proved to be  a miserable day for every team in the division. Not only did all the teams lose, but they all failed in their own unique ways. 

Novelist and philosopher Leo Tolstoy said happy families are the same and unhappy ones are all different. He was sure right if you think of sports teams as families. 

The NFC East has won 12 Super Bowls — Cowboys five, Giants four, Redskins three — but now it’s fallen on hard times.

For a while the NFC North was rivaling the East for worst division. After Sunday, it's no contest. The once-mighty NFC East is now the least. 

I doubt if the division’s ever had a worse day than Sunday.

Sure, we probably figured the Giants would lose to the Seahawks. But Eli Manning seems intent on setting the wrong kinds of records. He now has the Giants team record for interceptions, tossing five Sunday.

A New York Post columnist compared him to Mark Sanchez. Ouch.

The Giants offense has become comically and colossally inept. They managed 12 first downs and 181 yards against Seattle -- and that was only with some improvement in the second half. This was their second shutout of the year. 

You had to figure the Eagles would beat the Vikings, right? Adrian Peterson was out, and so was his backup running back, Toby Gerhart. Backup Matt Cassel was back at quarterback. Going with the Eagles had to be a popular “lock” pick among the cognoscenti. 

Well, here’s the deal: Any playoff contender hoping to win on the road better make sure their defense shows up. 

The Eagles had played well of late, and their defense had been strong. In the past seven games they’d allowed 17, 15, 20, 13, 16, 21 and 20 points. 

Their D didn’t show up in this game.  

Cassel was 26 for 35 for 382 yards, hitting two touchdowns and with one pick. He also ran for a score. Those are Tom Brady-like numbers.

Nick Foles had a good game, and so did LeSean Jackson, but LeSean McCoy was a cipher. And someone needs to tell Foles about blocking low -- a penalty on Foles took away a score.

The Redskins lost in their own way, via the dread disease of fumbleitis. They lost five fumbles and Kirk Cousins (who played well) threw a couple of picks.

I have to wonder about Mike Shanahan. Was he really trying to win? Maybe it was defensible to go for the two-point conversion, but the odds are against you. 

We all know he decided to make RGIII inactive. We all know he and owner Daniel Snyder are not buddies. 

Shanahan will be gone at the end of the season. Which other coaches in the NFC East will join him?

Now we get to the Cowboys. With this team, it’s not that they lose -- hey, that happens to lots better teams than the ‘Boys -- but it’s how they do it. They’ve become very creative.

Dallas was up 26-3 at halftime. The Cowboys looked great in all phases, the Packers were terrible. 

But Matt Flynn was (along with Cassel) among the backups who played great ball Sunday. He caught fire in the second half, and the Packers scored touchdowns on all five possessions. Wow.

We knew the Cowboy defense was terrible. It’s expected that they’ll give up points in a hurry, and they did. But it’s what’s happening to the Cowboy offense that’s head-scratching.

It’s all there in the stats. With a big lead, Dallas went away from rushing and threw the ball. Troy Aikman and Joe Buck were harping about it, questioning the play-calling. 

Jason Garrett, at his news conference, said the Packers were stacking plenty of guys in the box and the team didn’t want to just sit on the lead. 

He’s a forthright guy who doesn’t throw guys under the bus. But don’t worry -- Jerry Jones will probably do that.

Now the tough question: What in the world is wrong with Tony Romo? He has the most obvious fatal flaw since Achilles.

Romo pulled another Romo. He threw two late interceptions. It was the seventh time he’d thrown a pick in fourth quarter or in overtime with the team tied or leading by one possession since 2006. Second in that category is the immortal Ryan Fitzpatrick with four. Ouch

Here are some thoughts about this:

* Romo has good chemistry with Jason Witten and Dez Bryant, and both had good games. But his other receivers aren’t that great, especially with Miles Austin still hurting (though he’s playing). It appears he and his receivers aren’t always on the same page.

* DeMarco Murray rushed 18 times for 134 yards and one touchdown. It’s bizarre he didn’t run the ball more in the second half. 

* Maybe Dallas needs to rein in Romo, especially when the team’s ahead. Perhaps he wants to be the hero all the time. Maybe clever defensive backs are baiting him. 

* That defense is so terrible, you must admit, that you can’t sit on a lead. 

By a strange coincidence, the NFC East and NFC North teams have been playing each other lately. The Eastern division has gone south, while the North division has gone, well, north, at least Sunday.

The Bears and Packers needed wins to stay in range of the Lions, who are home Monday. It could be a wild finish: A division once prided on great defense now has among the best offensive players in the league.

The Bears got another highlight-reel touchdown from Alshon Jeffery, who bailed out Jay Cutler’s underthrow. (Two Cleveland DBs were in great position, but mistimed their jumps.)

This game was curious in another way. Players from each team, Tashaun Gipson for the Browns and Zach Bowman for the Bears, each had two picks, including one returned for a touchdown. The Browns had a touchdown from a fumble recovery as well.

I thought the Bears made a mistake switching to Cutler. Josh McCown’s been playing very well. But make no mistake: Cutler was OK, not great, and the team won in spite of him, not because of him. And the Browns are not very good, especially on offense.

Chicago plays at Philly next week and then hosts Green Bay in the final game of the season. You can’t ask for a more delicious schedule than that.

The Packers host Pittsburgh and then go to Chicago. And let’s remember that Aaron Rodgers should be back in the lineup by then.

Somehow you get the sense that it should be that way. Two great rivals, with plenty of history, face off at the end.

The Lions could make that moot. They’re in the driver’s seat. But don’t be surprised if there’s a crash.

Detroit should win this division, given that the Bears and Packers have each been fielding backup quarterbacks for several game. Of course, those backups have been arguably better than Matthew Stafford.

Could, should. If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas.

None of that applies to the Lions, who have no legacy of winning and instead often seem to have a dark destiny.

They have a chance to revise this unhappy tale. We’ll know more Monday night when they host the Ravens. Perhaps the Lions will say: “Nevermore will we accept our status as pathetic losers of the league.” 

Then again, maybe not.

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