GOLDBERG ON FOOTBALL: On a day of parity, even the Patriots look beatable. Print
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Monday, 26 November 2007 11:04
NFL Headline News

 Here are two items from Week 11 that demonstrate why things are back to normal in the NFL:
-The New England Patriots had to score in the fourth quarter, then pick off a late pass to win against a .500 team that entered their game with a backup quarterback.
-Six NFC teams finished the day at 5-6, all in playoff contention with sub-.500 records, especially with the Giants and Lions looking shaky at the top of the wild-card race.
So for those who were bothered that the NFL was too top- and bottom-heavy, Sunday might have been a day of relief. Although not too much relief - New England is still unbeaten and the Cowboys and Packers, who will meet Thursday night in a game much of the nation won't be able to view on the NFL Network, are still 10-1.
But that murky middle is still there, 26 or 27 teams who exemplify the cliche that made the NFL what it is: ``On any given Sunday.''
First there was Philadelphia's near upset over the Patriots, who had been pronounced unbeatable after their 56-10 win in Buffalo last week by everyone from John Madden on down.
However, Jim Johnson, Philly's defensive coordinator, figured out how to limit Randy Moss and pressure Tom Brady and the Eagles were up 28-24 midway through the fourth quarter behind A.J. Feeley, who was starting for an injured Donovan McNabb. Even when the Pats were up 31-28, the Eagles were in range of a field goal that would have sent the game into overtime, or even a winning TD.
Then Feeley, who threw for 345 yards and three TDs, unwisely threw a ball in the direction of Asante Samuel, who picked it off to seal the win.
Eagles coach Andy Reid says McNabb will start next week if he's recovered from thumb and ankle injuries. Philly fans and talk-show yappers might say differently, Feeley's three picks notwithstanding.
Meanwhile, the Patriots remain on course for 16-0, though the Eagles' performance might encourage potential postseason opponents such as the Colts, Steelers, Jaguars and maybe even the Chargers.
Some other examples of Sunday's strange events:
-San Francisco 37, Arizona 31. The 49ers had lost eight straight, but apparently thought they were the old 49ers and these were the historically challenged Cardinals.
From the strange events in overtime, maybe that's true.
Arizona's Neil Rackers, one of the NFL's more reliable kickers, made a 27-yard field goal that apparently won the game. But the play clock had expired, so Rackers had to kick from 32. Still a chip shot. He missed.
A few minutes later, Kurt Warner fumbled in his own end zone and Tully Banta-Cain fell on it to win for San Francisco. Banta-Cain used to play in New England and he knows something about winning. The Cardinals apparently don't. They could have moved to 6-5 and, for now, into wild-card position in the NFC because they had beaten the other 6-5 team, Detroit. Same old Cardinals: The 49ers have three wins this season, two over Arizona.
-Chicago 37, Denver 34 (overtime). Denver's special teams weren't.
Devin Hester had a 75-yard punt return and an 88-yard kickoff return for touchdowns, his fourth and fifth returns for scores this season. You would think by now that opponents would figure it might be better just to kick out of bounds rather than anywhere near Hester. The Colts figured that out after being burned on the opening kickoff of the Super Bowl.
Even on kickoffs, giving the Bears the ball on their 40 is better than having them put it in your end zone.
Then, with the Broncos up 34-20 midway through the fourth quarter, Charles Tillman blocked a punt that led to a touchdown. And with 28 seconds left in regulation, Rex Grossman threw a 3-yard TD pass on which Bernard Berrian made a spinning catch to tie it.
The Bears won in overtime.
-Minnesota 41, New York Giants 17. The Vikings had 251 yards of total offense and scored 41 points, primarily because Eli Manning made like Grossman and threw three interceptions that were returned for touchdowns. With brother Peyton watching from the stands, of all things.
This happened just as Eli was starting to look like a first-rate QB and when the Giants seemed in position to solidify themselves as the NFC's first wild card.
Early omens were all bad for the Giants. Lawrence Tynes' opening kickoff went out of bounds. Then Tarvaris Jackson threw a 60-yard TD pass to Sidney Rice. After the Giants tied it, Osi Umenyiora sacked Jackson on a third-and-3 and stripped the ball, but it rolled forward and Bobby Wade fell on it for a 10-yard gain and a Minnesota first down. Then Manning started finding open Vikings.
And Adrian Peterson didn't even play.
-Tampa Bay 19, Washington 13. The Bucs were outgained 316-15 in the second half, but got six take-aways to none for the Redskins. Washington had four in a span of 16 plays in the first half. Then, interceptions by wise old cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly ended two second-half drives. Jason Campbell was much better than Manning, but got fooled twice by veterans.
The above games condensed the NFC wild-card race, leaving the Vikings, Bears, Eagles, Redskins and Cardinals at 5-6, along with the Saints. The two teams currently holding wild-card positions, the Giants (7-4) and Lions (6-5), don't look very solid right now.
Detroit has Minnesota, Dallas and San Diego in the next three weeks, and New York has three of those 5-6 teams: Chicago and Philadelphia on the road, then Washington at home.
Are the Giants nervous? Last year, they started 6-2 and finished 2-6. This year, they started 6-2 and are 1-2 since and were totally out of synch on offense Sunday. Their second-half win is over the Lions, who are looking less like a team that started 6-2 and more like the team that inspired the Millen man march.
With five weeks left in the regular season, it's just starting to get interesting.
 

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