Sunday Rewind: A lesson in perception and reality

    9:21 AM, Nov 15, 2010   |    comments
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    Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - So, it that all it took to get the Dallas Cowboys to play at a level that justified all the preseason accolades bestowed upon this year's most obvious disappointment?

    Jerry Jones agonized over this week's inevitable decision to replace Wade Phillips as head coach of his band of overpaid underachievers, but after Sunday's 33-20 besting of the previously-rolling New York Giants, the omnipresent Cowboys owner is now likely second-guessing himself for not pulling the trigger sooner.

    The expected Super Bowl contenders looked championship-caliber in their maiden voyage under the guidance of new captain Jason Garrett, outplaying the team many had begun to brand as the NFC's new power players in just about all phases. Quarterback Jon Kitna performed more like a 28-year-old than his actual age of 38 with a 327-yard, three-touchdown display, while the defense came up with three turnovers and picked off Giants signal-caller Eli Manning twice in the red zone to thwart potential scores.

    While Dallas finally resembled the team we all thought they could be, the game may have also revealed what a scant few had suspected of the Giants, who had ran roughshod over the competition in ripping off five straight victories coming in. However, a litany of penalties, breakdowns and sloppy play -- actions more commonly associated with the Cowboys over the course of this season's first half -- sealed the current NFC East leaders' fate on this day.

    In a contest that was delayed twice by power failures in the brand-new, $1.6 billion New Meadowlands Stadium, it was the New York defense that suffered the biggest blackout. A unit that entered this week's slate having yielded the fewest yards in the league was burned for five pass plays of 32 yards or more and barely laid a finger on Kitna the entire afternoon.

    "I don't know what it was, but this wasn't the football team that we had put on film the last month-and-a-half," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck noted afterward.

    In just one week's time, New York's reputation has gone from budding juggernaut with seemingly few weaknesses to a flawed team that got fat on a suspect sequences of opponents. And when factoring in the struggles they've experienced during the second half of recent seasons, more questions about the G-Men's legitimacy have to be raised.

    On the flip side, the Cowboys at the very least were able to regain some respectability lost by the 1-7 start under Phillips, all because of one shaking but necessary personnel move.

    Such is life in the fickle NFL. I wonder if the Minnesota Vikings have been paying attention.

    A few other observations from Sunday's action:

    - While the Brad Childress death watch was again the center of discussion following the Vikings' latest debacle, a 27-13 loss at Chicago that left the turmoil-laden team at 3-6 on the season, maybe it's about time to give the much-maligned Bears a little credit. They're 6-3, tied for first place in their division and continue to play excellent defense, as Minnesota's meager 250-yard output and 1-for-9 conversion rate on third down will attest.

    - Last week at this time I beat the drum for San Diego's Philip Rivers as this season's first-half MVP, but Tom Brady needs to be put in the equation as well. The New England quarterback was brilliant in shredding a well-regarded Pittsburgh defense as the Patriots bounced back strongly from their Week 9 setback at Cleveland with a convincing 39-26 victory over the contending Steelers. Since 2003, Bill Belichick's bunch is now an amazing 23-2 in regular-season games that have followed a loss.

    - The Miami Dolphins were able to better solidify their shaky playoff hopes by winning a war of attrition with the Tennessee Titans, but Sunday's 29-17 triumph came with a big cost. Miami lost both of its top two quarterbacks for possibly the remainder of the season, with brittle veteran Chad Pennington throwing just two passes before sustaining a possible separated shoulder and displaced starter Chad Henne dislocating his left kneecap. Two other core players, left tackle Jake Long (shoulder) and pass-rushing terror Cameron Wake (hip), also left the game with injuries, and the Dolphins have a short week before hosting the Bears on Thursday. Yikes.

    - The Hail Mary heave that gave the resilient Jacksonville Jaguars a thrilling 31-24 win over fellow AFC South member Houston also leaves the fading Texans without a prayer in reaching the playoffs for the first time ever. A deplorable defense that has had two of its three best players -- linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing -- on the field together for just two games was the culprit once more, surrendering 491 total yards and 29 first downs to the Jags.

    - Nice to see the Buffalo Bills finally break into the win column after several close misses over the past few weeks. Getting a huge outing from running back Fred Jackson (170 total yards, two touchdowns) and a critical defensive stop on a two-point conversion attempt in the final seconds, the league's lone winless team outlasted the hard-luck Detroit Lions in a 14-12 squeaker. The loss was the Lions' 25th straight on the road, setting a new NFL record for futility in away games.

    - Michael Vick may be the early front-runner for Comeback Player of the Year honors, but Seattle wide receiver Mike Williams is providing some stiff competition. The former Lions first-round bust would likely be a runaway winner of the award, however, if he got to face the Arizona Cardinals a few more times. Williams amassed a career-best 145 yards on 11 catches in the Seahawks' imperative 36-18 win Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium, giving him 22 receptions totaling 232 yards in the team's two 2010 meetings with the Cards.

    - In last week's wrap-up column I noted that teams coming off a bye week that were playing at home had gone 9-3 this season. Well, you can add three more wins to that total after Sunday's play, with the Jaguars, Denver (a 49-29 winner over Kansas City) and San Francisco (23-20 over St. Louis in overtime) all prevailing under that scenario. That trend bodes well for the Washington Redskins, who host Philadelphia on Monday after having a Week 9 layoff.

    - And speaking of the 49ers, remember how we all left them for dead after an 0-6 start? They've won three of four since, however, and the tenuous state of the NFC West means Mike Singletary's squad can't be counted out. And they may have finally stumbled across a quarterback as well, with ex-Ravens reject Troy Smith racking up a career-best 356 yards and engineering three scoring drives in the fourth quarter and overtime to win his second straight start. The former Heisman Trophy winner was money on a pivotal possession late in the fourth quarter, completing a 23-yard pass to running back Frank Gore on 4th- and-18 right before connecting with young wideout Michael Crabtree on a 16- yard touchdown strike.

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