NFC East Reporter
The NFC East still has a chance to get all four teams into the playoffs. But after a bit of a setback on Saturday, there’s still some work to be done.
Most of it will fall on the Washington Commanders, who lost 37-20 in San Francisco, who took advantage of the opportunity to put some distance between themselves and their two closest competitors for the last wild card spot in the NFC. The Giants also lost their chance to make it with a 27-24 loss at Minnesota, though they’ll have a great chance to win at home next week.
Going into Week 16, two teams meet two teams possibly to finish. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles couldn’t close out the NFC’s No. 1 seed in a 40-34 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. And while the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC will still almost certainly go through Philadelphia, they will have to play their starters one more week before they can rest for their postseason run.
Here’s a look at the wild day of action in football’s top division:
Philadelphia Eagles (13-2)
Saturday result: Lost to the Cowboys in Dallas, 40-34
What happened: Minshew Mania was exactly as exciting as the Eagles remembered, at least at first. With Jalen Hurts out with an injured shoulder, Gardner Minshew completed 24 of 40 passes for 355 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He even threw a touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith that put Philly up 34-27 with 10 minutes to play.
But Cowboys CB DaRon Bland sacked him with 4:19 left in the game, leading to a Brett Maher field goal that gave the Cowboys the lead. RB Miles Sanders fumbled on the first play of the next drive, leading to another Maher field goal. The Eagles actually turned the ball over in three of their last five games.
“We’re going to fix our mistakes, and we’ve made a lot of them,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. “That’s what I like about this team. We learn from our mistakes.”
In fact, they almost got the better of them on Saturday. Minshew had one last bit of magic in him, driving the Eagles to the Dallas 19 with 33 seconds left. But his last three passes fell incomplete.
Where are they: The Eagles are still two games ahead of the Vikings (including the tiebreaker) and the Cowboys in the race for the top seed. A Dallas win or loss clinches the NFC East for Philly, and another win or Dallas and Minnesota losses clinches the top seed and a first-round bye.
What follows: The good news for the Eagles is that they finish the season with two home games against the New Orleans Saints (6-9) and the Giants (8-6-1). The bad news is that they still can’t rest their starters, including Hurts. According to Jay Glazer of FoxSports, the Eagles planned to rest Hurts next week if they had won on Saturday. Instead, they will probably play him so they can get home field advantage.
Dallas Cowboys (11-4)
Saturday result: Defeated the Philadelphia Eagles in Dallas, 40-34
What happened: The Cowboys defense couldn’t stop Minshew and he wound up getting ripped for 442 total yards. But they had two huge turnovers in the final five minutes: Bland’s interception and a forced fumble recovered by LB Anthony Barr. They converted both turnovers into two field goals, which broke a 34-34 tie and gave them the win.
Dak Prescott was excellent, completing 27 of 35 passes for 347 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He did most of his damage with No. 1 receiver CeeDee Lamb, who had 10 catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns.
However, the Cowboys’ ground game was surprisingly ineffective against a vulnerable Eagles defense. Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, arguably the best 1-2 punch in football, combined for just 74 yards on 25 carries.
It may not be the last time these two teams play. If the chalk holds, they are currently on track for a third meeting in the NFC divisional round.
“I think both teams hope we meet again,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said. “Because we know what that means.”
Where are they: The Cowboys still have an outside shot at the NFC East title and the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but it would take the Eagles losing their last two games for the Cowboys to win. i Vikings lose at least once. The Cowboys are still far more likely to make the playoffs as a wild card. They can’t go lower than the fifth seed, which means a first-round trip to play the winner of the NFC South, an opponent that will almost certainly finish the regular season with a losing record.
What follows: The Cowboys are on the road for their next two games, both against teams that are in desperation mode down the stretch. They first have a quick turnaround for a Thursday night game in Tennessee against the Titans (7-8), who are tied for the lead in the AFC South. Then they finish the season in Washington against the Commanders (7-7-1) who are barely hanging on for the final wild card spot in the NFC.
New York Giants (8-6-1)
Saturday result: Loses to Vikings in Minnesota, 27-24
What happened: Despite a big game from QB Daniel Jones (30-for-42, 334 yards), the Giants were undone by some uncharacteristic fourth-quarter mistakes and a surprising 61-yard field goal by Vikings kicker Greg Joseph as time expired .
The Giants gave themselves every opportunity to win this game, but fell apart after taking a 13-10 lead into the fourth quarter. Jones threw an interception early in the final stretch. WR Richie James had a terrible third down one play later. New York even had a blocked punt that set up a 17-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to Justin Jefferson, putting the Vikings up 24-18 with three minutes to play.
“You have to be able to make the big play at the critical point of the game,” Jones said. “And we didn’t do that today.”
Still, Jones rallied the Giants and quickly drove them downfield to set up Saquon Barkley’s 17-yard touchdown run, hitting TE Daniel Bellinger in the back of the end zone for a conversion of two points tied with 2:01 left. But their defense got caught in a blitz that allowed Cousins to hit Jefferson for a 17-yard gain to the Giants’ 42, setting up Joseph’s spectacular kick.
Where are they: The good news for the Giants is that they are still on the brink of that long-awaited playoff spot, because they got all the help they needed. The Lions (7-8) lost at Carolina 37-23, and the Seahawks (7-8) lost at Kansas City 24-10. So the Giants still hold the No. 6 seed in the NFC and have a 1.5-game cushion with two games to play.
What follows: The Giants return home to face the Indianapolis Colts (4-9-1), who have lost seven of eight, including that historic collapse against the Vikings last weekend. The Giants will clinch a playoff spot with a win. And if they can’t do it next Sunday, they’ll end the season in Philadelphia against an Eagles team that will likely give everyone a rest.
Washington Commanders (7-7-1)
Saturday result: Lost to the 49ers in San Francisco, 37-20
What happened: This game was a total meltdown for their defense, but this one won’t be the starter. The starter will be as Ron Rivera benched starting QB Taylor Heinicke for Carson Wentz for the final 10 minutes of the game.
Wentz wasn’t bad. He completed 12 of 16 passes for 123 yards and threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Curtis Samuel with 5:25 left to pull the Commanders within 10. But overall, he was only marginally better than Heinicke, who going 13 of 18 for 166. yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Heinicke’s final two plays in the fourth quarter ended with a fumble and an interception, and the 49ers scored field goals with both. Rivera had clearly grown tired of Heinicke’s high-risk style of play, and at that point he decided he’d seen enough.
“I understand,” Heinicke said. “I was pretty beat up there and the last two drives were two turnovers. I understand that. And Carson did a good job.”
So who will be Washington’s starting QB in their must-win game next Sunday?
“We’ll evaluate the tape, we’ll talk about those things and I’ll make a decision next week,” Rivera said. “And I will do it soon, too, so that whoever starts will have a chance to work.”
Where are they: Thanks to the Lions and Seahawks losses, the Chiefs were guaranteed to remain in seventh place in the conference and in control of the final wild-card spot no matter what. But their lead is cut to half a game with two to play.
What follows: Luckily, they end the season with two home games. First they play a Cleveland Browns team that is 6-9 and has scored a total of 33 points in their last three games. They end the season against the Cowboys, who could be in a position to rest all of their starters.
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Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him on Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.
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