After leaving my place just after 2 PM Eastern time, on my way to MetLife Stadium to personally witness an NFC East divisional clash, one of the other teams in the division was already being put to the sword.
Scrolling across the bottom of my television screen were updates on other games, and Washington, they of the 2-4 record and incessant inconsistency at quarterback, quickly found themselves in a 17-point hole at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (That lead would grow to 24-0 soon after.)
In the wild and woolly NFC East, one thing was for certain: Washington, after this embarrassing loss to the lowly Bucs, was no longer a factor in this NFC East race, even with all of the unpredictability that’s surely to come.
All it took was two hours – or, from my perspective, two train rides and arriving in a different state – for the near impossible to happen.
Arriving in the press box at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, some of the first words I heard from other members of the media were something along the lines of this: “Can you believe the Redskins won that game?”
They did? They did?
What a surprise. Then, after settling in for the kickoff, the realization that I already known about the footballing quartet located along the Eastern Seaboard (and in the middle of Texas) struck me once again.
This is the NFC East, 2015: nothing that happens is a surprise anymore. (I should know: I witnessed a similar comeback by Washington against another NFC East foe, the Philadelphia Eagles, earlier this month.)
How the game with the Giants and Cowboys eventually unfolded was just more of the same craziness. Dallas, with Matt Cassel at quarterback for his first start as a Cowboy, engineered two solid drives to start the game, with the second leading to a field goal and the first points of the game. New York then responded by riding the shoulders of a player we all know too well.
Who? Well, you might not know him now but, knowing the capriciousness of this division, he might be the next breakout star. On the Giants’ first drive of the second quarter, the 2014 undrafted running back out of Tulane University carried the ball four times for 41 yards, with his final carry a 15-yard burst up the middle to give New York a 7-3 lead. Darkwa would finish the game with career highs in carries (eight) and rushing yards (48), helping New York rush for over 100 yards as a team for the first time this season.
As efficient as the Giants were on the ground, the Cowboys matched it – and then almost doubled it. Darren McFadden, the castoff from the Oakland Raiders, ran like a man out to prove doubters of him and the team’s run game wrong. The first half saw him run for 53 yards on 10 carries, and his final tote was a one-yard touchdown plunge to give Dallas the lead back at 13-7. “Run DMc” continued scything one of the best run defenses in the league going into the game, running for another 99 in the second half for 152 yards in total. Dallas as a team ran for a whopping 233 yards.
But this is the NFC East, where a team rushing for over 200 yards and possessing the ball for almost 40 minutes may not necessarily translate into a victory.
Cue Matt Cassel.
Replacing the injured Tony Romo and the ineffective Brandon Weeden, Cassel had his good moments, especially when avoiding the rush to keep plays alive, something the statuesque Weeden couldn’t do in three games as a starter replacing Romo. Unfortunately for the ‘Boys, Cassel’s gunslinger nature ended up shooting his team in the foot, as he threw three interceptions – all in the third quarter – to swing momentum back to the home squad.
Cassel’s first interception came on the sixth play from scrimmage in the third quarter, with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie stepping in front of receiver Terrance Williams to snag the ball and stroll 58 yards down the sideline for a touchdown and giving the Giants a 17-13 advantage. The next possession also saw a momentum-killing pick, with Cassel woefully under-throwing Williams at the end zone, allowing safety Brandon Meriweather to come from his safety spot to make the interception at the 1-yard line. New York also capitalized on that turnover, as it led to a Josh Brown field goal and a 20-13 lead.
Cue the next plot twist. Cassel, after another interception, went from goat to possible hero midway through the fourth quarter. After completing a 25-yard pass to Williams on a third-and-nine, Cassel avoided a sack, rolled to the right and uncorked a pass into the end zone while absorbing a big hit. On the receiving end of the throw was Devin Street, who tip-toed the end line and make a wonderful catch while falling down along the sideline, tying the game at 20 with 7:14 left.
The next plot twist immediately followed that: revenge. Dwayne Harris, the former Dallas Cowboy who joined the Giants this season in large part due to the Giants’ commitment to play him at wide receiver and not just be used as a special teamer, displayed his special teams talents on the ensuing kickoff, returning the kick 100 yards to give the Giants the lead back at 27-20. Parity lasted all of 13 seconds.
We can’t have an NFC East game without late-game drama, right? Well, after the Cowboys stopped the Giants to force a punt and set up a possible last-second game-tying drive, the normally sure-handed Cole Beasley muffed Brad Wing’s kick, allowing the Giants to recover the ball and effectively end the contest.
Whew. Was that enough for you for one evening? While Dallas falls to 2-4 and to the bottom of the pack in the division, New York stands alone atop the NFC East, at 4-3 and the only team in the division with a winning record. Barely.
This game, as they say, had everything: flashes of brilliance, more flashes of maddening inconsistency, unsung heroes, late-game drama and competitiveness from start to finish. Or, to sum it up even better, it was the NFC East: 2015 version.
[Cover photo (Orleans Darkwa) courtesy of Al Bello/Getty Images]