Week 10 in the NFL gave us a nail-biting overtime slugfest, so fans must have been optimistic that Week 11 would provide us with another. This time the setting was the nation’s capital, as Jerry Jones’ in-form Dallas Cowboys travelled to D.C to taken on Dan Snyder’s struggling Washington Redskins. This rivalry that Sports Illustrated once called “the greatest rivalry in professional sports” has perhaps not quite lived up to the moniker in recent years, but is nevertheless always exciting when the two wealthiest franchises in the NFL meet. The Cowboys got “out of dodge” with the 27-24 victory on the day, but it was nowhere near as straight-forward as they may have hoped.
Washington had failed to keep games competitive for quite some time. John Beck had been installed at quarterback replacing Rex Grossman whom had been erratic in his play, throwing costly interceptions. Beck was just as bad, but on the opposite end of the scale. Rather than heave turnovers, Beck held on to the ball for too long and turned the Washington offence into a toothless afterthought, which couldn’t keep up with some of the weaker teams in the NFL. The running game offered no help. The carousel at tailback has seen carries for Ryan Torain, Roy Helu, Tashard Choice, Tim Hightower (now out for the year) and now the promotion of Evan Royster from the practice squad, each more ineffective than the last. The return to Grossman was Coach Mike Shanahan’s admitting that “Sexy Rexy” might be terrible, but Beck offers them no chance to win.
The game began as expected with the Cowboys jumping out to a 10-0 lead with Dallas quarterback Tony Romo hitting Dez Bryant for a 22-yard touchdown. Rex and the Washington offence fired back as Grossman himself ran into the end zone for a score. He then threw a 16-yard strike to Jabar Gaffney to take the lead. Kicker Graham Gano added a field-goal to give Washington a 17-10 advantage at the half. Tony Romo and the Dallas offence came out all guns blazing in the second half. Even with the absence of Miles Austin, Romo has found a very capable target in Laurent Robinson, who clutched onto a Romo throw after an elusive scramble by the Cowboys quarterback for a 7-yard touchdown. Romo then found his “BFF” Jason Witten with a 59-yard pass down the middle to add to the Dallas lead and normal progress was resumed, as the lead was extended to 24-17.
Rather than accept another loss, Washington drove once more in the final minute. With 14 seconds to go Grossman led the Redskins to the Cowboys 4-yard line, where he managed to find recently signed WR Donte Stallworth to equalise and send the game into overtime to the astonishment of the travelling Dallas fans. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones later stated he was furious as his team allowed the ‘Skins to take the game to OT”, he was quoted as “staying mad all day”. Dallas finally got the job done in overtime but not without an early scare. Washington took the first possession and provided kicker Gano with a chance to hit a tough 52-yard kick to win it. Unfortunately, Gano slammed the kick wide right. In the ensuing possession Dallas made them pay. Tony Romo hit Dez Bryant for a 30-yard gain to set up their own kicker Dan Bailey to seal the win.
Around the league
In the Thursday game there was more Tim Tebow last-minute heroics as the Denver Broncos upset the New York Jets 17-13. Jets QB Mark Sanchez was helpless to fight back as potential rookie of the year Von Miller was excellent for Denver. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave the unbeaten Green Bay Packers a true run for their money but came up short 35-26. After a shaky start Matt Stafford threw for five touchdowns for the Detroit Lions to see off the Carolina Panthers 49-35. The Philapelphia Eagles without Michael Vick due to broken ribs were led by Vince Young and took down the New York Giants on the road 17-10. The Atlanta Falcons held on despite a comeback from rookie Jake Locker and the Tennessee Titans to win 23-17. The Buffalo Bills continue to destroy their once very promising season as the “back from the dead” Miami Dolphins humiliated them 35-8 in the sunshine state.
Charge up the Hot Seat
The San Diego Chargers 31-20 loss to the Chicago takes them to five straight losses, leaving Head Coach Norv Turner in deep trouble. San Diego started the season 4-1 with running back Ryan Mathews performing well while the defence looked like one of the better units in the NFL. Since then nothing has gone right. Phillip Rivers continues to underperform, star wide-out Vincent Jackson is wildly inconsistent, and they are falling behind in a division where no team is particularly strong.
The Chargers missed the play-offs last year despite finishing the season 6-1 but will find it tough to repeat such a feat this year, with a number of tough teams including the Baltimore Ravens and Detroit Lions still on the schedule.
A loss to Denver next weekend could prove to be the final nail in the coffin for Turner, although barring a miraculous push for the play-offs the departure could be seen as inevitable. Critics argue that throughout Turner’s tenure the Chargers have had a wealth of incredible talent, uncovering some remarkable hidden gems and providing Norv with the tools to bring success to a city that sorely craves it.