This morning, it's the story in the NFL: A quarterback who's building an unlikely legend around clutch fourth-quarter performances, a guy who saves his best for when the pressure's at its greatest, who creates belief among his teammates that he'll find a way to win. His latest heroics gave his team control of its own destiny in a division race that looked lost.
Well done, Eli. Your Giants are still alive — by a fingernail. We'll touch on Tebowmania in a moment, but I'd rather start with an MVP-caliber performance from Eli Manning in a do-or-die 37–34 win in Dallas. In the climactic game of one of the more gut-wrenching days in recent NFL history, the G-men's Jason Pierre-Paul deflected a potentially game-tying field goal from the toe of ice-able Dallas kicker Dan Bailey to cap an epic fourth quarter of ebbs and flows that ultimately featured Manning's sixth game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime this season. That's the most in the NFL, one more than the guy in Denver.
Down by 12 in the fourth quarter, their season hanging in the balance, the Giants put the game in the hands of their suddenly unflappable leader. Manning responded with an eight-play, 80-yard drive to cut the score to 34–29, and after a Dallas three-and-out, he led a brisk 58-yard march to glory, culminating with Brandon Jacobs' 1-yard TD with 51 seconds left.
The Cowboys didn't roll over, as quarterback Tony Romo led the Boys into field goal range with six seconds left. Bailey split the uprights with the apparent game-tying boot, only to suffer from an icing attempt from Giants coach Tom Coughlin. Hey, at least it was the opposing coach doing the icing this time. Amirite?
On Bailey's second attempt, the one that counted, Pierre-Paul capped a performance for the ages by getting a fingertip on the ball and sending it spinning harmlessly to the turf, becoming the first player this season to block a kick, record a sack and force a fumble in the same game.
Just like that, the G-men had recaptured control of their playoff fate. New York and Dallas are tied at 7–6, and the Cowboys visit the Meadowlands on New Year's Day to end the season.
After a 400-yard performance, Manning now has 4,105 passing yards, setting a Giants record and putting him in position to threaten Dan Marino's longstanding single-season record (5,084), although guys named Brees, Rodgers and Brady may get there first.
"Guys stepped up and made some big plays," Manning said. "It won't mean anything unless we finish the season strong. That's the mindset. We can't relax now or feel great about ourselves."
Hey, Eli, you can feel great for a day or two. You've earned that much.
• Okay, Tebow addicts, here's your fix: Tim Tebow added to his ever-expanding legend with his most unlikely comeback yet. Trailing 10–0, the Broncos erased the deficit in the final 2:10 of regulation — with an assist from Bears running back Marion Barber, who inexplicably went out of bounds with the Bears trying to kill the clock — and then won it in overtime after a Barber fumble killed a Bears scoring chance. Credit Matt Prater, who hit bombs of 59 and 51 yards. Credit the Denver defense, which held Chicago to 245 total yards and 10 points. Heck, credit Barber, who's wearing the goat horns this morning. But Tebow's the captain of this playoff-bound ship. There's no denying that Tebow's been clutch: In the fourth quarter and overtime this season, he's completing 60.9 percent of his passes for 770 yards, six touchdowns and one interception, and a passer rating of 107.9. The guy creates belief. There's not much more he can do.
• Speaking of improbable QB heroics, the Texans clinched the AFC South behind rookie T.J. Yates, who led the biggest drive in franchise history, an 80-yard march that ended with aa six-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Walter with two seconds left that gave Houston a 20–19 win over the reeling Bengals. "The young quarterback bailed us out," said relieved Texans coach Gary Kubiak, who probably needed a playoff berth to save his job. Well, he got it.
• The other part of the AFC South equation: a Titans loss to New Orleans, which wasn't secure until Jake Locker, who led an electric fourth-quarter comeback, was sacked inside the Saints 10-yard line of the game's final play. The 22–17 loss probably eliminated the Titans from playoff contention, but it gave them and their fans a glimpse of the future. And it looks bright.
• Detroit stayed alive with an assist from the zebras. The Vikings were a yard away from the game-winning touchdown on the game's final play, but Joe Webb fumbled as DeAndre Levy gave Webb's facemask an obvious yank. No call. Lions win. They're 8–5 and very much alive in the Wild Card race.
— by Rob Doster