Three years ago, the Giants tested the undefeated Patriots and the unstoppable Tom Brady before falling 38–35, then went on to upset the P-men in the Super Bowl. Yesterday, the Giants tested the undefeated Packers and the unstoppable Aaron Rodgers before falling 38–35, but at the risk of an outbreak of Manning Face, I have to break it to Eli Manning that yesterday was more of a last gasp than a springboard for his team.
Manning was impressive in defeat, completing 23-of-40 passes for 347 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception. It's just that Aaron Rodgers is playing on another level. Rodgers had his worst passer rating of the season and still threw for 369 yards and four touchdowns. He also led the Packers on a game-winning 68-yard drive that culminated with Mason Crosby's 31-yard field goal as time expired.
The three-point margin was the tightest of Green Bay's 18 straight wins, but in some ways this was their most clutch performance, coming on the road against a desperate and talented team. The Pack secondary was vulnerable all day, so Rodgers didn't want to leave the outcome to the vagaries of overtime, marching the Pack briskly to the winning field goal with the score tied at 35.
"We've had a number of games we won by a couple scores," Rodgers said. "You get the ball on the 20, under a minute, and we get it down there for a chip-shot field goal, it's very rewarding. It probably (ranks) right at the top."
Consider it an opportunity squandered for the Giants, who couldn't take advantage of Dallas' desert implosion and remain a game behind the Cowboys in the NFC East. But they're not the first team to succumb to the best player in football.
"You know, it's not like Jesus in cleats," said Giants defensive end Aaron Tollefson, no doubt remembering that J-in-C plays in Denver. "He's Aaron Rodgers. He's a great quarterback, but we have to do a better job of finishing on defense."
• Even fetuses are bowing before the legend that is Tim Tebow, especially after he unveiled a new weapon against the Vikings. To quote L.V. Miles from "Friday Night Lights": "OOHH! And he can pass!" Tebow has his best day through the air as a pro, completing 10-of-15 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns and posting a passer rating of 149.3 and proving that he doesn't need his defense to bail him out every time. In fact, with Von Miller sidelined, the Broncos surrendered 489 yards and 32 points. No problem, said Timmy, who led Denver to 28 second-half points, the last three of which came on the game's final play after Christian Ponder's second interception. Tebow now has five second-half comebacks among his six wins this season, four of them of the fourth-quarter variety. John Elway had three fourth-quarter comebacks in his first 24 starts. Sorry, couldn't resist.
• Ladies and gentlemen, your NFC West champions, the San Francisco 49ers, who clinched the title with a 26–0 shutout of the hapless Rams. Jim Harbaugh's transformation of this team from error-prone knuckleheads to division champions has been swift and stunning. "This step, this game today is for all those strong and mighty men who have been carrying the flag for this many years," Harbaugh said with his typically poetic flourish. That kind of talk only flies when your team's 10–2.
• This has to be a first: A coach icing his own kicker. Jason Garrett called an inexplicable timeout just as his kicker, Dan Bailey, was nailing the game-winner against the Cardinals on the road. On his second try, Bailey's feeble attempt came up short and left, and the Cowboys went on to lose in overtime. All this came after the Boys botched the clock late in regulation, keeping two timeouts in their pocket and strolling to the line to spike the ball instead of calling timeout and trying to get a little closer than 49 yards for Bailey's game-winner. If the Cowboys pull a December swoon, they'll look back at this moment and cringe. And Jerry Jones will fire Garrett.
• Ten-gallon hats off to the Texans, who have won three straight games with three different starting quarterbacks — Matt Schaub, Matt Leinart and T.J. Yates, who stood tall in his first start against the Falcons. "Three weeks, three different quarterbacks. But the same team," said coach Gary Kubiak, who just might get that playoff monkey off his back despite one of the worst QB situations in the league.
• Cam Newton ran for three scores in a Carolina's 38–19 win over Tampa Bay to set the single-season NFL record for rushing scores by a quarterback, with 13. With Cincinnati's impending collapse, Newton has probably regained control of the Offensive Rookie of the Year race.
— by Rob Doster