Transition Game  

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Giants left without answers after another late-season swoon

Each Tuesday, NFL Network reporter Albert Breer will share his thoughts on topics around the league as teams transition from the previous Sunday's game to the next encounter on the schedule. Today, he begins with a familiar refrain in New York.

Every Giant had a different explanation of how it all came undone Sunday against the Redskins.

The honest ones admitted they were resorting to guessing.

"I don't know, man," said Chris Canty, shaking his head after I asked how a team that looked so much like it had turned the corner seven days earlier could appear listless with a chance to build on that momentum. "Maybe this team just needs its [bleeping] back against the wall."

New York finds itself facing a late-season swoon for the fourth straight year. In 2008, the Giants lost three of four after an 11-1 start, then got bounced in their first playoff game. Ugly blowouts to Carolina and Minnesota in '09 and Green Bay last year cost the team playoff spots.

Will the Redskins game be remembered like those? If the Giants can't get their act together Saturday against the Jets, the answer might be yes. A loss would mean New York potentially ceding control of its destiny. If Philadelphia beats Dallas on Sunday, and the Giants fall, Tom Coughlin's crew would need help in Week 17.

Again, the Giants are looking in the mirror for answers.

"It's obviously unacceptable," Mathias Kiwanuka said matter-of-factly. "It's tough, it hurts and there's really no explanation. We didn't play a complete game, we didn't play a complete quarter or even (a) complete series out there."

Next, I asked Kiwanuka what it would take to turn the Giants back into the team that overcame a 12-point, fourth-quarter deficit in Dallas.

"This was enough," he answered. "This right here was enough to get us focused and push us in the right direction. We just have to be ready to prove it the next two weeks."

They'll need a lot more life than they had Sunday, that much is clear.

Despite the mess they made, the Giants retain control of the NFC East, even being a game back in the standings. A failure to take advantage of their position again would only lead to greater questions about the makeup of this group of players. So there's plenty on the line when they play the New York Jets on Saturday, much more than silly bragging rights in a rivalry between teams that play in different conferences.

"It's playoff football for us," Canty said. "We've gotta win a football game. This football team has to win a football game on Saturday. That's what it is."

Appreciating Brady

The truly great players are sometimes, to a degree, taken for granted. It's why Michael Jordan only won five MVPs. It's why, if you believe all that's been written on him, Barry Bonds turned to performance-enhancers.

And it's why Tom Brady sometimes isn't a headliner. He certainly wasn't on Sunday in Denver.

But if Brady is on the back end of his prime -- as his 34 years of age would suggest -- it's worth taking a look at the amazing run he's put together, how he's improved with experience and made his 30s more spectacular, if not more bejeweled, than his 20s.

Brady turned 30 in August 2007. Since then, he's played in a Super Bowl, torn his anterior cruciate ligament, and signed a four-year contract extension that will take him into his 15th year as a Patriot.

So I thought it'd be interesting to see what the numbers bear out, excluding the year he tore his ACL, in which he only played part of a single game, and the season after that. Here's what you get:

46 games played, 1073-of-1600 passing (67.1 percent), 13,299 yards, 121 touchdowns, 23 interceptions.

That gives him an astronomical 8.31-yards per attempt in three healthy seasons since turning 30, and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 5.3. Projected out over the next two games, he will have averaged 4,626 yards, 42 touchdown passes and eight interceptions per season during this period.

And here's the other thing: Despite the team's failures in the playoffs, which are analogous to Peyton Manning's in the past when it comes to the structure of the roster, Brady is still nails when it counts. No. 12's final incomplete pass in Denver came within the first five minutes of the second half.

Tebow Time? Brady broke the clock on that one, going 9-for-9 for 140 yards on the Patriots' final three possessions, which consumed as much time as they did in large part because the quarterback was moving the sticks. Denver's second-year phenom was limited to just three possessions in the game's final 19 minutes.

In doing that, the quarterback helped mask a seriously flawed defense and gave his running game room to chip away at the Broncos. And he won, which is the result he's achieved in 41 of the aforementioned 46 games.

I can't help but think back to a conversation I had with Brady -- a guy I covered on the Patriots beat for two years, just before this amazing statistical run began -- ahead of his game against Manning's Colts last November. We were talking legacy and, as per usual, it was tough trying to draw him out on this particular subject.

"I love the things that [Manning] does. I get to watch him a lot, and I try to always watch what the Colts are doing," Brady told me then. "I still look at us like we're young guys out there playing. I know his goal is to continue to play for a long time; it's not like it's coming to the end."

Thirteen months later, Manning's future is cloudy at best. So I think it's important now to appreciate Brady, who's roughly as old now as Manning was then, because you never know how much longer it will last.

New direction for Dolphins

Last week, my Thursday notebook led with the way owners are looking for general managers who are more than just football men, who have the ability to marry that side of the operation with the business side.

This trend is now creeping onto the sideline as well.

According to folks in the know, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross will be looking for a head coach, regardless of what might happen at other levels of the organization, who will be able to help set the tone for the entire organization. Word is, Ross wants to emphasize a single vision, with folks on the football side and business side working together to get there.

No matter who you blame for what's happened since 2008, when the Dolphins wrested the AFC East title from New England, it's obvious that kind of focus has been lacking since Ross took over in 2009. The introduction of celebrity stakeholders clearly rubbed the football people, led then by Bill Parcells, the wrong way. The business side's introduction of promotions such as the "Orange Carpet", part of an effort to create a gameday scene that would attract a flaky Miami crowd, didn't engender goodwill either.

Then, Parcells left and the ill-fated Jim Harbaugh recruiting trip took place last January. Without the agenda-setting Tuna around to keep the peace, a fracture emerged between the personnel and coaching sides. The players rallied around Tony Sparano after the team followed an 0-7 start with a 4-1 run, but it was an open secret that the owner had made up his mind that he would fire a coach he had very little communication with.

So in addition to looking for a coach he can sell to the public, Ross will also be looking for a leader in tune with the business vision of CEO Mike Dee, a coach he can establish direct communication with and who can mend the fences on the football side.

Rightly or wrongly, the feeling inside those walls still is that the team has the pieces to contend in 2012 if it can find the right quarterback and coach. The former could be a rookie, given the examples set by Baltimore and New York, teams that won in the playoffs with first-year players at that position.

As for the latter, my sense is Ross still wants a name, and his reported flirtation with Bill Cowher is evidence of that. But the more I poke around, the more I think the coach's philosophical stance on the above elements will be every bit as important.

Chiefs have promise

The Chiefs' big win may have come as a shocker, and rightfully so. Kansas City had fired its coach six days earlier and was facing a 13-0 machine.

But the truth is this wasn't a total smoke-and-mirrors show by Romeo Crennel's crew.

Whoever gets the job full-time will be handed the foundation of a potentially dominating young defense. Derrick Johnson is 29, Tamba Hali is 28, Glenn Dorsey is 26, Brandon Flowers, Brandon Carr and Tyson Jackson are 25, Eric Berry is 23 (though he'll be coming off ACL surgery) and Justin Houston is 22. The team gave deals to Johnson, Hali and Flowers recently, and the rest are on their rookie contracts.

And if you take away the two-week debacle at the beginning of the season, the Chiefs are allowing a respectable 19.1 points per game. There have been lapses, but also breakthroughs, which should be expected of a young group.

Put Berry, the most promising prospect of all and an Ed Reed-type of centerfielder, back in the mix, and you may see more days like the one the Chiefs had on Sunday in 2012.

One problem for Packers


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Speaking of that game, I'd still mark the Packers as a Super Bowl favorite. After not losing for 364 days, they deserve the mulligan.

There is, though, one red flag worth noting, and it came as the Packers were flailing to keep their incredible run alive in the waning moments of the fourth quarter.

Even after an onside kick failed with 2:04 left, the Green Bay defense had a chance to give Aaron Rodgers the ball one more time, down 19-14 with all three timeouts left. That group had to know what kind of clock-killing plays were coming. Yet, on first-and-10, with 2:03 left, Thomas Jones ground out six yards up the gut. Then, after the two-minute warning, he got around the corner for seven yards and a first down.

The Packers called a timeout, leaving them with two remaining, 1:47 to go and, again, a chance to get their high-powered offense the ball. However, Jackie Battle got the ball on first-and-10 and went for four yards. Battle got the ball again on second-and-6 and ripped off a 15-yarder. Ballgame.

My concern: The Packers defense found itself in a situation where a) it knew what was coming and b) positively needed a stop. Facing a middle-of-the-road running game that's been without its top back all year, Green Bay couldn't get that stop. I'm not saying it's enough to sound the alarm at Lambeau, but it's certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Five one-liners

1) If Steve Spagnuolo is indeed on his way out in St. Louis, and the Eagles' last-ditch run at the playoffs falls short, seeing Spags return to Philly as defensive coordinator would make a ton of sense.

2) The handling of Matt Forte this week, with the Bears in must-win mode and his contract situation hovering, promises to be a fascinating storyline.

3) That was a character win for the Lions on Sunday, and one that again shows how solidly the players stand behind Jim Schwartz, who's come under fire of late.

4) Have to wonder if big-money deals handed to Ryan Fitzpatrick and Kevin Kolb, based largely on potential, will lead teams to wait longer before handing big money over to quarterbacks.

5) It's not 2012 yet, but I'd imagine the Raiders are pretty excited about the kind of explosiveness they'll be surrounding Carson Palmer with then. Darius Heyward-Bey will finally be coming of age, and Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford and Darren McFadden will presumably be back and healthy.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer

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