New York Giants
Place-kicker Jay Feely, who has made 30 of 36 field goal attempts this season, seems to be best remembered for half his misses.
They came in Seattle, the last three he attempted, two of them in overtime, and had he made any one of them the Giants would have walked off the Qwest Field as winners and today would be sporting a gaudy 11-3 record.
But he missed them all, and it sticks in his craw.
The fact that he has just established a team kick-scoring record with 128 points for the season (with two games remaining) doesn't really do it for him.
"That is the sign of a good offense," he smiles. "You move down the field, you score, I come in and get a point. You move down the field, you get close, I come in and get a short field goal try. It's good to play on a strong offensive team."
But Feely does have his quiet moments of reflection, and usually they occur when he is in the middle of a hostile field with the crescendo of noise attacking him in waves.
"The away games usually test you," he said. "Those people make so much noise."
And when he is standing out there, one small man in the middle of 80,000 enemies, what goes through his mind?
"I just concentrate," he said. "I can't deny the magnitude of the moment, and I have to realize the ramifications of the kick. If I make it, we win. If I don't, we lose. That's a pretty awesome responsibility."
But he immediately lightened up.
"Every kicker goes through that," he said, "and there isn't one of us who would rather be somewhere else. We don't want to be kicking for a losing team, when it doesn't much matter. This is the high point of competition in the NFL, whether I can make one and win an important game for the team."
And if he misses it, as he did three times in Seattle?
"You can't deny the seriousness of the moment," he said, "but you can't dwell on it, either. Hopefully, you'll be getting another chance."
Unless, of course, you miss the final kick in a Super Bowl and there isn't another chance until the following season. You know, sort of like Scott Norwood?
Feely just smiled. He would love to be in position for that final kick in the last game of the NFL season, and he is certain he won't miss it.
--MLB Antonio Pierce is no closer to playing this Saturday than he was last week, and he is doubly distressed because this game is against the team with which he spent his first four seasons, the Washington Redskins. "I'd love to play in this one and help us clinch the division," he said, "but it doesn't look like I will." Pierce has a high ankle sprain and is in a cast. He may be able to play in the finale on Dec. 31 Oakland, but not if the Giants don't have to win it. Then he can rest for the first playoff game.
--LT Luke Petitgout practiced and is said to be ready for this week's game against the Redskins. He suffered back spasms in the first quarter of the Dec. 11 game at Philadelphia and missed last week's game against Kansas City.
--LG/RT David Diehl, who played right tackle last week filling in for Kareem McKenzie (hamstring), says it doesn't matter where he plays. "If Kareem is ready, I'll go back to guard. It doesn't make any difference to me, as long as we win. All that counts is this one game."
--The Giants can clinch the NFC East with a victory, and most of the players are clearly aware of that and not happy to be talking about it. "We know what we have right here in our hands," said RB Tiki Barber. "We can be as good as we want to be, and this game will prove a lot of things to a lot of people."
--QB Eli Manning, who has been less than brilliant in his last few games, is winning nevertheless, and that's what coach Tom Coughlin points to when questioned. "He has been the winning quarterback in 10 of our 14 games," he said. "That is a good thing for his resume." Manning has thrown 22 TD passes, most since Kerry Collins hit on that amount in 2000.
--WR Plaxico Burress caught just two passes last week and three the week before, but RB Tiki Barber says he has been invaluable for his blocking. "Plax opened the hole for me on the 55-yard run I had," he said, "and he was there to clear out a path when I took the ball 41 for a touchdown."
--RB Tiki Barber is getting sudden attention in the NFL's MVP voting, and a recent AOL Sports poll, which offered a survey of Barber, RB Shaun Alexander, QB Peyton Manning, QB Carson Palmer and QB Tom Brady. Tiki held a commanding 57 percent of the vote as of Tuesday.
--LB Roman Phifer, the Giants' newest signee, is a 14-year veteran who was released by the New England Patriots on Feb. 28. "I've been staying in shape and working out," he said, "wondering if my life after football had already started, but hoping the phone would ring. It finally did. I'm overjoyed to be here. The Giants have a strong defense and a good chance to get to the playoffs, and if I can help even a little it will be worth it."
--TE Jeremy Shockey, who has been uncharacteristically quiet and controversy-free this season, is enjoying his best season since his rookie year. Not only has he improved dramatically as a blocker but he has caught 63 passes for 683 yards. He is just 11 shy of tying his career best 74 set as a rookie in 2002 and he has already set a career-best seven TD catches with two games to play.
--MLB Chase Blackburn, the free agent rookie who started for Antonio Pierce and played the entire game with nine solo tackles, was asked to critique his performance. "It was just ordinary," he said. "It was just average. I thought it was a decent first game for me, a decent first start."
--LCB Will Allen, who has 61 tackles, 10 passes defensed, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and three special teams tackles, has yet to record an interception. He has dropped four or five obvious picks, and last year he had seven in his hands that somehow found a way to trickle out. He has eight career interceptions and has never completed a season with none.
The Eagles placed tackle Todd Herremans on injured reserve Tuesday and signed running back Bruce Perry from their practice squad to replace him on the 53-man roster.
Herremans, a rookie fourth-round pick out of Saginaw Valley (Mich.) State, fractured his left ankle in Sunday's 17-16 win over the St. Louis Rams. He started the last four games at left tackle, replacing Pro Bowler Tra Thomas, who suffered a season-ending back injury.
Herremans is the 13th Eagle to be placed on injured reserve this season. Four more players are on other injured lists.
Artis Hicks, the club's starting left guard, will replace Herremans at left tackle Saturday against Arizona. Adrien Clarke will take Hicks' spot at left guard. Clarke started three games for Hicks earlier this season when he injured his knee.
Perry was a seventh-round pick of the Eagles in the '04 draft. He spent all of last year on injured reserve and spent the first 15 weeks of this season on the practice squad.
"Bruce is a good player," coach Andy Reid said. "This will give us an opportunity to put him in there and see how he does."
--RB Bruce Perry was signed off the practice squad Tuesday and added to the 53-man roster. Eagles coach Andy Reid indicated that he'll likely be activated for Saturday's game against Arizona.
--T Todd Herremans, who started the last four games at left tackle, was placed on injured reserve after fracturing his left ankle in Sunday's win over the St. Louis Rams.
--OL Artis Hicks, the club's starting left guard, will move over to left tackle Saturday and replace injured Todd Herremans, who is out for the remainder of the year with a fractured ankle.
--G Adrien Clarke will make his fourth start of the season Saturday, replacing Artis Hicks, who is moving over to left tackle to replace injured Todd Herremans.
--QB Mike McMahon, who is 2-3 in his five starts, has failed to throw for 100 yards in either of the games the Eagles have won with him as the starter.
--WR Greg Lewis is averaging just 7.4 yards per catch in the Eagles' last four games.
--TE L.J. Smith has not caught more than two passes in any of the last four games.
--RT Jon Runyan continues to struggle with an injured knee. He was only able to practice one day last week, but played against St. Louis, his 142nd straight regular-season start. He is expected to play Saturday against Arizona, but won't practice much this week.
The Cowboys are on the verge of arguably the biggest collapse in franchise history.
Never has a Cowboys team missed the playoffs after winning seven of its first 10 games.
But that is a distinct possibility in 2005 for the Cowboys, who are heading into Sunday's showdown in Charlotte, N.C. against the Carolina Panthers on the brink of playoff elimination.
The Cowboys (8-6) must beat the NFC South-leading Panthers (10-4) on the road, then must win their final game, at home against the Rams, to have a chance at the postseason.
They also must get some help.
Achieving the first goal against the Panthers will be a tall order because their strengths are the Cowboys' weaknesses of late.
Offensively, Carolina is a strong running team featuring the explosive DeShaun Foster. The Cowboys, who have lost three of their last four games, have not been able to stop anyone on the ground of late, giving up 603 rushing yards the last four games to the Broncos (144), the Giants (127), the Chiefs (161) and the Redskins (171). The Cowboys have gone from sixth against the run earlier in the season to 15th now.
"Sometimes it's about attitude," nose tackle Jason Ferguson said. "They want to run the ball and we don't have the same will we had earlier in the season. We have to get our will back. But it's definitely surprising. We take a lot of pride in our run defense. We have just gone the wrong way."
Defensively, the Panthers are led by one of the league's premier defensive end tandems - Mike Rucker and Julius Peppers. Not coincidentally, the shaky play of tackles Torrin Tucker and Rob Petitti have held the Cowboys hostage all season. The Cowboys gave up seven sacks against the Redskins last Sunday. Tucker's man accounted for four, while Petitti gave up two."This team we've got coming up here is a good running team, very good," Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said. "It's a tall order here for us to get back and ready to go in a short week against this team because they are very good, and they also have very good defensive ends, so it's kind of a combination of things that have been bothersome to us."
--LB Mike Barrow has officially been moved to the injured reserve list with a strained quadriceps tendon in his right knee. It's the same injury that kept Barrow out of football for more than a year. He missed all of last season with the Redskins because of the injury. When he played one play against the Chiefs on Dec. 11 after signing with the Cowboys three weeks ago, it was his first action since 2003 when he was with the Giants. He went down against the Redskins after only two plays so he has combined for three plays in 2005 before going on injured reserve. The Cowboys signed him to a split contract, allowing them to save roughly $70,000 the final two weeks.
--QB Drew Bledsoe said he never considered coming out of the blowout loss to the Redskins despite putting himself at risk to injury by taking a pounding in the fourth quarter. "I think for me, I have been playing this game since I was 12 and never once asked out of a game," Bledsoe said. "I won't ever do that. That's just the kind of way you are as a player. Hopefully, what guys took from that I am going to stay in there and fight this battle with you until the battle is over. That's the way I am hoping for these last two regular-season games. Fighting that battle means coming out on the winning side. That's what I anticipate."
--LB DeMarcus Ware had a sack in four straight games earlier in the season, but he has not had a sack since Oct. 16 against the Giants. The Cowboys are 4-4 since that game. He had one tackle in last Sunday's 35-7 loss to the Redskins.
--K Billy Cundiff and P Matt McBriar are safe for at least another week. Cundiff missed a short field goal against the Redskins. McBriar had punts of 24 and 15 yards in the game, prompting coach Bill Parcells to tell special teams coach Bruce DeHaven that "he is gone." Parcells says now he will not make any changes going into the Panthers game.
--CB Anthony Henry said he suffered an abdominal strain against the Chiefs two weeks ago and will likely be limited by the injury for the rest of the season. Henry, who was the team's defensive MVP for the first half of the season, missed three of the four games prior to the Chiefs game with a partially torn groin. He returned to the starting lineup against the Chiefs. The injury forced him to play sparingly in the 35-7 loss to the Redskins. He played primarily on running plays in one-receiver sets.
--RB Julius Jones needs 236 yards in the final two games to reach 1,000 for the season. He currently has 764 yards and is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. That number was spiked by a meaningless 51-yard run late in the blowout loss to the Redskins. That Jones didn't reach the end zone on that run was telling - he has not scored since Sept. 25 against the 49ers.