6:39 PM PST, December 9, 2012
In April, three rounds after they made Robert Griffin III the second pick in the draft, the Washington Redskins selected Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins.
A lot of people scratched their heads at that. Why would a team with plenty of holes to fill use another pick on a quarterback?
Sunday, that move looked brilliant.
With Griffin sidelined by a stomach-turning right knee injury, Cousins came off the bench to erase an eight-point deficit in the final minute, setting up a 31-28 overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens that was clinched by Kai Forbath's 34-yard field goal.
On a Sunday when all four teams in the up-for-grabs NFC East won — with Philadelphia being the only non-factor — the surging Redskins picked up their fourth victory in a row.
But how long can they keep rolling with their rookie superstar hobbled? The status of Griffin is uncertain after his knee whipsawed violently as he was being tackled at the end of a 13-yard scramble.
Griffin sat out one snap, returned for four passes but was limping badly, came out, and wanted to return a second time.
"I still felt like I could go out and help the team win," he said.
Griffin had an MRI exam that the Redskins said showed a sprained right knee and that ruled out a season-ending torn ligament. The team said an update would be provided by Coach Mike Shanahan on Monday.
Griffin's injury aside, the Redskins celebrated a dramatic victory. Cousins threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon with 29 seconds left, then forged a 28-28 tie by running in the two-point conversion on a quarterback draw.
In East Rutherford, N.J., the Giants maintained their one-game division lead over the Redskins and Cowboys with a 52-27 thrashing of New Orleans. It was the first time New York has surpassed 50 points in 26 years.
There's no coasting for the Giants at this point. They finish at Atlanta, at Baltimore, and home against Philadelphia.
While the Redskins won by three points, the Eagles and Cowboys escaped with even narrower victories.
Philadelphia won at Tampa Bay, 23-21, ending an eight-game losing streak. It was the third consecutive loss for the Buccaneers, who earlier had clawed their way back to relevance by winning four games in a row.
And the heavy-hearted Cowboys won at Cincinnati, 20-19. A day earlier, Jerry Brown, a linebacker on the Dallas practice squad, was killed in a car accident as a passenger of teammate Josh Brent, who has been charged with intoxication manslaughter.
That tragedy dampened any excitement by the Cowboys in the wake of their victory, clinched by Dan Bailey's 40-yard field goal as time ran out.
"It's a hard situation we're in," quarterback Tony Romo said. "There's no playbook for this sort of thing in life."
In the visitors' locker room in Cincinnati, the Cowboys saved a locker in memory of Brown, turning the stool in front of it upside down. They also had his jersey on the sideline, with defensive tackle Jason Hatcher holding it above his head after the winning kick.
"I don't remember crying this much other than maybe the day I was born," defensive lineman Marcus Spears said. "With Josh's situation and Jerry being gone, you felt it."
While there's a wide-open race to the finish in the NFC East, there's corresponding drama on the West Coast, where San Francisco and Seattle are scorching.
The 49ers held on to their narrow division lead with a win over Miami, but Seattle is surging, as evidenced by the Seahawks' 58-0 obliteration of Arizona.
San Francisco plays at Seattle in two weeks, but not before traveling to New England for a tough game at Gillette Stadium. The 49ers finish with Arizona at home.
Seattle, which is undefeated at home, plays at Buffalo before playing host to the 49ers and St. Louis.
One wild card is the status of Seattle's Richard Sherman, who is facing the same penalty levied against fellow Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner — a four-game suspension for the use of Adderall, a performance-enhancing drug.
While Browner accepted the punishment and won't be available until the playoffs, Sherman is appealing and has a hearing scheduled for Friday. However, according to an ESPN report, he is considering filing motions that could further delay a decision.
It's the Pitts
Too late to save their season, but the San Diego Chargers finally showed up for a game. They beat the Steelers, 34-24, winning a regular-season game in Pittsburgh for the first time in 15 tries and spoiling the return of Ben Roethlisberger.
The Steelers have fallen into the troubling pattern of winning games they're supposed to lose, and losing games they're supposed to win. A week after winning at Baltimore with Charlie Batch at quarterback, Pittsburgh lost to a team that had dropped seven of eight.
Asked the reason for the inconsistency, Roethlisberger said: "I have no clue. If I knew I don't think we'd do it anymore. I thought we'd play better."
Stroke of Luck
Andrew Luck continues to show that his success is no fluke. The Indianapolis rookie orchestrated his sixth fourth-quarter comeback of the season in a 27-23 victory over Tennessee.
The Colts are 9-4, meaning the franchise has won three times as many games with Luck as with a rookie Peyton Manning.
Luck threw for 196 yards Sunday, setting a franchise record for passing yards by a rookie at 3,792. That topped Manning's mark of 3,739.
If he averages 87 yards passing over the final three games, Luck will pass Cam Newton for the rookie record of 4,051.
Luck and Griffin were the leading candidates for offensive rookie of the year. With Griffin hurting, this looks more like a one-horse race.
Newton was phenomenal in Carolina's 30-20 victory over Atlanta, throwing two touchdown passes and running for a career-high 116 yards.
Every team is entitled to a letdown or two, but the Falcons have had too many close calls to feel secure heading into the postseason. Remember, they have never won a playoff game with the current coach-quarterback regime.
Atlanta almost lost at home to Carolina, Oakland, and Arizona. Yes, the Falcons wound up winning those games. But those performances, coupled with Sunday's loss in Charlotte, don't inspire a lot of confidence for a deep playoff run.
Down to the wire
The nailbiter trend continues. In four games Sunday, the winning points were decided in the final two minutes or overtime. That brings the season total to 47 such games and is tied with 2003 for the most through the first 14 weeks since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.
NFL sacks leader Aldon Smith of the 49ers picked up two more against the Dolphins to up his season total to 191/2, within three of Michael Strahan's season NFL record set in 2001 with the New York Giants.
This could be a bizarre season in which one player, Peyton Manning, wins both most valuable player and comeback player of the year, and when an interim coach, the Colts' Bruce Arians, wins coach of the year.
But the performance of Minnesota's Adrian Peterson cannot be overlooked. The Vikings star, whose knee was shredded last Christmas Eve, has been spectacular. He ran for 154 yards and two touchdowns in a 21-14 victory over Chicago, the seventh consecutive game he's passed the 100-yard mark.
With three games to play, Peterson has 1,600 yards, so 2,000 is within reach. The Rams' Eric Dickerson holds the NFL record with 2,105 in a season.
The Vikings finish with games at St. Louis and Houston, and at home against Green Bay. Through 12 games, those teams ranked 13th, second, and 15th against the run.
"I think about it," Peterson said of 2,000 yards. "I don't try to think about it too much. I feel like it will happen. It's obvious we're going to continue to run the ball and the chips will fall where they may."
The chips will fall, as will the would-be tacklers.
"The guy's unbelievable," Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder said of Peterson. "I don't know if he's human or not."
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