© St. Petersburg Times, published December 24, 2002
Christmas appears to be coming a tad early in New York.
Once dismissed as a serious playoff contender, the Giants (9-6) have won three straight, including twice on the road, and only need to beat the Eagles on Saturday or get some help from Carolina on Sunday to earn what seemed an unlikely postseason berth.
Granted, beating the Eagles (12-3) won't be easy, but the Giants certainly have a shot the way they have played the past few weeks, particularly on offense. In their past four games, they are averaging 34.2 points.
And the Giants are playing the Eagles at home.
"We couldn't ask for anything better," receiver Amani Toomer told reporters after Sunday's 44-27 win at Indianapolis. "This is like our early Christmas present."
SPEAKING OF NEW YORK: The Jets continue to play inspired in the second half of the season, much like the Giants. They got off to a dismal start, but coach Herman Edwards wouldn't let his team quit.
They still might not make the playoffs, but you have to admire their resilience. That they have a chance to win the AFC East is worth applauding, considering they started 1-4 and starting quarterback Vinny Testaverde was replaced by Chad Pennington early in the season.
The Jets know they're a long shot to get to the postseason, but that hasn't stopped them from dreaming.
"Funny things have happened in this league," Pennington said.
Still, the question: Why didn't the Jets play this well all season?
Edwards, known as a player-friendly coach, apparently has been pondering that question and has vowed to consider changes that might improve the team's early-season play. Some say he needs to make the players work harder.
"There might be a need for changes in the way we do things in the offseason. There will be some things different," he told the New York Times. "I'm stubborn, but I'm not stupid. I'm going to do whatever we can do to make sure we can win games."
GET OFF (THE) COUCH: Critics have questioned whether Brown quarterback Tim Couch should be considered the team's future. Couch may have answered that question with his 92-yard winning drive Sunday against the Ravens.
"He was horribly crucified in the first Baltimore game. And to come back today and go 92 yards with no timeouts and score the game-winning touchdown, I think he deserves an awful lot of credit," coach Butch Davis said. "This was his 10th come-from-behind victory in the fourth quarter. It shows poise and leadership that he exhibited today."
SINKING TO THEIR LEVEL: If the Saints had their way, they probably would want to play the Packers, Raiders, Bucs and Eagles every week. The league's better teams haven't given the Saints many problems this season.
It's the weaker teams that have gotten under their skin. They've lost to the Lions (3-12) and Bengals (2-13), yet have beaten the Packers, Steelers and Niners and beat the Bucs twice.
As a result, Saints fans are probably a nervous wreck about the season finale against the 6-9 Panthers.
ENOUGH SAID: The play of the day Sunday had to be Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey plowing over former Bucs safety David Gibson on a screen pass.
Apparently, Shockey got extra delight from the hit after reading in the Indianapolis Star that Gibson, who plays for the Colts, said Shockey was basically nothing special as far as great tight ends go.
"He won't be saying nothing else about me, I don't think," Shockey told the New York Post.
AN OLD DOG'S NEW TRICKS: Redskins coach Steve Spurrier put his ego aside last week and admitted he has a lot to learn about winning in the NFL. From the looks of things, he might have learned something Sunday. Run the ball.
Washington fans, not to mention disgruntled running back Stephen Davis, have been imploring Spurrier to modify his pass-happy ways and stay with the ground game more often.
For whatever reason, Spurrier did it Sunday, as backups Kenny Watson and Ladell Betts rushed for more than 100 yards each. "That's probably the last thing anybody thought would happen," Watson said.
It's probably not a coincidence that the Redskins won.
Said Spurrier: "Certainly we plan on using them similarly next week."
ON SECOND THOUGHT: With all the fuss about Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson not making the NFC Pro Bowl team, perhaps the quarterback who really got robbed was the Giants' Kerry Collins.
He is fourth in the league in passing yards (3,817 before Monday night). And while his passer rating is a decent 85.1, he has played as well as any quarterback lately.
"He's a Pro Bowl quarterback, in my opinion," teammate Michael Strahan said after Sunday's game.
-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.