The Dallas Cowboys took back control of the NFC East as they defeated their divisional rivals the New York Giants 24-21 on Sunday night.
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo threw two touchdown passes and led a drive that set up Dan Bailey’s 35-yard field goal on the final play as Dallas tied their season record at 6-5 with the Philadelphia Eagles, who were on a bye week.
Defeat virtually ends the playoff hopes of the Giants (4-7), who face the Washington Redskins (3-8) in another all-divisional clash this coming weekend.
Dallas has now won both the matches between these two sides this season, a factor that has been decisive in determining the pair’s respective hopes of a post-season campaign.
And it was the Cowboys who struck first at the MetLife Stadium when Victor Cruz fumbled and allowed rookie safety Jeff Heath to scamper home a 50 yard touchdown return.
The score followed a succession of first quarter errors. On the Giants' previous series, quarterback Eli Manning was sacked following a delay of game penalty, and New York were forced to punt, while Romo was then intercepted by Antrel Rolle to hand possession straight back to the home side.
Josh Brown narrowed the deficit with field goals of 21 and 23-yards, but Jason Witten’s touchdown catch meant the visitors headed into the half-time break with a lead of 14-6.
Witten then picked up his 50th career touchdown at the start of the third quarter to seemingly end the Giants hopes. But the hosts fought back, scoring with Manning’s 27-yard pass to Brandon Myers before again finding a way into the end zone when back-up wide out Louis Murphy made a four-yard reception.
Andre Brown’s two-point conversion levelled the scores at 21, but it was late heartbreak for the Giants as Romo, with 250 passing yards on the day, led the Cowboys back up the field and allowed Bailey to slot home his kick in the dying seconds.
Elsewhere, the Seattle Seahawks retained the top seeding in the NFL without even playing, as both the Denver Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs missed the chance to join the NFC West leaders at 10-1.
The Broncos went down to a late overtime field goal in an epic 34-31 defeat to the New England Patriots, with Tom Brady’s side making up a 24-0 half-time deficit.
Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 31-yard field goal for the home side after a fumbled punt return by the visitors in overtime.
The Broncos Tony Carter ran into Ryan Allen’s punt after it landed, and Nate Ebner recovered for the Patriots at Denver’s 13-yard line.
Brady threw for three touchdowns to lead the Patriots (8-3) into a 31-24 lead as New England scored on its first five possessions of the second half. Peyton Manning, who managed just 150 passing yards on the day, threw an 11-yard scoring pass to Demaryius Thomas to tie the game and take it into overtime, before Gostkowski kicked the winning points.
The Chiefs lost for the second weekend in a row to stay level with the Broncos at 9-2 atop the AFC West. They were stunned 41-38 by divisional rivals the San Diego Chargers.
The Broncos and the Chiefs meet for the second time in three weeks this Sunday, with the winner likely to put one foot into the playoffs.
Meanwhile, New England already looks more than likely to be attending the 2013 post-season, after both their nearest AFC East rivals - the Miami Dolphins and the New York Jets - both fell to defeat last weekend.
The former was beaten 20-16 by the Carolina Panthers, while the latter lost out 19-3 to the Baltimore Ravens. The pair, both 5-6, meets this coming Sunday.
The Jets and the Dolphins are among six AFC sides tied at 5-6 records, all of whom have a shot at the sixth and final playoff place up for grabs in the conference.
With the Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts (both 7-4) set to join the Patriots, Broncos and Chiefs in the final twelve, one remaining spot remains up for grabs. And the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and San Diego Chargers will all fancy their chances, along with the Eastern pair.
Indianapolis were rocked last weekend though, when they suffered a huge 40-11 defeat against the Arizona Cardinals. The Titans used the opportunity to close the gap on the Colts at the top of the AFC South to two wins; they defeated the Oakland Raiders 23-19.
The Pittsburgh Steelers won their third game in succession, a 27-11 defeat of the Cleveland Browns, to keep pace with the Ravens, two wins behind the AFC North leaders, and the Bengals, who had a bye in week 12.
In the only other all-AFC clash of the weekend, the Jacksonville Jaguars condemned the hapless Houston Texans to their ninth successive defeat, with their 13-6 success tying the two records at 2-9.
Both the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears fell to surprise defeats last weekend, and remain tied at 6-5 at the top of the NFC North. The Lions were beaten 24-21 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while the Bears lost out 42-21 against the St. Louis Rams.
The Green Bay Packers missed the chance to make it a three way tie at the top of the division, after they drew their game with the NFC North’s fourth and final side, the Minnesota Vikings, both teams scoring 26 after overtime.
New Orleans kept their spot at the top of the NFC South with a 17-13 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, but the Panthers remain just a win behind the 9-2 Saints after they also claimed victory.
And finally, the San Francisco 49ers returned to winning ways, ending a two game losing streak, by defeating the Washington Redskins 27-6. Both they and the Cardinals (7-4) remain three wins behind the Seahawks.
Full List of Week 12 Results:
Saints 17 (at the) 13 Falcons
Buccaneers 24 (at the) 21 Lions
Vikings 26 (at the) 26 Packers
Jaguars 13 (at the) 6 Texans
Chargers 41 (at the) 38 Chiefs
Panthers 20 (at the) 16 Dolphins
Steelers 27 (at the) 11 Browns
Bears 21 (at the) 42 Rams
Jets 3 (at the) 19 Ravens
Titans 23 (at the) 19 Raiders
Colts 11 (at the) 40 Cardinals
Cowboys 24 (at the) 21 Giants
Broncos 31 (at the) 34 Patriots
49ers 27 (at the) 6 Redskins
Bye Week – Bills, Bengals, Eagles & Seahawks
Week 13 Fixtures
Packers (5-5-1) at the Lions (6-5)
Raiders (4-7) at the Cowboys (6-5)
Steelers (5-6) at the Ravens (5-6)
Titans (5-6) at the Colts (7-4)
Jaguars (2-9) at the Browns (4-7)
Buccaneers (3-8) at the Panthers (8-3)
Bears (6-5) at the Vikings (2-8-1)
Patriots (8-3) at the Texans (2-9)
Cardinals (7-4) at the Eagles (6-5)
Dolphins (5-6) at the Jets (5-6)
Falcons (2-9) at the Bills (4-7)
Rams (5-6) at the 49ers (7-4)
Bengals (7-4) at the Chargers (5-6)
Broncos (9-2) at the Chiefs (9-2)
Giants (4-7) at the Redskins (3-8)
Saints (9-2) at the Seahawks (10-1)
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