As former NFL offensive lineman Ross Tucker, who played for the Cowboys and Washington Redskins, said last week: “I thought the Eagles would be two games better than everyone else in the division. The Giants and Cowboys are better than I thought they would be. The division in general is better than I thought it would be.”
No one is suggesting that the current NFC East is anywhere close to as imposing as the division was in its heyday when the Redskins, Giants and Cowboys combined to win eight Super Bowl titles in a span of 14 years between the 1982 and 1995 seasons. NFC East teams have only two Super Bowl triumphs since then, both by the Giants.
But now — after a trio of victories on Sunday — the NFC East has two 4-1 teams, in the Eagles and Cowboys, and a 3-2 club in the Giants. Only the Redskins, with a record of 1-3 entering Monday night’s game at home against the Seattle Seahawks, are failing to join in the prosperity.
The Eagles held off a late rally attempt by the St. Louis Rams to prevail at home, 34-28, and bounce back from their first defeat of the season last weekend at San Francisco. The Eagles led, 34-7, at one point but had to withstand a three-touchdown comeback by the Rams and get a final-minute stop of a last-gasp St. Louis drive.
The Eagles seemed intent Sunday on getting the ball to tailback LeSean McCoy, the reigning NFL rushing champion who has so far struggled to duplicate last season’s success. McCoy managed 81 rushing yards Sunday. But he needed 24 carries to do it, averaging a modest 3.4 yards per carry. He also lost a fumble. Quarterback Nick Foles lost a fumble and threw an interception for the Eagles. But he added two touchdown passes, and the Eagles managed to do enough to win.
Are the Cowboys or the Giants their main challenger in the NFC East? That’s a still-developing story. The Cowboys extended their winning streak to four games since a season-opening loss to the 49ers, but it wasn’t easy. They beat the Houston Texans, 20-17, in overtime.
The Cowboys have been winning because of the running of tailback DeMarco Murray behind a well-regarded offensive line, and because of the better-than-expected play of their defense. The defense did its part for most of the game Sunday, holding Houston to a single touchdown through three quarters, and Murray ran for 136 yards. Quarterback Tony Romo contributed some big plays, throwing for 324 yards and two touchdowns. The Cowboys squandered a 17-7, fourth-quarter lead and kicker Dan Bailey missed a would-be game-winning field goal from 53 yards as time expired in regulation. But Bailey rebounded to connect from 49 yards in overtime.
The Giants won their third straight game following a 0-2 start. Quarterback Eli Manning threw for two touchdowns as the Giants beat the Atlanta Falcons, 30-20. Manning and his offensive teammates continue to make progress in the West Coast system of first-year coordinator Ben McAdoo. One of Manning’s touchdowns went to rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., the first-round draft choice in May who made an immediate contribution in his NFL debut after being sidelined by a hamstring injury.
It remains to be seen if any of the NFC East front-runners belong in the conversation as honest-to-goodness Super Bowl contenders. But there are questions about many of the teams regarded as NFC heavyweights entering the season. The Seahawks have a loss and must demonstrate they can be the same overpowering team on the road they are at home. The New Orleans Saints have three road defeats and needed a dramatic victory Sunday to keep from falling to 1-4. The Green Bay Packers have lost twice and the 49ers were playing late Sunday afternoon to try to avoid a third defeat.
There is an opening for an NFC East team or two to attempt to force its way into the Super Bowl mix. The issues now are whether that indeed will happen and, if so, who it will be.