So much for spoiling the Cowboys Christmas– as the Burgundy and Gold blow a nine point fourth quarter lead en route to a 24-23 loss to Dallas.  The classic come from ahead defeat– but one that inspired a poem that’s legend will last a lunchtime.

Cousins!– for the first time in his career, the Michigan State product did not throw for 300 yards in a game he started.  A lot of checkdowns in a 21-36, 197 yard day.  A day where two crucial throws came behind receivers:  the red zone interception (if he leads Moss, Santana scores) at the end of the first half and the clock-killing drive in the fourth quarter (a tougher throw, but if he leads Garcon…the chains move).  Some say he looks more comfortable in the pocket than RG3…and although Cousins has been sacked just once in two games, he’s faced the 26th and 32nd ranked defenses in the NFL.  And the Giants are tied for 25th in sacks.

Alfred finds the end zone!– although Mr. Morris failed to reach the century mark again, #46 tallied 24 carries for 88 yards and a touchdown. Just his second TD during the seven game slide…not even the Zack of the Miss Bliss era had a drought like that.  No wonder he later hit on homeless girls during the holiday season at the mall.

Peerless Pierre– 11 catches for 144 yards and a touchdown allowed #88 to break Art Monk’s team record of 106 catches in a season at home.  Not all single-season records are equal:  Monk’s mark came on the final day of the 1984 season with the NFC East in the balance…while Garcon’s record-setting day was during a heartbreaking loss during the final stages of a last place finish.

Third and just short enough– while 7-for-16 isn’t horrible…the fact that the Skins were unable to convert on 4 of their last 5 attempts gave Dallas just enough of a window to climb back into the game:  a 5-yard pass on 3rd & 9 to Logan Paulsen set up a field goal that meant the Cowboys only needed a TD and a FG to win…an in complete pass to Garcon on 3rd and 6 gave Dallas the ball back with enough time to drive the field…and another incomplete pass on 3rd and 6 set up the eventual final turn over on downs.  Cousins completed 10 of 14 third down passes– with five leading to conversions.  Alfred Morris was run twice (!) on 3rd and 1 (both conversions).  The top target:  Pierre Garcon (8 with 5 catches and 4 conversions).  Yardage Breakdown….short (1-3 needed): 4-4, midrange (4-6 yards): 0-2…long (7+ needed): 3-10.

Defense fades– once again the D plays just well enough to grade well yet not pass the final exam.  They weren’t helped by the short field on the first possession (many unhappy returns).  And they did generate a pair of takeaways early in the second half to give the Skins fantastic field position on their two touchdown drives…but armed with a 23-14 lead in the fourth quarter the D coughed up 160 yards.  In the first three quarters they gave up just 150 yards…but once again couldn’t stop the opposition from doing what it needed to do when it really wanted to do it.

London Calling– six tackles in the final home game for the veteran linebacker.  A former small-college guy who didn’t miss a game in his career and shined on a champion (1999 Rams) while toiling on the fringe (11 non-playoff teams in 16 seasons).  Here’s to hopefully a future coach in the making.

Not so Special Teams– nothing like allowing a 62 yard punt return in the first quarter to set the tone.  Although they didn’t allow another return all day… and held the Cowboys to an average of 17 yards on three kickoff returns.  So that’s a start.  And Santana Moss shined as a punt returner (his 18 yarder set up the first field goal).  But in a season where the breakdowns were multiple and costly, the early betting line has Coordinator Keith Burns as one of the first out the door December 30th.

Cobra Kai– connecting on field goals of 22, 36 and 47 yards plus two extra points provided another day even the sensei would be proud of.  It’s as though they brought Zabka back for “Karate Kid III” in a minor role (a hot dog vendor or something) and he crushed it.  I mean… they brought back Martin Kove as John Krese for the poorly executed sequel, why not Johnny Lawrence in a supporting role where he comes through at the end to save Daniel- completing his transformation from the bully to end all bullies to the buddy to end all buddies?  That is why KK3 failed, my friends.

Flying Flags– eight penalties for 44 yards.  Five offensive (three false starts, an illegal shift and a delay of game), two defensive (defensive holding and delay of game on Josh Wilson) and one special teams flag (illegal block on David Amerson).  Two of the false starts were on Will Montgomery.  Were the penalties pivotal?  Montgomery’s false start in the first quarter resulted in a 3rd & 15–Skins punted one play later.  Santana Moss’ false start and Logan Paulsen’s  illegal shift turned a 3rd & goal at the 2 to a 3rd & goal at the 12…that resulted in settling for a field goal.  Wilson’s delay of game and Montgomery’s false start in the 3rd quarter didn’t prevent the Skins from reaching the endzone…although Cousins’ delay of game turned a 3rd & 8 to a 3rd &13 on the drive that ended in a field goal.  Wilson’s defensive hold didn’t set up a Dallas TD (they couldn’t score from a 1st and goal at the 9)…and Amerson’s illegal block cost them ten yards when they had a minute to go down the field for the winning field goal.

Dissecting the Division– for the third straight year, a winner take all (!) game the final Sunday night of the season:  Philadelphia leads Dallas by one game but if the Cowboys win, they’d own the tiebreaker with the Eagles.  Philly currently holds down the third seed in the NFC as nobody in the North can win at this point of the season (Chicago is 2-3 down the stretch, Green Bay is 2-5-1, Detroit 1-5).  Dallas owns eighth place in the conference…and could get the third seed if they win and the Packers beat the Bears.  The NY Giants are 12th in the NFC…on a 6-3 roll after starting 0-6.  The Redskins?  With a shot to escape last in the conference for the first time since 1994.  A win plus a Tampa Bay loss should deliver the Burgundy and Gold into 15th.  Would that make them the Baltic or Mediterranean Avenue of the NFC?

West is Best Beyond Belief– Cheers to the NFC West…a 38-22 mark all but assures that division of a rare 40-win campaign.  The last division to deliver 40 wins was the 2008 NFC South…and since realignment the only division to boast 3 ten win teams and 40+ wins was the 2007 AFC South.  But neither of those divisions were able to put a team into the conference championship game.  In fact, the last time a Super Bowl winner came from the division with the best record was 2004 (New England).  The AFC West finishes second at 35-25 (as everybody’s playing intra-divisional games in week 17…each division’s place is fixed)…and the NFC East clinches 7th with a 26-34 mark.  The NFC takes the interconference contest with 34 wins to the 30 the AFC posted.