Victor Cruz and the New York Giants pushed aside the Dallas Cowboys to reach the NFC East title and a play-off spot. Denver and Cincinnati also reach the post-season despite losing their final games.
Giants leap over Cowboys and into NFL play-offs
Sparked by Victor Cruz, the free agent receiver who has become New York's newest football star, the Giants won the NFC East title by defeating the Dallas Cowboys 31-17 in a win-or-go-home showdown on Sunday night.
Eli Manning threw three touchdown passes, including a momentum-grabbing 74-yarder to Cruz in the first quarter, and the Giants beat the Cowboys for the second time this season.
"I knew we were going to fight and keep playing until the end," Manning said. "I feel good about the way we're handling the ups and downs, and it comes down to finishing."
New York won three of their final four games to finish 9-7 and earn a home game next Sunday against the wild-card winning Atlanta Falcons.
"It's amazing," said Cruz, who comes from Paterson, a New Jersey city near the Giants' stadium. "Growing up here and having seen the [Super Bowl] run in 2007, and the not-so-great runs, just to be a part of the team and the history is amazing.
"It's been an amazing roller-coaster ride."
In Denver, the Broncos did not get any heroics from Tim Tebow and lost 7-3 to Kansas City, led by the Broncos' cast-off quarterback, Kyle Orton. Denver still won the AFC West thanks to San Diego; the Chargers beat the Oakland Raiders 38-26, leaving the Broncos and Raiders both at 8-8, with Denver taking the division crown on the tie-breaker thanks to better results in common games.
The Bengals also lost, 24-16 to the Baltimore Ravens, but the Cincinnati still got into the play-offs as a wild card.
They finished 9-7, the same as the Tennessee Titans, but beat out the Titans on a tie-breaker.
"It's kind of weird," said Andy Dalton, the Bengals rookie quarterback. "Obviously, we didn't get it done today, but we still have a chance."
In New York, the Cowboys stumbled to their fourth loss in their final five games. They were their own worst enemy with the season on the line, missing tackles on all three of the Giants' first-half touchdowns, and failing to recover two fumbles within their grasp.
"It's extremely painful and it's a damn shame," said Jerry Jones, the Cowboys owner. "We have a good team, and I thought we would be going to the play-offs, but that didn't happen.
"We have to be able to take some of the good with the bad, and move on. We did a lot of good things this year, but to point to one thing why this happened would be subjective. We're 8-8 and we have to be better than that."
Tony Romo, the quarterback, played with a bruised right hand. He moved the Cowboys in the second half, but all he could generate were two touchdown passes to Laurent Robinson.
"You can't make excuses," Romo said. "Either you win or you go home. Give them credit for coming in here and being ready.
"This is not going to sit well with me or anyone else on this team. It should fuel the fire to come back, but right now it hurts."