Originally created 12/24/01

Focusing on the Meadowlands

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Because of what happened at Giants Stadium on Sunday, they're celebrating north of here.

And getting nervous to the south.

The New York Giants beat the Seattle Seahawks 27-24, driving 96 yards in 2:32 for the winning touchdown. That put the New England Patriots - who beat Miami on Saturday - into the playoffs and kept the Philadelphia Eagles - whose fans lose faith in a heartbeat - from getting in.

Making Philadelphians more nervous: The Giants play there next week. New York is two games behind in the NFC East with two games to go but holds the tiebreaker and momentum.

But first, New England.

The Patriots beat the Dolphins 20-13 Saturday in what was supposed to be the final game at Foxboro Stadium before they move to the new building that hovers over the southeast corner of the ramshackle old edifice. But New England now probably will have a home playoff game, either as the first wild-card team in the AFC or as the AFC East champion - at 10-5, they're off next week, then play at Carolina (1-13).

That's a huge surprise for a team that was 5-11 last year, started 0-2 and lost Drew Bledsoe to injury. What happens? A sixth-round draft choice named Tom Brady steps in and goes 10-3 as a starter, playing football that's nearly mistake-free.

But is it a surprise? In the modern NFL, things change yearly. Chicago, 5-11 last season, is 11-3 after winning in Washington.

"You don't allow people to tell you what kind of team you are," said Brian Cox, the outspoken linebacker who's been on playoff teams in Miami and with the Jets.

"You dictate to them what kind of team you are. People said we were no good. We're not no good. We're winning games and that's all that counts."

On to the Giants, who had great expectations after reaching the Super Bowl last season when no one expected it. Two weeks ago, they were 5-7, and now have won two straight games on their final drive of the game.

They are still just 7-7 to the Eagles' 9-5. But the Giants can win the NFC East if they beat Philadelphia next Sunday, beat Green Bay at home the final week, and the Eagles lose at Tampa Bay.

That's not an easy task nor is it likely.

In Saturday's 13-3 loss in San Francisco, the Eagles failed on six straight chances inside the 49ers' 2 while trailing by just three points in the third quarter. Had the Eagles won, they would have clinched the division title.

"It's important you get this in and out of your mind fast," Eagles coach Andy Reid said of this weekend's events.

"There are a whole lot of things at stake. You're playing good football teams, you need to regather yourself, get back on the horse and go get ready for the Giants."

All of this is standard these days.

The Giants were continually pressed Sunday to say that the magic that propelled them to the Super Bowl last year is back. All declined to say it - their five straight wins to finish last season were a lot easier than two last-second wins over mediocre teams.

Plus, problems remain for the Giants, including terrible special teams.

"All we want to do it stay alive," quarterback Kerry Collins said.

That's what the NFL is about these days.

The loss to the Giants didn't help the Seahawks (7-7), who can't seem to get on a run. Still, it qualifies as a "good" loss because it was against an NFC team and doesn't count in tiebreakers.

"I don't know mathematically what this does for us," Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said.

"But it's probably not very good."


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