— Sunday night is the penultimate game at storied Texas Stadium (or, for you plain-talkin' folk, second-to-last). It's Giants at Cowboys. An NFC East tete-a-tete. The excrement prepares to hit the fan for whomever comes out on the wrong side of the final score.
It shouldn't really be this way for the 11-2 Giants, but it is.
In last week's loss to the Eagles, Big Blue lost big bruiser Brandon Jacobs to a knee injury (he won't play Sunday), and New York's potent offense managed just a garbage-time touchdown in losing 20-14.
Spinning by in the postgame funnel-cloud of blame you could see the faces of Plaxico Burress, Antonio Pierce, handguns, perp walks, night clubs, bullet holes, suspensions, grievances and d-d-d-distractions!
Even though Burress went Barney Fife on himself nine days before the loss to Philly and New York had already notched a win in the wake of his self-administered bullet to the quad, the loss to the Eagles was enough for the Chicken Little brigade waiting to pounce.
The distraction of Burress had reached critical mass, according to the preponderance of media angles (including the one by my esteemed colleague Mike Celizic). No longer were the Giants able to keep their eyes on the prize when their ears were being assaulted with Plax talk.
To lift a phrase from the once-great NBA philosopher Micheal Ray Richardson, "The ship be sinking."
For non-reactionaries, this was a little hard to swallow. The Philly loss was New York's second loss of 2008. That includes the four playoff games of last season, so we're talking about a team that's 15-2 in its last 17. And Philly entered the game with very little to lose -- having already backed itself halfway out of the playoffs -- and was coming off a mind-cleansing win on Thanksgiving night over Arizona.
In the grand scheme, it wasn't a big-deal loss. Nobody accidentally shot themselves in the leg 10 days before New York got creamed by Cleveland back on Oct. 13, did they? Sometimes bad performances just happen.
More concrete than "distractions" were the Giants defensive woes on third down. Philly went 12-of-18 on third down against New York, and the potent Giants pass rush has gone flaccid in the past five games, managing just six sacks, four of which came in a win over Washington.
That issue and re-establishing the most potent running attack in the league without Jacobs are bigger issues for Sunday night.
But if those issues aren't fixed and the Giants come up short, the smoking gun cited for the loss won't just be X's and O's but a seeping sense that Burress' incident is to blame. In short, it would be in the Giants' best interest to win this game not just for playoff positioning and to keep themselves on the inside track for home field advantage, but also to avoid the negative swirl that will accompany a second-straight loss.
Of course, the Cowboys are in even more dire circumstances. At 8-5 they have a tenuous hold on the last Wild Card spot in the NFC. But their loss last week to the Steelers included a fourth-quarter meltdown and came with the requisite drama that accompanies every Cowboys loss.
Tony Romo came up tiny at the tail end of another big game. Terrell Owens verbally lambasted coaches on the sidelines after the last Cowboys drive went begging. And owner Jerry Jones used his postgame soapbox to assail the commitment of ailing running back Marion Barber, who couldn't play because of a broken toe. This week, as is the custom, the Cowboys have been plugging leaks and putting happy spins on things, but if Dallas cannot take care of business in a must-win game against New York, the lid will most certainly pop off.
It's been said that Texas Stadium was built with a hole in the roof so God could watch his favorite team. Perhaps. Although, maybe He preordained it to be built this way merely as a guilty pleasure for a Sunday night like this one. You know He knew this game was coming.