A play for momentum
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The NFL rushing title will be on the line with Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley on the field. There is a chance this could be Eli Manning’s final start for the team he led to two Super Bowl titles in the last 15 years.
Not bad for a somewhat meaningless regular-season finale between the NFC East champion Dallas Cowboys (9-6) and the struggling New York Giants (5-10) at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.
The big-name interest points don’t appeal to Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and Giants coach Pat Shurmur. Both want wins and momentum.
Garrett wants the momentum for the Cowboys’ wild-card playoff home game against either Seattle, Minnesota or the Eagles next weekend. He plans on playing just about everyone who is healthy this weekend.
Finishing his first season as the coach of a team that has missed the playoffs the past two years and six of seven, Shurmur wants to build for next year. The Giants have already won two more games than in 2017, and they are 4-3 since their bye week.
“We think it’s important to practice well and go play well in a game like this,” said Garrett, whose team has gone 6-1 down the stretch to win the division for the second time in three years. “We’ve been in the situation a couple times in recent years and you have to handle them a little differently based on the availability that you have of your players, but typically if a player’s not healthy enough to play he’s not going to play. But the other guys are going to play.”
Garrett said his coaching staff will be finished breaking down the three potential playoff opponents this week.
Shurmur isn’t taking any solace that the Giants have lost some close games.
“The fact that we fight until the end is what I think is important,” he said. “Now, when there’s a victory to be had, we’ve got to go take it, and I think that’s part of learning and part of what we need to do better.”
Here are some things to watch:
ELI’S SWAN SONG?
Manning has been the Giants’ starting quarterback since the middle of his rookie season in 2004. The soon-to-be 38-year-old led New York to Super Bowl titles in the 2007 and ’11 seasons. He has one more year on a contract that will pay him more than $22 million next season. There is no heir apparent on the roster, but Manning’s drawback is his lack of mobility. It will be a focal point to see what the Giants do after the season and also how the crowd reacts to Manning on Sunday.
Elliott enters the final week with a 183-yard lead over Todd Gurley and a 236-yard advantage over Barkley for the rushing title. Barkley needs 114 yards from scrimmage to join Eric Dickerson (2,212 yards in 1983) and Edgerrin James (2,139 in 1999) as the only rookies with at least 2,000 scrimmage yards in NFL history. He also needs two catches to surpass Reggie Bush (88 receptions in 2006) for the most by a rookie running back in the league annals.
Giants running back Saquon Barkley eludes Colts cornerback Kenny Moore in a Dec. 23 game.