Technically, the New York Giants are still sitting in the driver's seat. They have already clinched the NFC East division crown, and control their destiny in terms of retaining home field advantage throughout the playoffs. But after their second loss in a row -- this time 20-8 in Dallas -- there has to be some growing concern, specifically on offense.
In addition to the Terrell Owens, Jason Witten, Tony Romo side show, the Dallas Cowboys made a lot of noise about how they were going to unveil a defense designed specifically to slow down Big Blue's NFL leading rushing attack. And while the Giants got some yards on the ground, and didn't keep Brandon "Earth" Jacobs active for the game, Dallas was able to stack the line and apply lots of pressure by relying on single coverage for the wide receivers. It's never good when a team tells you what they're going to do and then does it.
Eli Manning and company will surely deny that the loss of Plaxico Burress has anything to do with the recent doldrums on offense. But that's a tough sell when the opposing team's defensive coordinator, in this case the Cowboys' Brian Stewart, said, "The main difference is that they don't have a 6-5, 6-6 guy that's way taller than everybody we have. It's hard to pressure when he can just throw up a jump ball and have Burress go get it."
This is why the current situation is different from one of Plaxico's run-of-the-mill brain farts that would cause him to miss a few quarters. Defensive coordinators are not going to respond as aggressively to a temporary absence; but by shooting himself in the thigh, it's now more evident that he may have also shot down the G-Men's hopes for a Super Bowl.
Sunday's loss sets up a huge contest between the the top two teams in the conference. The Carolina Panthers and the Giants are both 11-3, and the winner next week will likely get home field advantage throughout the playoffs. But if the Giants don't develop some new wrinkles in their passing game, it's not going to matter much where they play; all the fields look the same when you don't have a wide receiver to throw to.