Washington shocks Steelers, joins Giants in putting moratorium on NFC East jokes

Week after week, as the losses piled up, so did the jokes, the taunts and the social media posts of burning dumpsters or sinking ships.

Heading into Thanksgiving weekend, the NFC East’s four teams – Dallas, the New York Giants, Philadelphia and Washington – were a miserable 2-19-1 combined against non-divisional opponents.

The NFC East was the football's gift to cheap and easy one-liners.

It was about the only thing it was good for.

Well, the NFL season is long. Teams grow while others fade. While no one is going to pencil whomever wins this division into the Super Bowl, a lot has changed the past few weeks.

That includes Washington, who started 1-5 but is now 5-7, ending Pittsburgh’s bid at a perfect season. Washington’s 23-17 victory on Monday left the Steelers at 11-1. Pittsburgh probably wasn’t as good as its record, but almost no one saw this coming, especially after the Steelers jumped to a 14-zip lead.

Instead it was Alex Smith, after bleeding down his leg early in the game, delivering 20 second-half points to give Washington its third consecutive victory.

Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith (11) calls a play during the second half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Monday, Dec. 7, 2020, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

“Man, we [have] a lot of heart,” receiver Cam Sims said. “A lot of young guys with their fight in us. And a lot of older guys who push us every day … We just had to get everything right so we could start clicking.”

It comes one day after the Giants traveled to Seattle and rode a terrific defensive effort to beat the Seahawks, 17-12. It was New York’s fourth victory in four games, to improve to 5-7. That Colt McCoy was the quarterback who finished the past two games adds to the unexpected.

If nothing else, the chances that the NFC East sends a historically bad team into the playoffs (and hosting, no less) is fading. And it should serve as a reminder that anybody can beat anyone at any time, even this division playing on the road against quality, veteran quarterbacks and coaches.

“Your reputation, your record, when you get on the field, those things don’t matter,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said. “We have the ability to play against good teams if we play our game.”

Say this for Washington and New York of late: they will play physical, especially on defense and especially up front. And both (there is no vouching for Dallas and Philly), who won’t quit on the season or their coach, have only gotten stronger and more together through the humiliating losses.

“We’ve got a special group of guys,” Giants coach Joe Judge said. “We have a very tough group of guys who have bought into what we’ve asked them to do. They’ve done it without questions … We ask them to play a physical brand of football.”

The Giants sacked Russell Wilson five times on Sunday. Washington allowed just 21 rushing yards to Pittsburgh on Monday. Both came to hit.

“Our defensive line dominated today,” Washington defensive lineman Chase Young said.

Let the NFC (B)East channel the BeastQuake Seahawks of 2010 who hosted New Orleans in a playoff game despite a 7-9 record (Seattle was a 10-point homedog). Then Marshawn Lynch scored the winning touchdown, rumbling through the entire Saints roster, the crowd noise setting off local seismographs.

At various times this season, the Seahawks and Steelers looked like Super Bowl favorites. So the leaders could be falling back to the pack as well.

Pittsburgh was never anyone’s idea of what an 11-0 team should look like. The Steelers should be applauded, not faulted, for winning all the games but this was a team maxing out under Mike Tomlin.

Put it this way: In 2007, when the soon-to-be 16-0 New England Patriots got to 11-0, they did it with a 23.4 margin of victory. These Steelers were at 11.7.

It’s that kind of year, maybe. Other than Patrick Mahomes and the 11-1 Kansas City Chiefs, it’s hard to find anyone who will scare you. And even the Chiefs get involved in a lot of close games.

The team with the best record in the NFC, the 10-2 Saints don’t have their starting QB, Drew Brees. Everyone else in the conference has at least three losses.

This is a wide open race, so wide open that at least two recently bad teams from a recently awful division delivered the biggest victories of Week 13 and are now feeling pretty good about themselves.

So why not New York? Why not Washington? Who wants to visit them in the playoffs?

“We walked [into Seattle] confident, I’m not going to lie,” Giants safety Jabrill Peppers said. “Team had a different swagger about them. Team had a different juice about them.”

No joke there. Not now, at least.

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