Thirty years ago, Al Michaels asked us, "Do you believe in miracles?" And when he called the New York Giants-Dallas Cowboys game on Sunday night, that line may have been fitting this time around as well. Of course, the Giants didn't beat the big, bad Russians, but the Dallas Cowboys could qualify as the next best thing (at least to Giant fans). Eli Manning's fourth-quarter voodoo should be no surprise by now, but even Sunday night's come-from-behind win was an unforgettable moment. Down 12 points with just over five minutes left to play? Two scoring drives and a three-and-out defensive stand later, not to mention Jason Pierre-Paul capping off his tour-de-force night with a blocked field goal, and the magical evening was complete. It is the season for miracles, after all, a time when we believe in the unbelievable, or at least we pretend to believe in the unbelievable. If the Giants somehow turned an unwinnable game into a rousing victory, why can't we believe that some guy named Santa Claus makes his way around the globe in one night to fulfill the lists of demands (or Christmas wish lists, however you want to look at it) given to him by the world's children?
The New York Jets didn't need a miracle to beat the Kansas City Chiefs, but earlier in the season when they lost five out of eight games and sported a 5-5 record, the voice of Jim Mora could be heard around Jet Land: "Playoffs?! Playoffs?!" But now, with three consecutive victories, their destiny is in their own hands, as they presently hold one of the two wild card spots. Every week, their miracle got a little closer, and now it's up to them not to blow what they've accomplished. Of course, another phrase for "miracle" when it comes to the Jets may be "Tom Moore."
One more miracle that was tucked into the two football teams' stockings this past Sunday was a pair of 100-yard rushing games by their struggling running backs. Both Shonn Greene and Brandon Jacobs had their best games of the season. The Giants and Jets used to feature two of the best ground games in the NFL, but for most of this season, they had close to the worst. While both teams' rushing attacks were gradually gaining momentum the last few weeks, it was like the good old days on Sunday. So with losing streaks, poor play and inconsistent seasons, the Giants and Jets both possess a playoff spot with three games remaining in the season. Now that's a miracle.
And now on to the top stories of the week in the world of New York sports.
First Place: On Sunday Night, Jason Pierre-Paul had one of the most versatile, impactful defensive games seen in a long time. He was making tackles, not just at the line of scrimmage, but chasing down running backs and receivers like some kind of defensive end/linebacker/defensive back hybrid. He was sacking the quarterback, forcing fumbles and even put two points on the scoreboard with a safety. And his blocked field goal was the perfect ending to his monster game. While we shouldn't enshrine the young defensive end in Canton quite yet, the fact that he's still learning, raw and unpolished is a nice thought to have if you're a Giants fan. The game itself was not the greatest played game by either team, especially the secondaries of both (the Giants are really going to have to do something about all the blown coverages -- no matter whose to blame, Antrel Rolle or not -- or this win may be a onetime deal), but it was a physical bout, with players dropping like flies: DeMarco Murray fractured his right ankle, and Mike Jenkins, Phil Costa, Barry Church and Travis Beckham all left the game. Manning continued with the best season of his career, and no one can chuckle anymore when the word "elite" is mentioned in the same breath with his name. He tied an NFL record set by Johnny Unitas in 1959 and equalled by big-brother Peyton, when he threw his 14th fourth-quarter touchdown of the year, and his receivers were the beneficiaries of his impressive game, as Hakeem Nicks piled up 154 receiving yards, Victor Cruz hauled in seven passes and Mario Manningham and Jake Ballard each caught a touchdown pass. Jacobs set a franchise record with two rushing touchdowns, passing Tiki Barber on the all-time team list. And he had to carry the load as Ahmad Bradshaw was benched for missing curfew (in the week leading up to the biggest game of the year, that's what you do?). But Manning and Pierre-Paul saved the day for the Giants. And they saved the season as well.
Crush, Kill, Destroy: Were the Jets that good, or were the Chiefs that bad? It probably doesn't even matter, as the Jets picking up their third consecutive win was the most important aspect of Sunday's game. The 37-10 victory was the best Jet performance in a long time, as they completely dominated the hapless Chiefs in every phase of the game. The only blemish (though it was a pretty big blemish) was the Jim Leonhard injury, otherwise it was a perfect afternoon for Gang Green. Mark Sanchez had a hand in four touchdowns, throwing two and running for two more, with not a brutal interception anywhere in sight, Shonn Greene and the offensive line returned to the past with a dominating Jet rushing attack, no one fumbled a punt, the defense piled up five sacks and a safety and only allowed 221 total yards and 13 first downs, and the Jets only committed four penalties to Kansas City's 11. The Chiefs couldn't even get an onside kick to go five yards let alone 10, but the Jets finally beat a bad team in a romp instead of a nailbiter. And that's how to fly down the homestretch and into the playoff picture.
The Remaking of the New York Knicks: What's better than having a Big Three? Having the third wheel be a defensive monster, who can rebound and block shots, and having him be someone who can complement the two stars rather than compete with them and get in their way. The New York Knicks scrapped their Chris Paul blueprint, instead acquiring Tyson Chandler from the Dallas Mavericks, and they may be better off for it. This transaction gives them one of the strongest front courts in the NBA (and maybe one of the best). Of course, it leaves them thin in the point-guard department, with the jettisoning of Chauncey Billups, who was waived but went down fighting (and landed with the Clippers). With free agency commencing last Friday, the Knicks were a whirlwind of activity, as they remade their team. Only seven players were available for the first practice one week ago, but suddenly there's a whole new cast of characters to get to know. Chandler's their new center, of course, but his backup may be another seven-footer in Jerome Jordan. Toney Douglas, who can play defense, will team up with Mike Bibby, who can't play defense, at the point (with the possibility of Baron Davis being added to the mix). Ronny Turiaf has been shipped to Washington. Jared Jeffries was re-signed. And there's probably more to come. With Mike Woodson hired to give them a coach who can actually coach defense, and Chandler in the middle, maybe the Knicks can get back to doing what they've done best in their heydays of the 1970s and '90s, which is play defense (or now at least they can attempt to play defense). The presence of Chandler also keeps Amar'e Stoudemire at the four, where he belongs, which should minimize the banging and abuse he took last season. There's a new team and a new world for the Knicks. Now it's up to Mike D'Antoni to get the best out of this group, as the future is here. No more saving-cap-room-for-days-ahead talk, no more waiting-for-this-guy-to-arrive chatter, no more excuses. Next year is finally here.
Plan 9 From Outer Space (aka Newark): Plan A for the New Jersey Nets goes by the name of Dwight Howard. After having a trade proposal in place and ready to go, the Nets may now have to go to Plans C, D or E, as the Orlando Magic have taken their center off the market. At least for now. These things can change day to day and even hour to hour or minute to minute, though it's likely that Orlando is just stepping back to take a deep breath and take stock of their options. Plan B for New Jersey is already off the table, as they set their sets on Nene, but he re-signed with the Nuggets. Is Kris Humphries Plan C? Or maybe that was Plan D. They did make two additions to their front court with the signings of Shelden Williams and Shawne Williams, and they subtracted one player, using their Amnesty Clause to send Travis Outlaw packing, so maybe that's Plan C. Last year they surprised everyone with the Deron Williams trade, so maybe they have another trick up their sleeve as well (Plan E).
On the Ice: The week for the New York Rangers began with an apology. The week for the New Jersey Devils began with a missed penalty shot by Zach Parise. And the week for the New York Islanders began with Al Montoya uncharacteristically letting in six goals. Artem Anisimov pulled a mea culpa (how do you say "I'm sorry" in Russian?) and explained the origin of his crazy goal-scoring celebration (he stole it from an old Russian teammate), and then the Rangers went out and impressively won back-to-back games over the weekend, defeating Buffalo 4-1, with two shorthanded goals, and then whipped the Panthers 6-1, in an all-around solid-in-every-phase-of-the-game performance. But they closed out the week getting stymied by the defensive-minded Stars and Blues, while HBO's 24/7 made its debut -- will John Tortorella rival Rex Ryan's expletive-fest from Hard Knocks? The Devils were reeling at the beginning of this month, but with Parise (who is almost automatic in the shootout, so when he missed that penalty shot it was surely surprising) beginning to look like the old elite Zach Parise, they overcame Saturday's matinee loss to the Canadiens to beat both Florida teams and have now won four out of their last five. They also made a trade, sending Mark Fraser and Rod Pelley to Anaheim for defenseman Kurtis Foster and goalie Timo Pielmeier, and Travis Zajac is just about ready to return to the lineup. As for the Islanders, they had a forgettable week, getting hammered by Pittsburgh, 6-3 (though they were hosed on a Travis Hamonic misconduct call), falling to Montreal, 5-3, and losing to the Stars, 3-2, with Kevin Poulin making his season debut.
Not Much Cooking on the Hot Stove: While we all wait to see if the New York Yankees won the Yu Darvish sweepstakes, they and the New York Mets made a few minor moves this week, tendering contracts to Russell Martin, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Brett Gardner, Boone Logan, David Robertson, Mike Pelfrey, Manny Acosta and Ramon Ramirez. Ronny Paulino was let go by the Mets. And Sandy Alderson breezily mentioned that Johan Santana may not be ready for opening day, which produced headlines and widespread panic across Queens.
Brutal: In yet another horrific fan-centric violent episode, a Jet fan was brutally attacked after Sunday's game in the parking lot of MetLife Stadium. After taking umbrage with a woman who screamed out, "You all deserved what happened on 9/11," James Mohr was sucker punched from behind by a man named Merle Lee, fracturing his jaw, cheekbone and eye socket. The days of innocently and safely attending a professional sporting event seem to have long ended.
A Tale of Two Owners: Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov announced that he's going to run for the presidency of Russia next year. Has that ever happened around here before? I don't recall George Steinbrenner ever running for president, though he certainly possessed a Commander-in-Chief presence. The Wilpons, meanwhile, will not be running for the presidency of anything, as they took out yet another loan, this time for $40 million. Is it just a matter of time before they're forced to sell the team? We can only hope.
And that's the New York week that was.