A crushing loss: Just what they needed

The Giants' monumental meltdown against the Eagles appears to have fueled another late-season collapse. The Giants are a long shot for the playoffs, and if they don't make it the off-season is likely to bring upheaval to the coaching staff, if not the roster.

The long-term ramifications of the game - for both the Giants and the Eagles - remain to be seen.

Looking back to the first so-called Miracle at the Meadowlands, however, one thing is indisputable: It may have taken a while, with a couple of detours along the way, but the horrific loss helped propel New York to its first two Super Bowl wins.

Here's how, in a nutshell: When Joe Pisarcik and Larry Csonka botched that handoff in November 1978, turning sure victory into defeat, Giants fans were galvanized into near-revolt. That prompted the warring factions of the team ownership, Wellington Mara and his nephew Tim, to go along with commissioner Pete Rozelle's suggestion to hire George Young as general manager.

Young then drafted Phil Simms and Lawrence Taylor, among many others, and hired a bright young coach in Ray Perkins. When Perkins left after getting the team moving in the right direction, Young tapped defensive coordinator Bill Parcells to take over. The rest, as they say, is history, with Supe wins in the 1986 and '90 seasons.

The Eagles, meanwhile - well, you know . . .

Colts coming around

This can't be good news for the rest of the NFL. The Indianapolis Colts have developed a three-man running attack that has finally given Peyton Manning the kind of offensive balance he needs to excel, and the Colts' defense has finally figured out how to stop opposing ballcarriers.

The combination has put the Colts in position to make the playoffs again and possibly even defend their AFC title.

"I think we've developed a sense of attitude," linebacker Clint Session said. "When you're dealing with a lot of key players going down, it's hard to get that confidence and attitude, and that's really what we've developed over the last few weeks . . ."

Against three of the league's top 10 runners - Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Darren McFadden - Indy (9-6) has yielded 268 yards rushing over the last three weeks, just 89.3 per game. In the first 12 games, the Colts were giving up 142.8 yards on the ground.

In the meantime, two-time 1,000-yard runner Joseph Addai returned against Oakland after missing eight straight games with a left-shoulder injury. Former 1,000-yard runner Dominic Rhodes was re-signed Dec. 7, and former first-round pick Donald Brown is playing the most effective ball of his career. The result: Indy has gained 4.6 yards per carry over the last three weeks, compared with 3.6 in the first 12 games.

Head games: What's going on here?

In major-league baseball, Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins and Jason Bay of the New York Mets both suffered concussions in July, and were done for the rest of the season. Corey Koskie of the Milwaukee Brewers never played again after suffering a concussion in 2006.

Yet, in the NFL, players are routinely cleared to play just weeks after getting their bell rung. Even in the case of players who have a history of concussions. Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, for one, was cleared to play just two weeks after suffering his second concussion of the season.

Even conceding that no two head injuries are alike, how is this possible? Does the NFL have weaker standards? Are players taking risks they shouldn't?

Stakes are high for the Steelers

The Cleveland Browns have been pretty bad since they returned to the league in 1999 as an expansion team, so their rivalry with the Pittsburgh Steelers has lost some of its luster. On Sunday, however, the Browns have a chance to do some serious damage to their Rust Belt rival.

The Steelers (11-4) wanted to have the AFC North and a playoff bye wrapped up by now. They don't. The final hurdle will come in Cleveland.

Win, and the Steelers will take the division, earn a playoff bye, and own home-field advantage for at least the second round of the playoffs. Lose to the Browns (5-10) in a major upset and the Steelers likely will be relegated to being seeded sixth in the AFC, with no chance for a home game and no time off before they open the wild-card playoffs next week.