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Giants, Vikings shed slow starts, move into playoff position

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) runs up field during overtime in an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Minneapolis. The Vikings won 27-24. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)
Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) runs up field during overtime in an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Minneapolis. The Vikings won 27-24. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings are in position to pull off remarkable turnarounds.

The Giants have bounced back from an 0-5 start to the season and are now tied for first place with Washington in the NFC East after winning five of the past seven games. The Giants swept the season series from Washington so they have the inside track at the division title if they can maintain this level of play down the stretch.

Of the 110 teams that started a season 0-5 in the Super Bowl era before this year, none made the playoffs so the Giants would be quite the outlier.

There is at least some precedent for what the Vikings (6-6) are trying to do. Minnesota has won five of six following a 1-5 start and is currently tied with Arizona for the seventh and final playoff spot in the NFC.

Of the 183 teams that started 1-5 in the Super Bowl era, only the 1970 Bengals, 2015 Chiefs and 2018 Colts made the playoffs.

One of the other teams that started 0-5 this season shares a stadium with the Giants but hasn’t pulled off an in-season turnaround. The Jets fell to 0-12 after an inexplicable last-second collapse against the Raiders. The Jets are the 12th team to lose their first 12 games, with three of them ending up winless: the 0-16 2008 Lions and 2017 Browns, and the 0-14 expansion 1976 Buccaneers.

It took some work to get there with the Jets allowing a 46-yard TD pass from Derek Carr to Henry Ruggs III against an all-out blitz with 5 seconds left in a 31-28 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders. It was just the fifth time since 2000 that a team that was trailing threw a game-winning TD pass of at least 40 yards in the final 15 seconds. It’s happened twice this year with Arizona’s “Hail Murray” 43-yard pass from Kyler Murray to DeAndre Hopkins beating Buffalo last month.

TREMENDOUS TIGHT ENDS: Kansas City’s Travis Kelce is having another prolific season. He has 82 catches for 1,114 yards, trailing Seattle’s DK Metcalf by 5 yards for the NFL lead. Kelce could become the first tight end ever ti lead the league in yards receiving.

Kelce needs to average 66 yards receiving in the final four games to break the single-season for a tight end set by George Kittle two years ago. Kelce already has become the first tight end with five straight 1,000-yard seasons.

Kelce isn’t the only AFC West tight end putting up big numbers. Las Vegas’ Darren Waller had 13 catches for 200 yards and two TDs last week against the Jets, joining Jackie Smith, Rich Caster and Shannon Sharpe as the only tight ends with at least 200 yards and two TD catches in a game.

REMARKABLE ROOKIES: Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson and Jacksonville’s James Robinson had far different paths to the NFL but both are having special seasons.

Jefferson, a first-round pick, had nine catches for 121 yards last week to reach 1,039 yards receiving on the season. Jefferson is the fifth rookie with at least 1,000 yards receiving in his first 12 career games in the Super Bowl era, joining Odell Beckham Jr. (2014), Marques Colston (2006) Anquan Boldin (2003) and Randy Moss (1998).

Robinson, who was undrafted, had 108 yards from scrimmage in the same game, his seventh game with at least 100 yards from scrimmage this season. Robinson has 1,278 yards from scrimmage this season, tied with Philip Lindsay (2018) for the second most by an undrafted rookie in the common draft era, trailing only Dominic Rhodes’ 1,328 for Indianapolis in 2001.

RUNNING CAM: Cam Newton ran for two more TDs last week for New England, setting an NFL record for quarterbacks with his fourth game this season with at last two TD runs.

Newton also has the most two-touchdown run games in a career for a quarterback with 10. With 11 TD runs this season, Newton has reached double-digits in three seasons (14 in 2011 and 10 in 2015). Newton also leads the NFL with 69 TD runs since entering the league in 2011.

Newton has won his past two starts for the Patriots despite throwing for only 84 yards against Arizona two weeks ago and 69 against the Chargers last week. It was the first time since Brady Quinn in 2009 that a quarterback won consecutive starts despite throwing for fewer than 100 yards.

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