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By: Kurt Daniels
Dallas Cowboys. New York Giants. NFC East rivals. Sunday night prime time. Football is officially back!
The Cowboys once again opened their 2017 campaign against an old, familiar foe, marking the third consecutive season, fifth time in the last six years and 10th time overall that they have faced the rival Giants on opening day.
And with their 19-3 victory in front of 93,183 rabid fans, the Cowboys pushed their record in those first games to an impressive 9-1 mark.
While the Cowboys’ success on the field was a team effort, one man truly grabbed the spotlight. With this game, the venerable Jason Witten embarked on his 15th campaign with the Cowboys, which ties Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Bill Bates and Mark Tuinei for the most seasons with the club.
But that’s not all. He also came into this night needing only 17 yards to pass Michael Irvin (11,904) for the most receiving yards in Cowboys history. After a 7-yard catch in the first quarter, he stepped into first place with an 11-yard grab in the second frame.
And just for good measure, Witten also passed Tim Brown during the game, moving into sixth place on the NFL’s all-time career catches list, and went on to post a team-high seven receptions for 59 yards while recording the Cowboys’ first touchdown of the season.
Up until his score, Dallas had already been dominating on the stat sheet through each side’s first four possessions of the game. The Cowboys had gained 170 total yards to the Giants’ 41, including a 125 to 18 advantage in passing yards, had earned nine first downs to New York’s two, and had run 35 plays to 15 for a time of possession swing of 17:12 to 9:00.
But unfortunately, despite the dramatic differences, the Cowboys had only six points on the board, sure-footed kicker Dan Bailey having split the uprights from 21 and 48 yards.
All of that extra work, though, started pay dividends just before the half. On its fifth possession of the night, Dallas marched 65 yards in six plays to finally reach the end zone, helped in part by a 21-yard pass interference penalty on Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins that moved the ball to the New York 15-yard line.
Two plays later, Prescott found Witten on a slant over the middle, the future Hall of Fame tight end hauling it in for the 64th touchdown of his illustrious career.
That came with 1:46 left in the second quarter, and when the Dallas defense then forced yet another three-and-out by the Giants, Prescott and company worked the two-minute drill to perfection. Starting at their own 24-yard line, the Cowboys quickly reached the New York 25 before Bailey came out for his third field goal of the night, his 42-yarder sending the Cowboys into the break with a suddenly comfortable 16-0 lead.
Of course, as this longtime rivalry has proven, no lead can ever feel truly comfortable when it comes to Cowboys-Giants. In fact, in the two teams’ last meeting, on Dec. 11, 2016 in the Meadowlands, Dallas was up 7-0 at the half only to eventually lose the game 10-7.
And when the Giants then came out for the third quarter and embarked on a 16-play drive that ate up nearly 10 minutes of the clock, ghosts from failures past seemed to be lurking about. But the Dallas defense stiffened up when they needed to and limited the visitors to a 25-yard field goal.
That was really the last threat the Cowboys would face on the night. Thanks in part to the terrific work of punter Chris Jones, who forced the Giants to start drives from their 10-yard line or deeper four times, Dallas kept New York from ever mounting any serious attack again.
After an Anthony Brown interception gave the Cowboys the ball on their own 48-yard line with 5:21 remaining, the home side then punctuated the night with a 36-yard field goal, wrapping up the scoring at 19-3.
Overall the Cowboys racked up 392 yards of total offense. Ezekiel Elliott picked up right where he left off, finishing the night with 140 yards from scrimmage, which included topping the century mark with 104 rushing yards. Dak Prescott also showed no signs of a sophomore slump, completing 61.5 percent of his passes (24-of-39) for 268 yards and a touchdown toss.
Spreading the ball around, six different players hauled in passes, including Terrance Williams, who left after the first play of the game with an ankle injury, but came back to record six catches for a game-high 68 receiving yards.
On the other side of the ball, despite the Dallas defense losing Orlando Scandrick to a hand injury in the first half, the unit held the Giants to 233 yards of total offense and sacked Eli Manning three times, with DeMarcus Lawrence earning the honors twice.
With the win, the Cowboys now own a 38-19-1 record all-time in season openers, which is the highest winning percentage in the NFL, barring the result of Denver’s Monday night game against the Chargers. The Broncos own a 37-19-1 mark.
And speaking of which, the 1-0 Cowboys will now head to the Mile High City for their second game of this 2017 season, taking on Denver in a 3:25 p.m. CT matchup next Sunday.