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All Hands On Deck

games decided by no more than seven points, with a 5-3 mark in those close shaves.

The basic difference: The Giants' 37-34 victory over the Cowboys on Dec. 11 in a game they won by blocking the game-tying, 47-yard field-goal attempt in the waning seconds that Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey had initially made, but just after Giants head coach Tom Coughlin had called a timeout.

That close. That similar.

"This is why you play the game, these are fun here," says Romo, who has been insisting all week he will play Sunday, although taking a snap under center with what likely will still be a swollen hand might be a tad teeth-clenching, if you know what I mean.

There have been a whole bunch of intangible reasons floating around as to why the Cowboys can't possibly win this Sunday, starting with this being a road game that I think we've already neutralized.

Then there is the momentum thing, the Giants having beaten the Jets 29-14 this past Saturday while the Cowboys folded their tents in a meaningless 20-7 loss to the Eagles.

There is Romo's supposed "big-game" record, although when he wins one those are usually minimized to "just another game." They say the outcome of this will define his everlasting legacy. Really? What if "he" wins this game and then the Cowboys lose a first-round playoff game the next weekend at home? Legacy interrupted?

Or what if like the first appearance this season at MetLife when the Jets came back from a 24-10 deficit to win 27-24 as time expired, all that is remembered is the late fourth-quarter interception and not that the Jets returned a blocked punt for a touchdown to get their comeback rolling, which had nothing to do with Romo.

Or that Romo "always" fades in the fourth quarter, no matter he owns the NFL's best career fourth-quarter passer rating among active quarterbacks.

Or now it's the Cowboys don't have the mental toughness to win these types of games, because certainly everyone must have picked last year's 6-10 team to go like 12-4 this season. Guess those comeback wins over San Francisco, Washington twice and Miami – two needing overtimes – just don't count.


But if you need a tangible game-decider to sink your teeth into when trying to decipher who will win Sunday night, here is a medium rare one:

Which team better protects its quarterback, plain and simple.

Let Eli Manning or Romo set their feet in the pocket or simply buy time, they will carve these carve-able secondaries apart like rib roast. Why would a 15-game trend suddenly change just because so much is on the line?

The Cowboys must neutralize Jason Pierre-Paul, the one-man wrecking crew from Dec. 11 who over these past three weeks has twice won NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors – and was voted to his first Pro Bowl – thanks to 29 tackles, five sacks, one forced fumbled and one blocked field goal in those games. Making matters more difficult for the Cowboys, Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora is expected to play for the first time since Nov. 28. And then there is Tuck and Boley and Canty to deal with, too.

The Giants, they then need to neutralize DeMarcus Ware, who is two sacks away from becoming the first NFL player since sacks became an official statistic in 1982 to record two 20-sack seasons in a career. No one else has, not Reggie White not Lawrence Taylor not Mark Gastineau.

Difference here is Pierre-Paul has guys. Ware has been the Lone Ranger, not even a Tonto along, when it comes to all this pressuring stuff.

Simply put, if the Cowboys can't pressure Manning, either with blitzes or their normal front, if they can't get his feet moving happily in the pocket, then Dallas will need to score Thirtysomething, maybe even 40 to win this game. We amply saw what will happen when Manning throws 47 passes without getting sacked, as he did three weeks ago against the Cowboys.

"We've got to affect him somehow, someway get the ball out of his hands," head coach Jason Garrett said of Manning.

And smoke this one for a while as a headache buffer if you still are having problems deciding just what is going to happen: Romo, in the eight career games he's started and finished against the Giants, including the one playoff meeting, has thrown 19

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