ARLINGTON, Texas -It really was too good to be true.
For a moment Sunday, it appeared the Cowboys had pulled out the largest comeback in franchise history with an incredible game-winning catch. Then they showed the replay.
Dez Bryant's touchdown with 10 seconds remaining was overturned due to his right hand tapping down out of bounds before the rest of his body, and Tony Romo couldn't pull off any more miracle throws. The loss that had appeared certain two and a half hours earlier had finally come, in the most unbelievable fashion, not by a blowout margin, but by a single score so close, and yet so far away, 29-24.
The Cowboys fall to 3-4 on the year, facing a Week 9 trip to Atlanta for a primetime game against the NFL's last undefeated team, badly in need of some good things to start happening before they slip into must-win mode. The Giants, who had the unveiling of their Super Bowl banner spoiled by Dallas on opening night, have rebounded to 6-2, firmly ahead in the NFC East. The Cowboys' Week 1 victory had come in spite of 13 penalties, tough enough to overcome, but they found six giveaways an even steeper hill to climb Sunday. The Cowboys now have a minus-11 turnover ratio on the season, among the worst in the league.
"We were fortunate to get down to the end of this thing, I thought, after all the mistakes, and have a chance to win it," owner Jerry Jones said. "I thought that we had the momentum and Tony had gotten some of the other things behind, whether it was his or others' mistakes, and we were going to pull it out.
"That doesn't make it any easier."
Jones, Romo and head coach Jason Garrett had been cascaded with boos from the home crowd in the second quarter, by that time the quarterback having already thrown three interceptions, including the one Jason Pierre-Paul took back for a 28-yard touchdown to put New York ahead 23-0.
"I would have booed us, too," Romo said. "We deserved it at that time. We did not start the game the way we wanted to."
And despite scoring 24 straight points to take the lead in the third quarter, the Cowboys didn't end it the way they had hoped, either. Their momentum crested in the final minute of the third, when Danny McCray intercepted the ball at New York's 35-yard line after it was jarred loose by a Gerald Sensabaugh hit. A Cowboys offense that had scored on its four previous legitimate possessions halted, though, after Romo was sacked on first down.
New York chipped in field goals on its next two possessions, the second beginning in great field position at the Dallas 45 following a fumble by Felix Jones. When the Cowboys got the ball back, they drove it down to the Giants' 19-yard-line, but with just a yard to gain threw two straight incompletions and a fourth-down interception. In a pass-heavy game due to the size of the early deficit and the lack of a running game, Romo threw for 437 yards on 62 attempts, a team record.
"We had a couple of opportunities there," Garrett said of the three incompletions. "The best thing we did in this ballgame was throw it. We threw it throughout the ballgame in different situations, whether it was second- or third-and-short and converted first downs. They did a really good job defending the run."
The Cowboys stopped New York on three plays, used their timeouts and got the ball back, taking over from their own 30-yard line with 44 seconds to play. Passes to the sidelines got the offense to the Giants' 37, where Romo fired a pass to Bryant in the back of the end zone, between the arms of two defenders. Falling backward, he caught the ball and landed on his rear for what officials initially ruled a touchdown, Cowboys Stadium erupting in what looked to be the signature highlight of its four years of existence.
The glory lasted about three minutes, while Bryant lay in the end zone being treated by team medical personnel for his hard landing.
"I couldn't quite believe it," said Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who advanced to 4-0 in Arlington despite his second pedestrian day against the Cowboys defense this year. "I kept looking for the replay to see if he caught the ball. … I heard a few rumors on the sideline that he had a hand out. I was hoping it was true.
"They still ran three plays in 10 seconds. You knew the game would not be over until the clock said zero."
On the ensuing play, Romo found Jason Witten along the sideline for his 18th catch, a franchise record, getting 10 yards closer. But his next two throws hit the turf, the final prayerful lob sailing well out of the back of the end zone.
It just wasn't the Cowboys' day, and nearing the halfway point, there's reason for concern it won't be their season as well.
"It's to that point in the year where you don't have time," Witten said. "Nobody cares about 'battling.'"