Nick Eatman is the author of his third book, the recently published ***Friday, Saturday, Sunday in Texas**, a chronicle of three football teams on three levels in Texas, from high school to college to the Cowboys. *
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – As crazy as this sounds, the Cowboys had a chance to put the Giants away in the second quarter. They could've put them away later on in the third.
And because they didn't, these Giants are probably going to be around for a few more weeks, if not longer.
With one more touchdown, the Cowboys would've been flying home with NFC East Championship caps and T-shirts. Instead, the Giants are now back in the thick of things, not only with a chance to make things uncomfortable during the next three weeks, but they're going to be sitting right there as a potential Wild Card team with a chance to face these Cowboys again for a third time.
And from what we saw Sunday night, that's not a good thing at all.
Yeah, you can say that stuff about "it's hard to beat a good time three times in a year." I've never really bought into it. The NFL is clearly about matchups and right now, the Cowboys don't seem to match up very well with these Giants. Even without their most disruptive pass-rusher, the Giants still found a way to get all over the offensive line and rattle Dak Prescott.
Yeah, they gave up 107 yards to Ezekiel Elliott, but the Giants got off the field when it mattered most, allowing only one third-down conversion on 15 attempts.
And Dez Bryant? The Giants have figured out how to cover him during these two games. After catching only one pass in the first meeting between the two, Bryant again had just one catch and he fumbled it away, killing the Cowboys' last legitimate chance to drive the field for a field goal or touchdown.
Give the Giants a ton of credit with this one. They were desperate, knowing a loss would put them playing for a Wild Card only. And while it's still going to be an uphill climb for them to win the division, they at least have a tiebreaker on the Cowboys if they can manage to pull even in the standings.
They're going to be a tough out for anyone if they play defense the way they did Sunday night. Everything they threw at Prescott just seemed to make the rookie look uncomfortable.
And speaking of discomfort, maybe this is just a personal thing, but I thought it was odd that Prescott didn't wear long sleeves, despite it being exactly 32 degrees at kickoff. It reminded me of the time Tony Romo did that in Pittsburgh back in 2008 when it was much colder than that. Romo faded down the stretch and threw a couple of costly interception as the Steelers rallied for the win.
Hey, I'm not saying sleeves would've won this game for the Cowboys. All I know is that pitchers seem to think it's a good idea to wear big bulky jackets to stay warm in between innings – in the summer. I don't know, but I think it's more important to keep the passing arm warm than braving the elements. Let the big boys up front do that stuff.
Whether or not Prescott was literally cold, he was certainly cold in the figurative sense. He didn't seem comfortable in the pocket at all, and obviously the Giants were a big reason for that.
But during this 11-game winning streak, we've given nothing but praise to Dak, and it's been deserving. He's gotten better and better each week and seems to mature as the games progress, too. For that reason alone, I was just waiting for Dak to turn it on in the fourth. It just didn't happen.
The sad part was, it wouldn't have taken much to be the best quarterback on the field Sunday night.
Eli Manning was doing his best to keep the Cowboys in the game. He was throwing bad passes left and (especially) right when he all but gift-wrapped a pick for Barry Church who couldn't make the pick. But Manning basically hit one slant to Odell Beckham and that proved to be the game-winning play.
As bad as Manning was, Dak was worse on this night.
If we're being honest, yeah I thought about the possibility of making "the switch." Obviously it's not my call but I did wonder if Jason Garrett was thinking about it at all. After the game he dismissed it rather quickly, as did Jerry Jones.
But Dak Prescott has been a great fourth-quarter player this season and he deserved the chance to lead the team back, like he's already done several times this year. It just wasn't meant to be.
And it wasted a masterful effort from this defense, who was flying to the football from start to finish. Yeah, Brandon Carr gave up a slant to Beckham who also split the defenders and then raced to the end zone for the game-winner. You hate to say "other than that" when you're talking about the biggest play of the game, but Carr did play well on ODB. That was quite a challenge and he manned up better than I thought he would.
The best player on the defense, maybe the best on either side of the ball on either team, was Sean Lee, who credited with 18 tackles. But his efforts was wasted because this team couldn't get more than a touchdown.
During the last two games, the Cowboys have now scored 24 points. In the first 10 games of this winning streak, the Cowboys scored at least 24 points in every game. Now they've hit that total in the last eight quarters.
Time to panic? Of course not. Time to make a quarterback switch? Nope, not even my respect for Romo would allow me to say such a thing.
But if the last two weeks have showed us anything – tough, stingy, aggressive defenses will give this offense some problems. The Cowboys got away with a win the first time against the Vikings, but weren't so fortunate this time.
Tampa Bay and Detroit are two of the hottest teams in the NFC right now and both are getting it done with defense.
Then again, the Cowboys were the NFL's hottest team until Sunday night when they let the Giants sneak back into the picture – for now.