In what is seemingly becoming an annual affair, the Dallas Cowboys opened the 2016 regular season against a familiar opponent, the New York Giants. This marked the second straight year that the two have faced each other in the year's first game and the fourth time in the last five campaigns.
Overall, the Cowboys have opened a season nine times against their NFC East rivals and came into this one with a perfect 8-0 record. Well, make that 8-1, as Dallas fell 20-19 to the Giants in front of a sold-out crowd of 92,867 fans.
Despite the loss, this opener seemed to have a little more excitement in the air than many of the previous ones, given the fact that rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott were both making their NFL debuts. And each was solid, although far from spectacular.
Prescott started off strong, but finished the day with 227 yards off of 25-of-44 passing with no touchdowns and no interceptions. Meanwhile Elliott, who was oftentimes facing a defense set on shutting him down, managed just 51 rushing yards on 20 carries with one score.
For the game, Dallas came out on top on the stat sheet with 24 first downs to the Giants' 18, 328 total yards to 316, and a time of possession of 36:43 to 23:17. Of course, that was little consolation given the numbers on the scoreboard.
And that was kind of the theme for the entire game. If you'd heard that the Cowboys would earn points on every first-half series and dominate the time of possession, 22:04 to 7:56, you'd probably be feeling pretty good about things.
The problem was, those points the Cowboys were earning were mere field goals, Dan Bailey taking care of business by splitting the uprights on each of the team's three drives through the first two quarters.
In fact, you couldn't have asked for a better start from Prescott on the Cowboys' opening possession as he was good on 6 of 7 passes with the lone miss a high pass that Cole Beasley could have caught. The offense was seemingly clicking on all cylinders with four first downs, two by run, two by pass, the team running 14 plays overall, split evenly between the ground and air.
But that initial drive stalled at the Giants' 5-yard line and on came Bailey for a chip-shot 23-yarder to open the scoring.
[embeddedad0]It was more of the same on the Cowboys' next two series. They first ran 15 plays and ate up 7:58 of clock before Bailey knocked in a 56-yarder, tying his own team record. Bailey then made good from 25 yards after Dallas ran off 5:34 on 11 plays.
Again, though, the problem was they weren't reaching the end zone, and while the Giants had run just 22 plays to the Cowboys' 38, the visitors went into the half with a 13-9 lead, having scored twice.
The first of those came when Odell Beckham Jr. got behind Orlando Scandrick on a deep 45-yard reception down to the Dallas 15. That was followed on the very next snap with a scoring strike from Manning to tight end Larry Donnell on a seam route up the middle.
And it was more of the same when New York got the ball back with just more then four minutes remaining in the second quarter. The Giants ran right over the Cowboys defense before Manning lofted a pass to rookie Sterling Shepard on the right side of the end zone for their second touchdown of the day.
But things seemed to be turning around after the break, as the Cowboys defense found some kind of spark and showed it wasn't going to roll over. On the Giants' first possession of the third quarter, Manning tried to find Shepherd on the left sideline, but a mix-up between the two provided an easy interception for cornerback Brandon Carr, his first since the 2013 season. That set the Cowboys up on the visitors' 35-yard line.
Seven plays later, Dallas was finally in the end zone. Starting at his own 8-yard line, Elliott charged off right guard and then dove for the goal line to secure his first career NFL touchdown. That put Dallas back on top, 16-13.And the defense kept its opponent off the scoreboard for the entire quarter, marked by a key sack of Manning by Benson Mayowa on the Giants' next possession. While the Cowboys couldn't do much on that ensuing punt, the next time New York was forced to boot the ball, Dallas marched down and let Bailey again do his job, this time the kicker good from 54 yards to give the home side a 19-13 advantage early in the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately, though, the offense's inability to get into the end zone came back to bite them again. Despite making the Giants punt on three straight possessions, the Cowboys defense could only hold down Manning and company for so long. The quarterback was able to pick apart the Dallas D on his next try, taking his team 54 yards in nine plays and 3:59 of time to go back on top 20-19 with 6:13 left in the game.
After both teams then traded possessions, Dallas had one more chance, starting at its own 20-yard line with no timeouts and 1:05 left on the clock. But there would be no Cinderella story for Prescott and the Cowboys on this day. They were able to reach the Giants 40-yard line, but when Terrance Williams failed to get out of bounds after a 14-yard catch, the final seconds ticked off in the defeat.
The Cowboys will now travel to Washington D.C. to face the Redskins next Sunday at noon in another showdown between NFC East opponents.
A look at some of our favorite photos from the 2016 season opener against the New York Giants at AT&T Stadium on Sunday, September 11.