EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Some were billing this NFC East showdown as perhaps a turning point for the Cowboys this season.
Win and you move back into first place with a 4-0 mark in the division and a winnable game at home against the Raiders on Thanksgiving.
Lose and you not only drop into a tie for second with the Giants, but also suffer consecutive devastating defeats, this coming on the heels of a blowout loss in New Orleans.
Thank you, Dan Bailey.
In a game with plenty of drama, the Cowboys prevailed, defeating the Giants, 24-21, when Bailey was perfect on a 35-yard field goal as time ran out. He was only in that position because of a late New York rally that saw the opposition score 15 unanswered points to tie the score with just less than five minutes remaining. In the end, however, Dallas did what they needed to in order to win.
"That's really where you separate yourself as a quarterback, as an offensive football team and as a team in general, when you go down and you're able to make those drives in critical moments," said head coach Jason Garrett. "The conditions were not that easy today. It was cold. It was windy."
This was by no means a thing of beauty. The play was chippy throughout the day, as both teams finished with 11 penalties, the Cowboys flagged for 85 yards and the Giants 81. The stat sheet was similar in many ways. Dallas earned 327 total yards of offense while the Giants bettered them at 356. Each side also had one turnover and the time of possession was nearly even: New York, 30:39; Dallas, 29:21.
In leading the Cowboys to the win, quarterback Tony Romo was efficient, passing for 250 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Both of his scoring tosses went to Jason Witten, although Dez Bryant led all receivers with nine catches for 102 yards.
Dallas also showed signs of a running game as well, finishing with 107 yards overall. DeMarco Murray had 86 yards on 14 carries, while little used Lance Dunbar actually showed what he could do, carrying the ball three times for 20 yards with another two catches for 26 more. [embedded_ad]
Defensively, Monte Kiffin's unit was able to twice keep the Giants out of the end zone when they were sitting at first-and-goal, New York settling for field goals in what was perhaps the difference in the game. Overall, the Cowboys struggled with the Giants' ground attack, as the home side rushed for 202 yards. Andre Brown totaled 127 yards on 21 carries with Brandon Jacobs putting up 75 of his own on nine tries.
"We had some missed tackles that we should have had and some fits that didn't go right," said DeMarcus Ware. "There were really big gains on us. We're going to see those this week and really harp on those, because teams are going to attack us that way. We're going to just get better from that."
But while Giants quarterback Eli Manning did have two touchdown throws, he was largely held in check by the Cowboys. He finished with just 174 yards passing, completing only 16 of 30 attempts.
There was some bad with the good, though. Special teams ace Dwayne Harris and cornerback Morris Claiborne both left the game with what has seemingly become the Cowboys' yearly nemesis – the dreaded hamstring injury. They were to be re-evaluated on Monday, but with the quick turnaround, their availability on Thursday seemed doubtful.
Playing through freezing temperatures and a stiff wind, it took awhile for both sides to get going. The Cowboys couldn't do much offensively in the first quarter, as they failed to get out of their own end of the field on two possessions. Fortunately, the defense kept the Giants bottled up early before then giving Dallas an early lead.
On first-and-10 at the Giants' 45-yard line, Manning threw out to the right sideline to Victor Cruz, who was quickly corralled by linebacker Kyle Wilber. But with the receiver still fighting for yards, cornerback Orlando Scandrick came in and stripped the ball away from Cruz, which flew right into the waiting arms of safety Jeff Heath. The rookie then turned and ran 50 yards untouched for his first career score and a 7-0 Cowboys lead.
The Giants' next possession saw the home team get on the scoreboard, thanks in large part to Cowboys penalties. On third-and-5 at the New York 28-yard line, Manning's pass to Cruz fell incomplete, which would have forced a punt. Instead, defensive end Jarius Wynn was called for illegal use of hands, which provided the first down.
Shortly thereafter, on the first play of the second quarter, Claiborne was called for pass interference, which set the Giants up with a first-and-goal. But the Cowboys defense kept New York from crossing the goal line, the Giants having to settle for a 21-yard field goal on a drive that went 74 yards on 10 plays and ate up 6:37 of clock.
"Down in the red zone in those early drives, to hold them to field goals instead of touchdowns, that's big," Garrett said. "We gave up a couple big plays in the run game, unfortunately. But in the pass game we kept them under wraps. That was important for us."
Dallas needed half the time to more than double the points on its next drive, though. And they did so using their running game. Murray had a run of 14 yards and then came right back and took off for a 30-yard gain. After a screen to Dunbar produced another 17 yards, Romo sold the play-action, the linebackers biting to open up the middle deep, which Witten exploited to haul in a 20-yard touchdown for a 14-3 advantage.
New York went on another extended 8-play drive that chewed up an additional 4:19 off the clock, but again were able to get only three points out of the series, this time on a 23-yard field goal, so despite the Giants leading the time of possession on the stat sheet, 18:16-11:40, the Cowboys were ahead on the scoreboard, 14-6.
Of course, the gifts the Dallas defense gave the Giants through penalties earlier in the game were repaid in full by New York's defense on the Cowboys first drive of the third quarter.
Romo and Co. had worked their way from their own 35-yard line to the New York 37. Facing a third-and-6, the quarterback hit Cole Beasley across the middle, but the receiver fumbled the ball, which the Giants recovered. Except New York was called for roughing the passer, giving Dallas new life.
Then on the very next play, Murray went around the right end, and as he was running out of bounds, was hit late by safety Antrel Rolle, which set Dallas up with a first-and-goal at the Giants' 6-yard line.
That left things to Romo and Witten, who once again connected for the score, and in the process, both reached personal milestones. In going up 21-6, Romo threw the 200th touchdown pass of his career, while Witten recorded his 50th career touchdown catch.
"He just consistently comes up with big plays for us," Garrett said. "He does all the little things right. He does things that nobody sees in the run game and the pass game really, really well."
New York responded quickly, though, and closed the Cowboys' lead to 21-13, their touchdown coming when Manning through a pass down the left sideline to Brandon Myers. But after the tight end fell to the ground making the catch, neither linebacker Bruce Carter nor safety Jeff Heath touched him, allowing Myers to get up and waltz into the end zone.
Things then only went from bad to worse. After the Dallas offense was unable to do much on two straight possessions, New York took over on its own 42-yard line and quickly marched down the field, a 22-yard pass from Manning to Cruz reaching the Cowboys 5. Two plays later, Manning hit Louis Murphy in the end zone for the six points. The Giants then went for the two-point conversion and Brown rumbled in to tie the score at 21-21 with just under five minutes left in the game.
That's when Romo went to work. Mixing up his options, he threw passes to Gavin Escobar, Miles Austin, Beasley and, of course, Bryant on a drive that ate up the rest of the clock. Facing a third-and-10 at the New York 28, he darted a quick out to Beasley for 15 yards to New York's 15-yard line.
With only 1:17 left in the game and the Giants out of timeouts, Romo simply took two knees and then turned it over to Bailey. The surefooted kicker split the uprights from 35 yards out as time expired, giving Dallas the 24-21 victory. The win pushed the Cowboys' record back above .500, their 6-5 mark equaling the idle Eagles atop the NFC East. Dallas now has a quick turnaround, as they'll host the Oakland Raiders in four days for their annual Thanksgiving game.