The hype for this game was intense, a winner-take-all matchup to decide the NFC East champion. The showdown moved to prime time on Sunday night, the nation watching two hated rivals battle for the final playoff spot.
In the end, there wasn't much to feel good about for the Cowboys, who fell behind 21-0 in the first half, a deficit that, despite playing better in the second half, was too much for them to overcome. Dallas eventually fell 31-14 to the Giants, their season done.
The Cowboys were thoroughly dominated in the first two quarters, but made the necessary adjustments at halftime and seemed to turn the tables on their hosts in the third quarter, at one point narrowing the score to just one touchdown. But, the Giants eventually grabbed the momentum back, tacking on some insurance at the end to punch their ticket to the postseason.
Playing with a badly bruised hand that limited his practice all week, quarterback Tony Romo totaled 289 yards off of 29-of-37 passing, throwing two touchdowns, but also finishing with one interception and a late fumble. Dez Bryant led Dallas receivers with 70 yards while Laurent Robinson caught both scoring throws with 61 yards receiving.
Overall, the Cowboys earned 300 total yards of offense, but the Giants racked up 437 yards of their own as the Dallas defense had no answer for Eli Manning and, in particular, wideout Victor Cruz. The quarterback threw for 346 yards, tossing three touchdowns, while Cruz burned the Cowboys' secondary for 178 yards receiving on only six catches, an average of 29.7 yards per catch. Hakeem Nicks added another 76 yards receiving with a score of his own.
In the first half, Dallas could do little right as they were simply manhandled at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Each of Dallas' first four possessions in the game ended in three-and-outs, the Cowboys posting -10 yards in passing through about the 12-minute mark of the second quarter, Romo getting sacked as many times as he threw completions (3).
By that point, Dallas was already down 14-0. Although the Giants' started their second drive of the game on their own 8-yard line, Manning worked his team out to the New York 26. Then on third-and-1, he hit Cruz on an out to the left side, the receiver breaking free of Terence Newman before sprinting up the sideline 74 yards for the score.
Forced to punt again on their next series, the Cowboys missed out on a golden opportunity when Giants return man Will Blackmon muffed the catch, but Alan Ball was unable to corral the fumble, and New York recovered.
Given the break, Manning promptly marched his team 68 yards in 10 plays, culminating with running back Ahmad Bradshaw going the final 5 yards around the right end for the score.
After the Giants missed a 40-yard field goal on their next possession, they came back on their next drive and put seven more points on the board, Dallas just unable to stop Manning and Co. Bradshaw again found paydirt, this time via a 10-yard pass. And while Romo was able to work his team across midfield for the first time all night, with four seconds remaining on the clock, Dan Bailey's 52-yard field goal was pushed wide right, the score at the half, 21-0.
The Cowboys did show some life after the break, however. On their first series of the third quarter, Romo, primarily using short dump-off passes, moved his team 94 yards in nine plays, a 34-yard pass to Robinson finally getting Dallas on the board.
Then when the defense finally got a three-and-out stop, the Cowboys seemed to have some momentum behind them. But on their next possession, Romo had his attempt to Austin picked off by Antrel Rolle, the quarterback's first interception since Thanksgiving.
Fortunately, no damage was done and Dallas in turn kept the pressure on. Starting their next drive at their own 36, the Cowboys worked their way into New York territory, reaching their opponents' 10-yard line. But on fourth and 1, Romo tried to sneak over his left guard, but was stuffed, turning the ball over on downs.
But again the defense did its job, forcing the Giants to punt deep in their own territory. On his return, Bryant brought the ball back to the New York 41, an unnecessary roughness penalty on the Giants moving the Cowboys up to the 26. Three plays later, Romo found Robinson on a slant into the end zone, the game now 21-14.
And then the Manning-to-Cruz connection came back to bite the Cowboys again. On third and seven at the Giants' 28, Manning spun out of trouble and then went deep to Cruz, who hauled in the pass with Orlando Scandrick covering him for a huge 44-yard gain. That was then followed two plays later by Manning going back to Cruz again for 20 more yards, down to the Dallas 8-yard line.
The Cowboys' defense was able to stiffen up, but New York put three more points on the board thanks to a 38-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes, and Dallas could never recover.
Unable to do anything with their next series and forced to punt, a short kick by rookie Chris Jones gave the Giants the ball at the Cowboys' 45 with 4:55 left in the game. That was quickly followed by Manning hitting Nicks across the middle for a 36-yard gain down to the Dallas 4-yard line. Manning then went right back to Nicks on a fade route in the left corner for the touchdown, the score 31-14.
And that would be how it would end, Romo being stripped of the ball by Justin Tuck, the fumble recovered by Mathias Kiwanuka and the Giants running out the clock. With the loss, Dallas fell to 8-8, and due to tiebreakers with the Eagles, who finished with the same record, the Cowboys actually finished in third place in the NFC East.