Spagnola: Cowboys Reminded Of Narrow Difference Between Winning & Losing

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – After winning a franchise single-season record 11 consecutive games.

After surviving that gauntlet of playing three games in 12 days.

After flawlessly running through playoff contenders Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Washington and Minnesota.

After overcoming four fourth-quarter deficits to pull out victories.

Here is what it took for the Cowboys to lose for the first time in 13 weeks.

Pregame snow showers creating a slick field, Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant slipping to the ground out of his break leading to a New York Giants interception.

Two more holding penalties, one on a Cole Beasley third-quarter reception to the Giants (37) and another on a Beasley punt return to the Giants 30 that robbed the Cowboys out of, if nothing else, field position for potential field-goal attempts.

A Bryant lost fumble at his own 46 with the Cowboys on the move late in the fourth quarter.

A Doug Free recovery of a Dak Prescott fumble he advanced to the Giants 31, at least in field-goal range, overturned when replay detected the foot of a Giants player sprawled out on the ground happened to touch Free's leg, making him down by contact at the 40 and forcing a Cowboys punt instead.

Converting just 1 of 15 third-down opportunities when the Giants only converted 2 of 14.

A fourth-and-3 Giants conversion.

Turning the ball over three times, as many times as the Giants.

A Dan Bailey 55-yard field-goal attempt on a cold, damp day clanking off the crossbar and bounding backwards, coming up a mere yard short of giving the Cowboys a 10-0 halftime lead.

The Giants holding the Cowboys to just 260 yards total offense, the same total the Cowboys held the Giants to.

Someone not only parking in my spot at the American Airlines charter site that I routinely have left my car in for years, but an NFL security mandate forcing us to cut off 12 games of stadium security bag tags that traditionally build up until the end of the season.

Yeah, it took all that, and then some for the New York Giants to end the Cowboys 11-game winning streak and postpone any NFC East Division-winning celebration at MetLife with a whopping 10-7 win here Sunday night.

"It is one of those games," Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said. "You can't have those types of games. You can't play that way and expect to win."

You can't, even though they got away with one a week ago Thursday, sneaking by Minnesota, 17-15, when the Vikings' two-point conversion to send the game into overtime with mere second left in regulation was stopped.

Now look, the Cowboys weren't going to win 15 consecutive games to close out the regular season with a rookie quarterback at the helm, or heck, a 14-year veteran for that matter since they never had in their past. They just weren't. They just aren't that overpowering.

So this isn't the end of the world.

But what this loss does is keep the 9-4 Giants in the hunt for the NFC East title and push back the Cowboys timetable for winning the division at least another week, and possibly two or three. The loss, coupled with the season-opening loss to the Giants (20-19), also means the Cowboys can't win any tiebreaker with the Giants for the NFC East crown. Win either outright or bust.

The Cowboys either need to win two of their next three games – against Tampa Bay (8-5) and Detroit (9-4) at AT&T Stadium, then at Philadelphia (5-8) New Year's Day – or they need to win just one of those games if the Giants should falter against any one of their final three opponents – Detroit here at MetLife this coming Sunday, or on the road against either Philadelphia or Washington (7-5-1).

And since the Cowboys' next two games are on Sunday night and Monday night, they will know in no uncertain terms what will be required of them to at least clinch the division crown.

Wash your mouth out with soap if you were one of those preoccupied with what the Cowboys should do with players once they clinch home-field advantage or if it would be proper to play former starter Tony Romo in mop-up duty to knock off rust or to enhance his value in a potential trade next year.

Forget all that. They still have some heavy lifting to do.

Now it's no time to panic with three games remaining, but the Cowboys' offensive and defensive about-face over the past two games is somewhat troubling. This team had been winning with their robust offensive output, averaging 28.5 points going into the Giants game. But in the last two games the Cowboys have been held to 17 points and seven points, only three touchdowns combined when they had been averaging three and a half touchdowns a game.

And it's not just points, either. In the past two games the Cowboys have been held to 264 total yards by the Vikings and 260 by the Giants. This is quite troubling, and opens up a can of worms they had better get back in there fast, since teams are figuring out blitzing is bothering this offense led by rookie quarterback Dak Prescott.

Plus, you know darn well bringing Romo off the bench in relief of Dak to possibly save the day crossed a lot of minds Sunday night. After all the Cowboys have now converted just two of 24 third-down opportunities over the past two games. Something is askew.

But Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett may have quelled that talk, at least among those in the media when answering Sunday night with a resounding "NO" when asked if the same crossed his mind during the game.

Then on the other hand, what another marvelous performance by the defense, holding the past two opponents to a combined 25 points, the Vikings 15 and the Giants 10. The defense only allowed Eli Manning to convert two of their 14 third-down opportunities, picked him off once, recovered one of his fumbles and sacked him three times. The front seven played marvelously, led by Sean Lee's 18 tackles. And if not for a fourth-and-three conversion to extend a drive, the Giants never would have creeped within field-goal range for what turned out to be the decisive three points.

I mean, you hold a team to just 10 points you ought to win. In fact, you have to go back to the 14th game of the 2007 season to find the last time the Cowboys lost a game when holding an opponent to no more than 10 points, losing 10-6 to Philadelphia. That's 143 games ago.

"I mean great, spectacular," Prescott said of the Cowboys' defensive play. "They did everything they needed to do. This definitely falls on offense, and I'd say me particularly."

Indeed. Going into this game the Giants had given up 45 passing plays of at least 20 yards, nearly four a game. Sunday night the Giants gave up just one, that 31-yard sleight-of-hand Prescott touchdown pass to a wide-open Terrance Williams against a completely fooled defense. But that was it.

So, better fasten your seatbelts. The race is back on. If the Giants win out, the Cowboys can only lose one of their final three games and still win the NFC East. If they lose two or more, and the Giants end up winning 10 of their last 11 games, the Cowboys become no more than a wild-card team they already know they are.

So just remember, it ain't over until it's over, and believe me, this ain't over . . . yet.

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