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Spagnola: Talk about STOMPING out the Giants



Think the Giants forgot something.

See, they seemed to have thought of everything else, pulling out all the stops here Sunday night at MetLife Stadium for this 2023 NFL season opener.

They started off with an emotional bang, unfurling a 100-yard, field-covering United States flag, commencing the remembrance of the 9/11 attack 22 years ago. They had the Queen in the house, that being Queen Latifah, to beautifully sing the national anthem, complete with fireworks' red glares.

They allowed a national TV audience to witness the supposed ambience of open-air stadiums in the Northeast, wondering if they thought rain, sleet and snow gives them a homefield advantage. Well, they sure got the rain the majority of this game, and was thinking that if they needed a good roofer, could have given them the number to KPost Roofing and Waterproofing because they sure needed some waterproofing this evening.

And they even pumped up the crowd of 80,809 by bringing out newly crowned U.S. Open champ 19-year-old Coco Gauff in the second quarter to a standing ovation.

However, they seemed to have forgotten the Dallas Cowboys were coming to town, that bunch keeping their cards close to the vest all training camp long, not showing a darn thing in three preseason games, hardly a starter ever getting a snap.

But you know what? They weren't alone in the oversight. So many nationally were pumping up these Giants, about how they were ready to take the next step after that 9-7-1 playoff season of 2022. That Giants quarterback Daniel Jones is the real deal. That running back Saquan Barkley is healthy, and the Giants having added enough pieces in free agency and the draft to challenge the Eagles and Cowboys for NFC East supremacy this year.

And not for nothing, but the entire NBC pregame panel bought in, every one of them picking the Giants to win this game, except … Jason Garrett, as if a team having gone 12-5 in back-to-back seasons had regressed.

Yep, all that until the Cowboys said, hi ya'll, we're here too, unleashing a football tsunami the likes of which we haven't seen in a season opener from them since shutting out the Giants in two other season openers: 27-0 in 1996 and 35-0 in the 1995 opener.

Only this one was worse. Gobs worse.

Cowboys 40, Giants naught, the largest shutout margin of victory in franchise history.

And believe me, this slaughter was worse than that score might indicate, the Cowboys, at least for this opener, confirming what those of us saw bubbling up for those three and a half weeks in Oxnard, Calif., during training camp. Something special was in the air, come rain or shine.

"Definitely feeling like we put the league on notice," said DeMarcus Lawrence. "We're for real. We coming."

How they did come after the Giants, likely not knowing what hit them. Check this out, all of it.

The Cowboys turned a blocked field-goal attempt into a 58-yard touchdown return (Noah Igbinoghene) on the first series of the season.

They had a 22-yard interception return for a touchdown (DaRon Bland, last year's interception leader), one of two picks in the game (Stephon Gilmore the other) on the Giants' third possession following a Cowboys' touchdown drive.

They sacked Jones seven times, one fewer than they totaled in two games against the Giants last year, led by two each from Osa Odighizuwa and Dorance Armstrong, with penalties nullifying at least another.

The Cowboys finished the onslaught with, and get this, 10 tackles for losses, 12 QB hits, eight passes defensed and three forced fumbles, recovering one.

Oh, and get this, they harassed Jones so badly he did not complete a pass to a wide receiver until there was 6:38 left in the third quarter. And even at that, he completed only five for the game, three of those after the score had reached 40-0 and the Cowboys had sent in the JV.

In fact, Jones' 43 yards rushing total was more yards than any of the Giants had in reception yards. And at least for the first week of the season, the Cowboys got a head start on their announced goal of becoming the No. 1 defense in the NFL by holding the Giants to a mere pittance 171 total yards.

No wonder the Cowboys and the rain sent those Big Blue fans heading for the exits early in the fourth quarter with the, uh, blues so dark turning purple, and worse soaking wet.

It's a great start," said Micah Parsons, who did get one of those seven sacks. "I haven't seen anything like that since we have been here, but it's the consistency. We just have to keep it going."

And here is the other thing about beating the Giants so badly. The Cowboys were only average on offense, totaling a meager 265 yards. They converted just six of 13 third downs. Dak Prescott was only good, throwing for just 143 yards with a ball that must have felt like a water balloon. And those big-three receivers, CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks and Michael Gallup, only totaled seven catches. Plus, the young tight ends dropped two potential touchdown passes.

Yet …

Look, the defense let the Giants drive the opening kickoff to the Cowboys' 8-yard line when things rapidly went downhill facing a third-and-2. First, left tackle Andrew Thomas jumped the snap count, knowing that was Parson in front of him. Minus-5. Then rookie center John Michael Schmitz Jr. dribbled the snap past Jones, who recovered at the 27, forcing Graham Gano's 45-yard field goal attempt.

Enter Juanyeh Thomas, you know, the first-year safety who just kept making plays not only in training camp but in preseason games, too, to forge a spot on the 53-man roster. Lined up to the Cowboys' left inside, Thomas jumps over the Giants protection to stuff Gano's kick, allowing Igbinoghene to scoop and scoot 58 yards thanks to one of Thomas' blocks, too, for the touchdown.

So Juanyeh, listen up. When's the last time you blocked a field goal?

"Probably high school," he said, though pointing out special teams ace C.J. Goodwin told him before the game this was going to open up for him, and boy did it ever. Not bad for your first NFL game, having spent the entirety of last season on the Cowboys practice squad.

"I'm blessed," said Thomas said, who was charged with covering Giants tight end Darren Waller in Dan Quinn's defensive scheme, finishing with two tackles and a pass breakup intended for Waller. "That is the most fun I've had playing ball."

No, the Cowboys were blessed, too. Because this was a tone-setter for the rest of the game. Why, not five minutes later it was Trevon Diggs blasting Barkley on a short pass, the ball squirting out right into the hands of Bland, who romps 22 yards for the touchdown making it 9-0 Cowboys.

And by time the half ended, Gilmore had his pick, Gano missed a field goal attempt with Sam Williams bearing down on him, New York had all of 81 total yards and the Cowboys had put the Giants to sleep, 26-0.

The defense never let up, the offense was opportunistic, and really the only downside to the game was the Cowboys settling for a 21-yard Brandon Aubrey field goal after moving to a first-and-goal at the 6.

But once the Cowboys began the second half with a 75-yard touchdown drive, capped off by Tony Pollard speeding 1 yard outside for the second of his two touchdowns, there really wasn't much to complain about.

Especially with Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy pointing out they had shifted into their "weather plan" offense, putting a premium on protecting the ball with a more conservative approach, especially in that second half downpour. In fact, McCarthy pointed out, knowing there had been rain in the forecast all week, they devoted portions of three practices to wet ball periods.

Paid off. No interceptions and just one fumble they recovered, as opposed to the five the Giants had. And just Aubrey's missed first NFL extra point attempt. Other than that, not much to complain about.

And certainly not on defense, especially considering the performances of some of the young guys, such as Thomas and second-year safety Markquese Bell, who led the team with eight tackles, one tackle for loss and one forced fumble playing that linebacker spot vacated by DeMarvion Overshown's season-ending injury. Aubrey going two-for-two on field goals and four-for-five on extra points and nailing all eight kickoffs for touchbacks.

All in all, pretty sweet, winning the opener, on the road, in the rain and against a division opponent, certainly keeping pace with NFC

East mates Philadelphia and NFC nemesis San Francisco for the opening week.

Look, come on, 40-0. Take notice.

"That's ya'lls job to write whatever statement it needs to be," Dak Prescott said when asked about the meaning of 40-0. "For us, it's about not getting ahead of ourselves."

Same from Lawrence.

"If you feel we made a statement," Lawrence began when asked that a second time, "put it on the front page, big letters."

Taking you up on that.

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