After upsetting the Dallas Cowboys in the final postseason game ever at the old Texas Stadium en route to their Super Bowl XLII championship, the New York Giants fittingly opened the shiny new, way over-the-top, $1.15 billion, three million-square-foot Cowboys Stadium, complete with its cagedancers (not to be mistaken for the famed Cowboy cheerleaders) and 600-ton, 60-yard-long, above-the-field scoreboard, with a thrilling 33-31 victory, when Giants’ kicker Lawrence Tynes made a 37-yard field goal — his fourth of the game — as time expired.
The seesaw battle before 105,121 fans, the largest crowd in National Football League history, featured eight lead changes, as the Giants finally overcame their offense’s inability to score touchdowns in what Giants’ head coach Tom Coughlin likes to optimistically term the “green zone” over the more common moniker of “red zone,” (probably due to the Giants’ frequent inefficiency inside an opponent’s 20-yard line, often leaving the Giants seeing red with frustration).
In that regard, Sunday night’s game in Dallas, which Coughlin called “A heck of a football game,” was no different. The Giants had ample opportunity to be safely ahead by the fourth quarter, but prior to Tynes’ game-winning kick, the Giants managed just nine points on three Tynes’ field goals in four trips inside the red (or… green…) zone.
The Cowboys also did something a lot better that entering the game, figured to be a big edge for the Giants. Last week, Dallas allowed 174 rushing yards in a win at Tampa Bay. The Giants meanwhile, are widely considered to have one of the NFL’s top rushing games, while being good at stopping the run themselves. Yet, the Cowboys ran all over the Giants, amassing their most rushing yards since 1993, compiling a huge advantage of 251-97 yards on the ground, led by Dallas running backs Marion Barber (124 yards on 18 carries) and Felix Jones (96 yards on just seven rushes).
However, while the Cowboys tried to use that running attack to fuel a win on their own historic night, the Giants, in victory, made some history of their own.
Down two receivers, with this year’s first-round draft pick, Hakeem Nicks, already out, and starter Domenic Hixon lost early in the game to an injury after making just one catch for thirteen yards, the Giants were In desperate need of wideout targets to step up for Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning.
So, what better person to fill that void than a receiver whose surname begins with the surname of the signal caller getting him the ball?
Enter Mario Manningham, the second-year, former University of Michigan star, who came into the game with just seven receptions in eight career games as a Giant. Manningham caught ten passes for a game-high and career-high 150 yards, including a couple of key grabs.
Manningham gave the Giants a 20-14 late second-quarter lead with a sensational catch three plays after an extremely fortuitous bounce off of the right heel of Cowboys’ tight end Jason Whitten led to an interception by Giants’ strong safety Kenny Phillips (which was blown dead before Phillips could score because just about everyone in the building thought the ball hit the ground for an incomplete pass with the naked eye). Manningham’s 22-yard touchdown reception hit of off his hands in the end zone and popped up in the air, before being caught by Manningham while on his back in the far right corner of the end zone, all after beating the Cowboys’ best defensive back, 2007 pro bowler, Terence Newman, who harassed Manningham during the whole play.
The score was the 100th of Manning’s career, making he and brother Peyton the only pair of NFL brothers to each throw for 100 career touchdowns.
Later, on the game-winning drive, Manningham demonstrated equally good concentration, catching a tipped pass on third-and-four, for a first down at the Cowboys’ 33 yard line with 39 seconds left in the game.
Manningham recognized the urgency of the Giants’ receiving corps to pick up the slack for a less than impressive New York running attack, saying, “Our running backs [were] down, but we had to step up as [receivers].”
On the next play, Steve Smith, the third-year receiver out of USC, who like Manningham, had his own first-ever ten-reception game (for 134 yards) in the NFL, made a 12-yard reception, getting the Giants into serious field goal range at the Dallas 21 yard line, two plays before Tynes redeemed himself for missing a chip shot 29-yard field goal attempt on the opening drive of the second half.
Tynes, as he did during the Giants’ Super Bowl XLII run (see the NFC championship game that year at Green Bay), is no stranger to putting a bad kick behind him in order to make a late-game pressure kick. “You’re gonna miss in this league, and I think you’re based on [how you] respond after those misses. I think I’ve handled that well in my career,” Tynes said.
The combination of Manningham and Smith ended a Giants’ 13-game stretch without a 100-yard receiver, accounted for 20 of Manning’s 25 completions (in 38 attempts), and gave the Giants the first game in their long, storied history with multiple Giants receivers catching at least ten passes apiece.
Meanwhile, Manning, who coolly involved receiver Derek Hagan and tight end Kevin Boss early on the final drive, finished the night with the most yards he had thrown for in over three years, since a 371-yard performance in a win at Philadelphia on September 17, 2006.
New York also took advantage of some key Dallas miscues, turning a fumble and three interceptions of Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo into 24 points.
That tone was set early by Bruce Johnson, who forced a fumble in his first career game last week against Washington. Undrafted out of the University of Miami, the Giants’ only rookie free-agent signing this season intercepted Romo and returned the ball 34 yards for a his first career touchdown, giving the Giants a 10-7 lead with 2:46 left in the first quarter.
Dallas quarterback Tony Romo admitted having a dismal game, saying “I’m just really, really disappointed in myself… it’s disappointing and frustrating.”
Ultimately, both Manningham and Smith breaking out, and the Giants cashing in just enough after winning the turnover battle 4-0 against Dallas, proved to be barely enough to push Big Blue into sole possession of first place in the NFC East at 2-0, before they head to Tampa Bay (0-2) on Sunday, at 1pm EST.
The Cowboys (1-1), which fell into a three-way tie for second place behind the Giants with the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles, will again show off their new home for a national television audience again week, when they host the Carolina Panthers (0-2) on Monday Night Football, at 8:30pm EST.