The big hands of Dez Bryant are part of what makes him one of the more dangerous wide receivers in the NFL, and yet that same physical gift cost the Dallas Cowboys a victory by the slimmest of margins on Sunday.
With ten just seconds left, one of Bryant’s large mitts held on to a desperation 37-yard heave from quarterback Tony Romo, but the other was a little too big to keep in bounds, as Bryant’s fingertips ever so slightly touched the white paint beyond the back of the blue end zone.
Helped by that bit of luck, the New York Giants barely held on for an exhilarating 29-24 victory to extend their perfect mark (now 4-0) at Cowboys Stadium since New York won the inaugural NFL regular season game there in 2009.
More importantly, with their fourth straight win, the first-place Giants (6-2) have gone from a disappointing 0-2 start within the NFC East, one that included a season-opening home loss to the Cowboys (3-4) and a road defeat to Philadelphia Eagles (3-4), to a 2-2 division record and a comfortable 2½-game division lead over both of those teams at the midpoint of their regular season.
However, as hurricane Sandy was about do bear down on the area of the Giants’ home stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, the G-Men had to first weather their own storm of a different nature, more than 1,500 miles away, in Texas.
After scoring the first 23 points, New York allowed Dallas to answer with the next 24 before scoring the last six in the final quarter on a pair of field goals from kicker Lawrence Tynes, who was a perfect 5-for-5 on field goal attempts for a second time this season, while make at least for kicks in a game for as many times this year.
Relying so heavily on the adeptness of Tynes’ accuracy though, kept the Giants from putting the game away much sooner and much easier than they could have, as they repeatedly settled for field goals over potential touchdowns.
“We certainly did have our opportunities, with all these field goals [instead of getting] touchdowns, and that’s going to be a very disappointing thing when I go back and look at the game,” said Giants head coach Tom Coughlin. “We did get the turnovers… but we really didn’t take full advantage of them when we should have.”
Initially, that didn’t seem to be much of a problem, as New York had three early interceptions of Romo (36-for-62, 437 yards, one touchdown, four interceptions, four sacks), who as his nickname “The Romo-coaster” suggests, showed his best and worst throughout an up-and-down performance.
Reserve safety Stevie Brown (game-high eight tackles, two interceptions, one fumble recovery), who continues to do a terrific job filling in or injured starter Kenny Phillips, grabbed the first of those picks – one of six Dallas turnovers overall – and returned it 37 yards to end the Cowboys’ first possession and set the tone for the rest of the first half.
Although that play set the Giants up at the Dallas 27-yard line, New York was held to a 37-yard field goal by Tynes after an earlier 56-yard connection from quarterback Eli Manning (15-for-29, 192 yards, one interception, one sack) to rookie wide receiver Reuben Randle (two catches, 68 yards) on the third play of the game led only to a 41-yard field goal by Tynes on New York’s opening drive.
But, when cornerback Corey Webster picked off Romo’s next pass and brought it back a dozen yards, the Giants needed to only go 19 more for running back Andre Brown (three carries, 21 yards, one touchdown) to increase New York’s lead to 13-0 on a one-yard touchdown plunge with 3:41 left in the opening quarter.
Another Dallas mistake – a muffed punt by Bryant – gave the Giants the ball at the Cowboys’ 15-yard line, but when former Dallas tight end Martellus Bennett (four catches, 29 yards) couldn’t hang on to what would have been a first down catch just short of the goal line, another Tynes field goal made the score 16-0 just 38 seconds into the second quarter.
Just three plays later, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul stepped in front of a short screen pass by Romo to the left, and brought it back for a 28-yard touchdown, the first of Pierre-Paul’s career, to push New York’s lead to a seemingly commanding 23-0.
As the Giants punted on their next four possessions, the Cowboys finally broke through, on their final two drives of the first half, going 72 yards on eight plays for a four-yard touchdown run by running back Felix Jones (13 carries, just 19 yards, one touchdown) and then 55 yards on six plays for a 51-yard field goal by kicker Dan Bailey that drew Dallas to within 23-10 by halftime.
The Cowboys continued that momentum with touchdowns on each of their first two trips of the second half, as their receivers continually got behind New York’s secondary through much of the second half.
Much of that damage was done by a trio of Dallas receivers who had 100-yard games, as tight end Jason Whitten (franchise-record 18 catches, 167 yards), wide receiver Mike Austin (nine catches, 133 yards) and Bryant (five catches, 110 yards) led the Cowboys on an 11-play, 86-yard march to cut the Giants’ lead to 23-17 on a play-action, one-yard bootleg run for a score by Romo, and then on an eight-play, 59–yard trip that ended with a 24-23 Dallas lead on one-yard touchdown toss from Romo to tight end John Phillips (three catches, 14 yards) with 3:43 remaining in the third period.
An unfortunate bounce off of Cruz’s arms and then his legs resulted in Manning’s only turnover of the game near midfield, but after New York’s defense held, Manning found wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (four catches, 46 yards) for a big 29-yard gain to the Giants’ 44-yard line. Six plays later, a 12-yard completion from Manning to Bennett led to a 43-yard field goal by Tynes that put New York up for good, 26-24, with 10:20 left in the game.
Stevie Brown then recovered a fumble at the Cowboys’ 45-yard line after Jones ran into his own offensive lineman, and consecutive runs of nine and ten yards by running back Ahmad Bradshaw (22 carries, 78 yards) helped set up another 37-yard kick by Tynes to put the Giants up 29-24 with 3:31 remaining.
Three straight first down receptions by Whitten moved the ball into New York territory, and completions of 12 yards to Austin followed by a nine-yard pass to Whitten got the Cowboys into the red zone, but Stevie Brown’s second interception of the game and fourth of the season thwarted that drive with 1:03 to go.
Using all three of their timeouts while forcing a three-and-out, Dallas was able to get the ball back at its own 30-yard line just 19 second later.
A 13-yard completion to Whitten and a 16-yard pass to Bryant quickly move the ball to the Giants’ 41-yard line.
Two plays later, Romo appeared to have redeemed himself for a myriad of miscues with a game-winning touchdown pass to Bryant, before a replay review showed Bryant’s fingertips hitting the ground just slightly out of bounds before any other part of his body hit the turf.
Whitten then caught a ten-yard pass to get the ball to the New York 27-yard line, and on the next play, Austin nearly caught a ball down the middle, inside the five-yard line, with room to score, but he couldn’t hold onto the pass with only a second left.
That left the Cowboys with one final chance, but Romo threw incomplete, through the end zone, looking for Whitten, leaving Dallas with yet another frustrating home loss to the Giants.
Although New York held a sizable advantage of 103-19 yards on the ground, the Cowboys threw for a lot more yards (415-190) and had 28 of the game’s 39 first downs.
Trying to continue their hot streak next Sunday, the Giants, 3-1 at home this year, will host the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3), who despite being unblemished at home, will come to MetLife Stadium for a 4:25 pm ET kickoff with a poor 1-3 road record.