By Paul Dottino
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This is getting ridiculous. The Giants were so dominant in their 41-35 road victory over the Dallas Cowboys that they were able to overcome five turnovers, six penalties and a 20-7 second-quarter deficit to take control of a game that was not reflected in the final score.
It’s true that Dallas was an onside kick away from having a chance to steal this one in the final seconds – and the kickoff deflected off LB Clint Sintim’s knee before he recovered it – but the Giants nearly doubled their opponent in total offense (497 to 254) and first downs (25 to 14), controlled the ball for more than 37 minutes and held the Cowboys to 0-for-10 on third down.
All this means is that the Giants (5-2) can go into their bye week with a four-game winning streak and the knowledge that they are one game up on Philadelphia and Washington (4-3) in the NFC East while the Cowboys (1-5) have been left with a tall mountain to climb. Coach Tom Coughlin already hinted to his team after the game that they’ll have to improve in order to enjoy the rest of their season – and he’s right. But that’s a problem that can be addressed once they start preparing for the Seattle Seahawks, so let’s review this victory:
Offense – QB Eli Manning. This was a tough one to hand him because, once again, Manning fell into the bad habit of making an ill-advised throw with the Giants in position to put away the game late in the fourth quarter – and it turned into one of his three interceptions (two on tipped passes). But he was simply THAT good the rest of the night. Manning beat the blitz on all four of his touchdown passes, picking out the correct receiver each time.
The Cowboys threw a pressure package at Manning on nearly 75 percent of his snaps, significantly higher than their scouting report (50 percent) and he was masterful throughout the night in identifying their scheme and making them pay for it: 25-of-35 for 306 yards. His cerebral performance prompted us to look away from the errant first-quarter pass to Steve Smith that was picked off on the game’s third play and the rookie-like, flat-footed toss under pressure that Keith Brooking intercepted with less than four minutes to go in Dallas territory.
And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the sensational job done by the offensive line, specifically the combination of Shaun O’Hara, Rich Seubert and Chris Snee, who worked in combination to turn Pro Bowl DT Jay Ratliff into the invisible man. In addition, TE-FB Bear Pascoe continues to open eyes with his blocking. And let’s not forget Barry Cofield’s forced fumble (on Jason Whitten) that Deon Grant recovered with 36 seconds left in the half at the Giants’ 44 and the Giants up, 21-20. (Coughlin called a timeout to hold up Dallas’ snap while the replay booth reversed the call and ruled it a fumble.)
Defense – LB Michael Boley. If the loss isn’t enough to significantly hamper the Cowboys’ season, how about the clean second-quarter hit that he put on Tony Romo, fracturing the quarterback’s left clavicle and sending him to the sideline for at least an estimated eight weeks. Over the past few games, Boley has proven to be an effective blitzer, showing enough quickness to close the pocket and impact throws. Romo got off this pass with nearly 12 minutes left in the half, but paid the price as an untouched Boley raced in and sent him to the turf.
Backup Jon Kitna simply was not going to win this game for the Cowboys, not with his lack of mobility in the pocket against the Giants’ pass rush. So that’s five starting quarterbacks the Giants have knocked out of a game in seven weeks – each with clean, physical defense. Can you hear Matt Hasselbeck’s knees already knocking in Seattle?
Special teams – PK Lawrence Tynes. Wow! The guy averaged 71 yards on six kickoffs and drilled three touchbacks and that doesn’t include a kick that was returned from a few yards in the end zone. This, by far, was the best performance of his career. And don’t underestimate the value of his 53-yard field goal at the end of the first half that put the Giants up, 24-20. He hit from 43, but Chase Blackburn was called for holding, forcing Tynes to re-kick and he crushed the ball right down the middle, further demoralizing the Cowboys as they went into the locker room.
Offense – RB Ahmad Bradshaw. When is this going to stop? No, no, no. We don’t want to hear about the 126 yards on 24 carries or the fact that he’s become the NFL’s rushing leader (708). He fumbled with less than six minutes left in the game when he ran into Pascoe’s backside … for real!
This makes four fumbles (all lost in opponent’s territory) on 150 touches this season, although Bradshaw did not fumble in either of the previous two weeks – so that was a step in the right direction. Brandon Jacobs had a ball knocked free from his grip, too. Turnovers. Those are the things Coughlin’s pointing to when he says the Giants must do better.
Defense – CB Terrell Thomas. He’s a terrific player with a wide skill set. His tackling has improved, but how did he allow Dez Bryant to walk into the end zone on a 15-yard grab with 3:17 left? Thomas’ poor attempt at a tackle allowed Dallas to convert Brooking’s interception into a touchdown in one play that took seven seconds and sliced the lead to 38-28. Rule No. 1 when protecting a late blowout is to do whatever possible to force your opponent to burn time off the clock; otherwise, you suddenly find that they’ve made the score manageable.
Special teams – WR Duke Calhoun. He earned a spot on the roster by showing flashes as a gunner during the preseason. Calhoun needs to consider himself fortunate that he didn’t miss a tackle then like he did on Bryant’s 88-yard punt return for a touchdown with 8:53 left in the third quarter. Calhoun raced downfield and got a hand on Bryant, only to allow him to slip away – and Bryant then outraced Boley and punter Matt Dodge on his way to making it 20-7 in what was the Cowboys’ largest lead of the night.