By Paul Dottino
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EAST RUTHERFORD – A complete effort across the board. How ironic considering the Giants often had trouble putting everything together at once this season, one that has ended in an NFC East championship and their first postseason appearance in three years.
The Giants’ 31-14 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday allows them to host the Atlanta Falcons in the first-round of the NFC playoffs. More important, the Giants will go into Sunday’s game with the knowledge that they’ve played quality football in four of the past five weeks and they’ve got a beatable dome-based opponent heading into MetLife Stadium.
As for the regular season finale? Eli Manning (24-33-346 yards) threw for three TDs, Victor Cruz (6-178 yards, 1 TD) had another sensational game, the running game reached 100 yards for the fourth time in five weeks, the defense sacks Tony Romo six times and the Cowboys were limited to just 49 rushing yards and had no big plays in the return game (which has to be considered a plus whenever Dez Bryant handles the ball).
Offense-WR Victor Cruz. His 74-yard TD catch opened the scoring with nearly five minutes left in the first quarter. As is his habit, Cruz made an athletic move to avoid CB Terence Newman and then turned on his deceiving speed to race down the sideline. We can’t forget the block thrown by Hakeem Nicks, though, as Cruz turned upfield. Cruz also came up big early in the second quarter, with a 4-yard catch that converted a third-and-3 from the Dallas 9 to keep a TD drive alive. Early in the third, Cruz snared a 27-yard jump ball. In the fourth, he helped put away the game with catches off 44 and 20 yards to key a field goal drive that put the Giants up, 24-14.
Defense-LB Michael Boley. He made back-to-back plays early in the fourth quarter to help contain the Cowboys’ attempted comeback. Down 21-7, Dallas was building momentum and Tony Romo hit Jason Whitten on a third-and-7, but Boley and Corey Webster dragged him down less than a yard shy of the marker at the Giants 10. On fourth down, Boley hurled himself over the line to combine with Jason Pierre-Paul and Chris Canty to stop Romo short on a quarterback sneak. Special mention to DE Osi Umenyiora, who came back after a month off with a sprained ankle, to register two sacks in a part-time role – he really helped to energize the pass rush.
Special teams-LB Jacquian Williams. Dallas was trying to build some rhythm with nearly 6 minutes left in the third quarter, down 21-7, when Williams stopped dangerous PR Dez Bryant on a 4-yard return at the Cowboys 25. Five plays later, FS Antrel Rolle intercepted Romo.
Offense-RB Brandon Jacobs. It’s not good when you have a fumble on a night you’re your role was limited to seven touches. Early in the second quarter, LB Anthony Spencer knocked the ball from Jacobs’ grasp and it slipped through the hands of S Gerald Sensabaugh and TE Travis Beckum before Eli Manning recovered at the Dallas 23. The drive ended with Lawrence Tynes going wide right on a 40-yard FG attempt.
Defense-None. What did you expect? Six sacks. 49 rushing yards. 14 points. So Romo tossed two sharp TD passes to Laurent Robinson, who beat CBs Corey Webster and Aaron Ross, respectively? In the interest of the playoff celebration, we’ll allow them to avoid laps.
Special teams-WR Devin Thomas. He got into a scrape and drew a personal foul at the end of a Dallas punt return with 11:40 left and the Giants leading, 21-7. This penalty fueled the Cowboys’ momentum and put them at the Giants 26 – and Laurent Robinson caught a 6-yard TD pass three plays later.
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