By Paul Dottino
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Every once in a while, things do follow a logical path — even in today’s parity-driven NFL.
The Giants (4-3) followed that road en route to a 27-20 victory that ended a five-game losing streak to the Dallas Cowboys and allowed Tom Coughlin’s team to regain sole possession of first place in the NFC East.
Ugly? Maybe. But effective, and it made perfect sense.
If there were two givens going into the game, they were that the Giants would dominate the special teams battle and the Cowboys wouldn’t win the game if they relied too heavily on journeyman and new starting QB Matt Cassel. The Giants’ special teams made the two most important plays of the game in the final seven minutes, and Cassel tossed three interceptions (on 27 passes) to offset the Cowboys’ dominant 233-yard rushing effort.
Offense: RB Orleans Darkwa
You can’t say enough about this young back, who has been a very good special teams player while remaining patient as the fourth back on the depth chart. He said he was told “you’re up” after the Giants’ second possession, and he was the primary force behind a seven-play, 79-yard TD drive that gave the Giants a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter.
Darkwa carried four times for 41 yards on the march, including an impressive 15-yard burst up the middle for the score. Coughlin said afterward that there was a plan to use him, and it worked. Clearly the Cowboys didn’t expect this change-up.
Defense: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
How could it be anyone else? The veteran came up with two interceptions, including his sixth career return for a touchdown. This one went for 58 yards after he snared a right sideline pass that was a bit wide of Terrance Williams in front of the Giants’ bench and sprinted untouched to put the Giants on top, 17-13, with 11:19 left in the third quarter.
After S Brandon Meriweather stalled the Cowboys’ next drive with an interception, DRC picked off another one. This time he undercut an in-route pass intended for Brice Butler at the Giants’ 22 on the first play of the fourth quarter with the Giants ahead, 20-13.
Special Teams: KOR Dwayne Harris
He had been saying for a while that he was close to breaking one, and this time he did. Dallas was coming off of a tying touchdown when Harris — following a planned “middle return” — did not allow anyone to touch him on a 100-yard dash that made it 27-20 with 7:01 to play.
It was the team’s first such play since David Wilson’s 97-yard runback vs. the Saints (Dec. 9, 2012). Harris also tied Emlen Tunnell (vs. the then-Yankees in 1951) and Clarence Childs (vs. the Vikings in 1964) for the longest such return in franchise history.
This marked the first time since Nov. 4, 1951, that the Giants scored on an interception and a kickoff return. In addition to Tunnell’s score vs. the Yankees, Tom Landry returned a pick 55 yards for a TD.
A pat on the back must go to WR Myles White, who recovered a muffed punt that sealed the win after it was misplayed by Dallas WR Cole Beasley at the Dallas 16 with 1:26 remaining. And another high five to PK Josh Brown, whose 47- and 34-yard field goals allowed him to set a team record with 19 consecutive makes. But he’s also going to have to run (see below).
Offense: RG Geoff Schwartz
On a day when the aggressive Dallas defensive front was held to two sacks, he was the victim on both of them. The more critical one came with the Giants trying to build on a 17-13 lead late in the third quarter.
DT Jack Crawford beat him on a third-and-7 from the Dallas 8, forcing the Giants to settle for a field goal. On the first sack, DE Greg Hardy knifed inside of Schwartz to drill QB Eli Manning on a third-and-4 from the Giants 26′ with 6:18 left in the first half.
Defense: The Front Seven
The defensive-line rotation didn’t matter. These guys were manhandled by the Cowboys’ formidable offensive line to the tune of 233 yards on 41 rushes. It seemed as though the entire pile pushed ahead for at least 3 yards on every carry. RB Darren McFadden rumbled for 152 and a TD on 29 attempts.
Dallas had five runs of at least 10 yards, with four of them coming in the first half. The Cowboys controlled the ball for 38:04, and one might argue that they would have been better off running on every play rather than allow Cassel to attempt any passes.
Special Teams: PK Josh Brown
Brown mishit a kickoff following Darkwa’s touchdown, sending it out of bounds for a penalty and allowing Dallas to take over at its own 40.