By Ernie Palladino
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This time, there was no Tony Romo to break the Giants’ hearts.
This time, it was the Giants making the huge play.
And this time, vindication spread itself all around, from the Giants beating the Cowboys 27-20, to Dallas castoff Dwayne Harris supplying the winning points with his 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown with 7:01 remaining in the game.
Oh, the Giants did plenty to win this game before Harris took off on his journey up the field. There were three interceptions, too, including one from Brandon Meriweather and a pair from Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the second of which produced a 58-yard pick-6 off Matt Cassel that pushed the Giants into a 17-13 third-quarter lead.
And there was their first team 100-yard rushing effort of the season, highlighted by fourth running back Orleans Darkwa’s first touches of the year that netted him 48 yards and his second career touchdown.
Darkwa and Shane Vereen, with a team-high 56 yards, highlighted the 132-yard team performance that offset Darren McFadden’s 152-yard effort on the other side.
And then there was the final touch, a Cole Beasley muff of Brad Wing’s final punt that Myles White grabbed at the Cowboys’ 16 that allowed Eli Manning to kneel out the rest of the clock.
On this day at MetLife Stadium, there would be no jaw-dropping comeback from Romo, no dumb mental mistake from Manning to open the door for a loss.
Just a lot of good stuff to get the Giants to 4-3, back to the top of the NFC East.
And a lot of good feelings after beating a team they should have vanquished in Week 1 as a followup to last Monday’s disaster in Philadelphia.
Maybe it says something about the Giants. Maybe it’s still too early to discern their true character. But on this day, their coach had every right to describe them as fighters.
“We’re gritty and scrappy, that’s what we describe ourselves as, and they are,” Coughlin said. “They battle and they fight and I can’t say enough about that aspect.”
Of course, let us not forget that Cassel was doing the Cowboys’ bidding, not Romo. So the possibility that he was going to lead a last-minute lightning charge down the field was unlikely, anyway. But the fact that he never got a chance to had everything to do with the boost the Giants received when their do-it-all special teamer answered in the biggest way Cassel’s 25-yard throw to Devin Street in the corner of the end zone with 7:14 remaining. The touchdown tied it at 20, but Harris, who long ago became the Giants’ most valuable free agent acquisition of the offseason, took the ensuing kickoff the length of the field for the go-ahead points.
He had come close to breaking one a number of times this season. As good a returner as he is — he had two punt returns for touchdowns with Dallas — Harris had never brought a kickoff to the house.
He couldn’t have timed it better.
“We’ve been overdue for a long time, always one block away, one man away,” Harris said. “Tonight it was blocked perfectly, anybody could have run through the hole that was made.”
A threat still remained though. Remember, this is Dallas, a team the Giants have suffered some strange endings against in recent years. And indeed, Cassel did get his next possession to the Giants’ 30 before Markus Kuhn and George Selvie dropped him for the Giants’ only sack. Meriweather blitzed on third down and got a piece of the ball, knocking it down harmlessly, and Trevin Wade and Jonathan Casillas closed fast on James Hanna on fourth down to bring him up short.
A three-and-out left yet another door open, but Beasley’s muff and White’s recovery ended it.
There would be no miracles for Dallas on this day.
But a lot of redemption for the Giants, and especially for the ex-Cowboy Harris.
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