The New York Giants come into this game at 11-2 against the struggling Dallas Cowboys who are 8-5. This is the second to last regular season game to ever be played at the Cowboys Texas Stadium, before they move to their new home in Arlington, Texas for the 2009 season. Both teams are coming off of some recent controversy - Giants Plaxico Burress shooting himself in the foot (literally) and Cowboys Terrell Owens being very vocal (as usual) about not getting the ball down-the-stretch in their lose last week. Owens was booed during the opening introductions, and was booed several more times throughout the game. Giants also have a key scratch to their starting running back, Brandon Jacobs, who is still out with a knee injury. For two teams known for their explosive offenses, and dominance with time of possession, this was most certainly a defensive battle. Neither team could get anything going on the ground, which also meant neither quarter back had much time to throw the ball on passing downs. Since neither team got much out of their running backs, the first half saw many three and outs, and lots of bad passing. No big plays to speak of in the first half, and really no offense from the Giants. The Giants went into half time with a season low 78 total yards - their lowest first half total since November of 2006. Cowboys big drive in the first quarter, which should have resulted in at least a field goal, was squashed by back-to-back sacks by defensive end Renaldo Wynn, and nose tackle Jay Alford.
Cowboys most impressive drive in the first half resulted in a touchdown pass to wide receiver Patrick Crayton, on just the fourth play of the drive. It looked like Cowboys QB Tony Romo was across the line-of-scrimmage when he released the ball, but a Giants challenge of the play was overruled, giving the Cowboys their only points of the half. Giants only scoring drive of the first half, which resulted in a field goal, came off a big 24-yard pass play to their big tight end Kevin Boss, who was lined up as a wide receiver on the play. Romo got hit and hurried early and often. Romo was forced to make many off-balanced throws, with Giants defense in his face, as well as throws off his back foot, and with little time to react in the pocket. For the most part, Romo handled the Giants blitzing well. On a sack in the first half, it looked like Romo might not have finished the game with a blow he took to his lower back, but he fought through it. Giants QB Eli Manning really had no time to get into any kind of rhythm. Cowboys had a relentless pass rush, which is a tough element to work around when you have a pocket QB like Manning. This half was all defense, with a slight edge going to the Cowboys.
Second half was almost a repeat of the first, and as well as the Cowboys defense played in the first half, I was impressed at their complete dominance in the second half. It became more and more obvious that Marion Barber was still not feeling 100%, because Tashard Choice lead the way out of the Cowboys back field on both rushing and passing plays. Giants most certainly are a different team without Brandon Jacobs and Plaxico Burress in the lineup. They could get nothing going on the ground, which left Manning susceptible to sack after sack after sack. The key to the Cowboys defense was they were getting good pass rush with their 4-man front, allowing their secondary to play very physical; without Burress in the lineup, the Giants main threat was Domenik Hixon, who was covered like a glove by Terence Newman. Manning was forced to lots of 3rd and long plays, which meant he had to hold the ball longer to allow his receivers time to run to the first down line, but the Giants offensive line was no match for DeMarcus Ware, or Greg Ellis.
As John Madden mentioned several times throughout the game, the team to win would be the one that would get something going on the ground, and that ended up being the Cowboys. Both of their touchdown drives in the second half came off of big runs by Tashard Choice. On the first of these two drives, Choice had a big 22-yard run, which was followed by a dump pass to Jason Witten where he took the ball down to the 1 yard line after an awesome straight arm to middle linebacker Antonio Pierce. Once again, it was the Choice / Witten combination to get the Cowboys their other touchdown of the second half. With just over three minutes in the game, the Cowboys face a 3rd and 9. Romo goes to Witten on a short crossing pattern, that he catches 3 yards away from the 1st down marker, but he literally dragged free safety Michael Johnson to extend for the 1st down. On the very next play, Choice springs for the largest run of the game (38 yards) off a beautiful block from guard Leonard Davis, which gives Choice his first NFL touchdown, and seals the game for the Cowboys at 20-8.
The story of the game was defense through and through, and the Cowboys just wanted it more. DeMarcus Ware had an amazing game, with three sacks on Manning, putting him at the top of the list for league leaders in sacks. The 8 sacks by the Cowboys defense was the most the team had in 11 years. The Giants don't seem to be able to handle the Cowboys pass rush - they have faced the Cowboys twice this season, giving up 12 sacks, while only giving up 11 sacks combined in their other 12 games. This loss puts the Giants hopes of home field advantage in the playoffs in question, setting up a huge game next Sunday night as they face the Carolina Panthers which will determine who takes top honors in the NFC. Cowboys really needed this win, putting them at 9-5. Funny how winning erases doubt and hostility, as we saw shots of Romo / Witten / Owens laughing on the sideline near the end of the game. Without question, this was a huge win for the Cowboys, who still have two big games: at home against the Ravens, and in Philadelphia against the Eagles.
I love games like this one, where it is a battle of defenses, and football in December is fucking awesome.