The Cowboys versus Giants rivalry has a long and storied history that has stood the test of time and the two team have played many memorable games in their twice annual meetings. Regardless of record, time of year, or magnitude of the game, the lesser team always rises to the occasion when this divisional opponent visits and makes it competitive. Last nite was no exception as the Giants gave Dallas all they could handle, and were leading with less then two minutes left in the game until a 13 yard touchdown pass from Tony Romo to Dez Bryant put Dallas ahead for good, 31-28. The Giants lost their sixth straight, but not for lack of effort, but to the talent gap from mounting injuries that has doomed the 2014 season to misery.
Dallas won the opening coin toss and opted to receive the hoping to establish their running game and pound the Giants bottom ranked run defense into submission. The Giants rose to occasion and forced a three and out, holding the NFL’s leading rusher, DeMarco Murray, to only 3 yards on his only carry. After two Romo interceptions, Chris Jones punted the ball out of bounds at the Giants 20 yard line.
Eli Manning started marching the Giants methodically down the field, anxious to rid the bad taste of last week’s 5 interception performance from his mouth. Mixing Rashad Jennings runs with passes to Rueben Randle, Odell Beckham, Daniel Fells, and a perfectly executed screen pass to Jennings that set up a first an goal at the Cowboys 7 yard line, Manning was poised to put up a touchdown on back to back opening game drives after failing to do so in the previous twenty games. He connected with Beckham on a three yard pass to complete the 13 play, 80 yard drive that took 7:07 off the clock and gave the Giants a 7:07 lead.
Pass protection was improved on the drive as Geoff Schwartz returned from a preseason toe injury to take over for the the injured Justin Pugh at right tackle, and veteran Adam Snyder replaced struggling rookie Weston Richburg at left guard. Manning was able to step up into the pocket and complete passes, and the Giants converted 4 third downs on the touchdown drive.
Dallas answered the Giants score with a field goal, using back to back completions of 27 yards to tight end James Hanna over a run obsessed Spencer Paysinger, and 18 yards to Terrence Williams against a zone between Stevie Brown and Antrel Rolle. The Cowboys drive covered 60 yard in 8 plays and should have come up empty as Rolle let an interception go through his hands in the end zone on the final play from scrimmage. Rolle heard footsteps from Jason Witten on the missed interception, but should have easily pulled in it. Given the defenseless receiver rules that would apply to and intercepting player, Witten could not lay him out to dislodge the ball. Dan Bailey kicked a 38 yard field goal to cut the Giants lead to 7-3.
Preston Parker returned the Cowboys kickoff 37 yard to the Cowboys 34 yard line. Following 13 yard completions to Beckham and Fells, and three Andre Williams runs that netted -2 yards, Manning launched a deep ball to Beckham on third and 12 that resulted in one of the most spectacular catches in Giants, and professional football history. With cornerback Brandon Carr draped all over him, and the pass interference flag already on the ground, Beckham reached up with only his right arm. Using just three fingers, he snared the ball, pulled it down, managed to contort his body so his feet and torso landed in bounds for the touchdown. Referee Bill Vinovich went under the hood to confirm, perhaps only because he couldn’t believe what he has just seen, and the Giants expanded their lead to 14-3. The drive took just 2:53, covered 66 yards in 6 plays and spanned the first and second quarter.
On the ensuing drive, the Giants defense was unable to stop Dallas’ offense despite the lift Beckham’s catch provided the entire Giants team. Murray ran for 29 yards on 5 carries and Romo completed passes of 12 yards to Bryant again Jayron Hosley and 6 yards to Witten against Paysinger en route to a touchdown that cut the Giants lead to 14-10. Witten caught a 4 yard touchdown pass on a shovel pass that so badly fooled the Giants defense that offensive lineman Ronald Leary couldn’t find anyone to block on the play. The 77 yard drive used 9 plays and ate 5:45 off the clock.
The Giants offense mastery continued on their next drive as Manning found Beckham three more times, for 32 yards, and Jennings and Williams added 35 yard on the ground en route to their third touchdown in as many drive. Catching a rare 2014 break, Vinovich was unable to overturn what appeared to be a red zone fumble by Williams on a review that never should have been permitted to take place. Wary of a Dallas review, Manning was attempting to quick snap the ball, but head linesman Phil McKinnely stood over the ball delaying the snap and allowing Dallas time to challenge. The Giants kept the ball and Williams scored in the next play to take a 21-10 lead, which they took into halftime. The drive took 5:57 off the clock and covered 80 yard in 11 plays.
Receiving the second half kickoff, the Giants were in position to make a commanding lead in the game, but were unable to capitalize when Manning’s 3rd and 2 pass was thrown behind Parker. Dallas’ first drive was stalled by a holding penalty on Tyron Smith, however, the Giants again went three and out and the Cowboys wasted little time capitalizing on a 15 yard punt return by Dwayne Harris. After a pass to Murray and two runs by him gained 20 yards, Romo found Cole Beasley at the 40 yard line. With Hosley trailing 3 yards in coverage, Beasley split Bowman and Quintin Demps and raced rest of the way to the end zone to cut the Cowboys deficit to 4. Needing only 4 plays and 1:59, the Cowboys marched 65 yards for the touchdown.
Making the necessary adjustments to the Cowboys modified defense, the Giants started to move the ball. Aided by a two Cowboys penalties, and completing key third down passes to Fells and Beckham, Manning has the Giants poised to regain their eleven point lead. After just missing a wide open Beckham in the end zone, Manning has Parker wide open over the middle for the touchdown but sailed the pass. Parker tipped it attempting to pull it in, and Barry Church intercepted the deflection. Returning the ball 45 yards to near midfield, the momentum shifted to the Cowboys, and Tony Romo capitalized almost immediately.
Murray ran three times for 21 yards before Dez Bryant beat Hosley and Stevie Brown for a 31 yard touchdown. Catching the ball at the 10 with Hosley trailing in coverage by 5 yards, Bryant outraced the late arriving Brown to the end zone for the score. Romo had no pressure on him during the play, a theme that would repeat itself before the night ended. The touchdown drive took only 4 plays, covered 52 yards, and 1:55 as the third quarter expired. Dallas had their first lead of the night, 24-21.
The teams exchanged punts, but not before disaster appeared to strike the Giants. On a seemingly routine catch over the middle, Beckham was elbowed by Orlando Scandrick. He was slow getting up and was taken to the locker room with what was later reported as a back injury. Fortunately, after receiving massage therapy, he was able to return to the field. One of the scant few bright spots of the season, Beckham is the lone play maker remaining on the Giants offense. He returned to the field as the Giants took over with 9:12 left in the game, still trailing by 3.
In their best drive of the second half, Manning mixed runs by Jennings and Henry Hynoski with passes to five different receivers as he marched the Giants 93 yards in 14 plays for the go ahead touchdown. Adam Snyder and Will Beatty were both injured on the drive, forcing displaced starter Weston Richburg and seldom used James Brewer into service on the drive. On 3rd and goal from the Dallas 2 yard line, Manning found the enigmatic tight end Adrien Robinson for the touchdown and a 28-24 lead with 3:00 to go in the game. The drive consumed 6:12 and gave the Giants a prime opportunity to upset their division rival, if the defense could stop the Cowboys offense in a critical juncture. The touchdown is this article’s featured image to show exactly how wide open Robinson was on the play.
On the winning touchdown drive, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell rushed only four and failed to generate any pressure on Romo. The Cowboys converted the only third down of the drive easily, a 3rd and 1 run by DeMarco Murray, and the television coverage emphasized the 7 to 8 seconds Romo had to pass on almost every drop back. Fewell never adjusted to the failure of his ineffective strategy. Having infinite time to scan the Giants defense, Romo picked it apart, needing only 7 plays to drive the Cowboys 80 yards and find Bryant for this second touchdown, a 13 yard strike over Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who to his credit, held coverage for longer than most defensive backs are required. The score took 1:59, and gave the Cowboys a 31-28 lead, but left the Giants with 3 timeouts and 1:01 on the clock.
Dallas was able to pressure Manning, and the pressure caused him miss an open Larry Donnell on 3rd and 2. The completion would have extended the drive, but instead, on 4th and 2, and again under pressure, Manning found Rashad Jennings, who was unable to gain the necessary yardage. The ball went to the Cowboys on downs, who ran out the clock and escaped with the 3 point victory. The margin of victory was the field goal they kicked when Rolle failed to hold on the the interception in the the first quarter. Giants miscues and failures to execute compiled and lead to another loss.
Given Beckham’s performance over the past month, the Dallas game plan surely included rotating coverage to him. He lined up across from their best coverage cornerback, Orlando Scandrick, and still managed to catch 10 of 11 passes for 146 yards and 2 touchdowns and barely missed a third. The rookie has superstar potential and his coming out party was on national television last night.
The loss highlighted Fewell’s inability to make in game adjustments. When the defensive line failed to pressure Romo, he should have tried blitzing. Sitting back and allowing Romo to throw unchallenged play after play as the game slipped away again shows the weakness in the defensive coordinator’s on field skills. If his game plan doesn’t work, he is either unable or unwilling to change it on the fly. Without a suitable replacement on staff, Tom Coughlin has no choice but to play out the string with Fewell as his defensive coordinator, but he must be let go at the end of the season.
Next up for the Giants are the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road. Possessing a solid defense and a capable running game, the 1-10 Jaguars will not be a pushover for the Giants. Representing their best chance to snap the losing streak, expect Coughlin, formerly to Jaguars head coach, to prey on his players loyalty to rally the team to win one for him.