Down by 12 late in the fourth quarter of a game they had to win for a realistic chance to make the playoffs, the Giants put together two touchdown drives in the final 3:14 and Jean Pierre-Paul preserved it with a blocked field goal for a 37-34 victory against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night.
Just like that, the Giants' four-game losing streak was done. And the NFC East race is cracked open, with New York reclaiming the inside track.
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"We needed to have a locker room celebration," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "We were starving for this."
New York's recent skid was filled mostly with narrow losses to division leaders. The Giants (7-6) appeared headed to another setback trailing 34-22 with 5:41 left, but a series of clutch plays on their part and meltdowns by Dallas changed everything. The teams are tied, with the Cowboys headed to the Meadowlands for a season-ending rematch on New Year's Day.
"We knew what was on the line," Cowboys linebacker Bradie James said. "But those guys made one more play than we did."
Dallas has gone from winning four straight to losing two in a row, both in dramatic, frustrating fashion that involved missed kicks by rookie Dan Bailey, who had been so good for so long this season. The Cowboys also lost running back DeMarco Murray to a broken right ankle, ending his record-setting rookie season.
"We certainly know we've got our work cut out for us," team owner Jerry Jones said in a brief statement.
Neither team led by more than five points for most of this back-and-forth game until Tony Romo threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant with no one else around. He strutted into the end zone, putting Dallas up 34-22 with 5:41 left.
Yet instead of that ending the excitement, the fun was just beginning.
Manning -- who had already pulled out five victories in the fourth quarter this season -- mounted an eight-play, 80-yard drive capped by an 8-yard touchdown pass to Jake Ballard. The play had to withstand a video review to make sure he really got the ball past the front of the goal line before his knee landed inches shy of the stripe.
|New York Giants|
|At this point, this team just needed a win any way possible. To rally at the end and then block a late FG, it's exactly what this team had to do to save the season. Eli Manning was spectacular down the stretch and the defense bent a lot, but held on for just enough.|
|The Cowboys were right there in position to take it, up 12 with six minutes to play but once again the defense failed them in the clutch. Tony Romo was great except for one missed pass and now PK Dan Bailey hasn't delivered in two straight weeks.|
|By Nick Eatman |
New York's defense followed with a three-and-out, and the Giants got another break when Dallas' usually reliable punter, Mat McBriar, had a 33-yarder, letting Manning take over at his 42 with 2:12 left.
Two penalties on the Cowboys' defense helped, as did completions of 21 and 18 yards to Ballard. Brandon Jacobs scored on a 1-yard run with 51 seconds left and D.J. Ware followed with the 2-point conversion.
Romo still had 46 seconds left. He hit Miles Austin for gains of 22 and 23 yards to set up Bailey for a 47-yard field goal that would force overtime. The rookie who had made four winning kicks, but was coming off a game-losing debacle the previous week, split the uprights -- only it didn't count because Coughlin called a timeout.
On the do-over, Bailey's kick was clipped by the outstretched arms of Pierre-Paul. He had been a disruption all night, sacking Romo for a safety early in the game and forcing a fumble in the second quarter.
"I rushed the center, put my hands up and got the block," Pierre-Paul said.
Manning was 27 of 47 for 400 yards and two touchdowns. It was his third 400-yard outing this season, and the club racked up 510 yards, its most since having 512 in December 2009.
Jacobs ran for 101 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. Hakeem Nicks had seven catches for 154 yards, including an early 64-yarder. Mario Manningham had two catches for 62 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown reception.
"Guys stepped up and made some big plays," Manning said. "It won't mean anything unless we finish the season strong. That's the mindset. We can't relax now or feel great about ourselves."
Romo was 21 of 31 for 321 yards with four touchdowns, two in the fourth quarter.
Laurent Robinson caught four passes for 137 yards and a touchdown, with a 74-yarder. Austin, who had missed the previous six weeks with a hamstring injury, caught four passes for 63 yards with a touchdown.
Felix Jones ran for 106 yards, and caught six passes for 31 yards. He started the season as Dallas' featured running back, and will end it that way, too, now that Murray is gone. The rookie got his foot twisted awkwardly at the end of an 8-yard run in the first quarter. He finished his season with 897 yards, with a franchise-record 253 coming in one game.
"This one's going to hurt, it's going to sting, but we've got to figure out how to do things a little better and play our best game of the season next week," Romo said. "We need to get a win next week and get back going."
The Cowboys have lost six consecutive Sunday night games. They are 0-3 against the Giants at Cowboys Stadium. Romo also continued his trend of winning in November, then slumping in December.
- New York RB Ahmad Bradshaw did not start as punishment for breaking an unspecified team rule. He finished with 12 yards on eight carries, all in the second half.
- Romo went over 20,000 yards passing for his career, joining Troy Aikman, Roger Staubach and Danny White as the only Cowboys to do so.
- Cowboys C Phil Costa sustained a concussion, pushing rookie Kevin Kowalski into action for the first time. His snaps were OK, but he seemed flummoxed early in the final drive.