The NFC East division title will be on the line when the Cowboys and New York Giants face off Sunday. In their first meeting, the Giants prevailed 37-34 after staging a memorable comeback in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys will try to exact revenge Sunday in this winner-take-all showdown. Here is a look at the keys to victory for the Cowboys:
The Cowboys had 47 opportunities to sack Eli Manning last month. And they couldn’t do it. Manning emerged from the Giants’ 37-34 victory over Dallas unscathed. He repeatedly dodged oncoming pass rushers, moving in and out of the pocket as he delivered the ball. By the end of the night, he splintered the defense, throwing for 400 yards. "We’ve got to change some things up, get some more pressure on him if he’s going to pass that much," said Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware.
It was perhaps the defining performance of Jason Pierre-Paul’s career. Against the Cowboys last month, he hammered the Cowboys like a wrecking ball and left his imprint on the game. He collected a team-high eight tackles, forced a fumble, blocked a field goal and recorded two sacks – one of which resulted in a safety. The Cowboys know that in order to keep quarterback Tony Romo upright they must first ward off Pierre-Paul.
Get on the same page
After Eli Manning had shredded the Cowboys last month, Dallas’ secondary was reeling. The defensive backs said that communication breakdowns contributed to the problems they experienced as the Giants receivers took advantage of the Cowboys’ blown assignments. In New York, where the crowd will be loud and determined to distract Dallas, the Cowboys’ defenders can’t afford to repeat the mistakes they made last month. They must be on the same page.
Establish running game
The temperature is expected to dip into the 30s. Quarterback Tony Romo is nursing a bruised right hand. And the Giants defense has proven to be vulnerable against the run. For all of the reasons listed above, it would behoove the Cowboys to establish their ground attack at the outset of the game and take the pressure off Romo, especially if the quarterback is not in optimal condition. Felix Jones, who has been bothered by tightness in his hamstring, should feel rested after carrying the ball only four times against the Eagles on Christmas Eve. This would be an ideal time for Jones to make his mark as a Cowboy.
The NFC East division title will be on the line when the Cowboys and New York Giants face off Sunday. In their first meeting, the Giants prevailed 37-34 after staging a memorable comeback in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys will try to exact revenge Sunday in this winner-take-all showdown. Here is a look at how both teams match up:
When the Cowboys run
Less than a month ago, when the Cowboys played the Giants, the complexion of Dallas’ ground attack changed in an instant when DeMarco Murray fractured his right ankle. Ever since then, veterans Felix Jones and Sammy Morris have carried the load. Jones, in particular, is expected to play a pivotal role Sunday after he rushed for 106 yards against New York in December. The Giants’ run defense has proven to be vulnerable, allowing 126.1 yards per game – the 11th-highest average in the league
When the Cowboys pass
The last time Tony Romo face the Giants he authored one of his best performances of the season. That night, he threw for 321 yards and four touchdowns while posting a 141.3 quarterback rating. But Romo bruised his right hand Christmas Eve and his effectiveness could be affected by the injury. The Cowboys hope that isn’t the case because the Giants secondary has been exposed repeatedly while contributing to a pass defense that is allowing 255.4 yards per game — the sixth-highest average in the NFL.
When the Giants run
Although the Giants’ offense is driven by Eli Manning, New York’s ground attack remains a key component. Last week, Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw and D.J. Ware – a fearsome threesome – worked over the Jets as they gained 116 yards. Behind an offensive line that has re-congealed after a series of injuries left it in tatters, the Giants have collected more than 100 rushing yards in three of their last four games, including the 37-34 victory over the Cowboys last December. Dallas, which has allowed only 98.6 rushing yards per game, could cede a higher total Sunday if it focuses on stopping Manning.
When the Giants pass
The Cowboys never stopped Eli Manning last month. For four quarters, Manning carved up the Cowboys with surgical precision. He threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns and repeatedly connected with receivers running in open space. By the time Manning finished off the Cowboys, Dallas’ secondary was dazed and confused while the defensive line was frustrated after it squandered 47 opportunities to sack the Giants quarterback. Manning, who has thrown for 4,587 yards this season, will be targeted by the Cowboys on Sunday. But that doesn’t mean they will stop him. They didn’t the first time.
The biggest play of the Cowboys’ 37-34 defeat to the Giants came in the final seconds when Jason Pierre-Paul blocked Dan Bailey’s 47-yard field-goal attempt that would have tied the score. For Bailey, it was a devastating outcome. But this season he has made 88.9 percent of his 36 tries. His counterpart on Sunday, Lawrence Tynes, hasn’t been nearly as successful. Tynes has converted just 81.8 percent of his 22 attempts. But while Tynes has been outperformed by Bailey, the Giants’ Steve Weatherford has posted a better net punting average than Dallas’ McBriar.
Neither team will be deprived of motivation in this game. After all, the team that prevails Sunday wins the NFC East berth while the loser goes home for a long winter. The Giants, however, will be buoyed by the support of their home crowd and the confidence they gained from beating the Cowboys in their first meeting. The Cowboys, meanwhile, approach this showdown with bruised egos after losing three of their last four games.
Courtesy: Rainer Sabin | The Dallas Morning News
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After the Giants offense posted 35 points on the Cowboys in Week 14, including 15 in the final 3:20 of the fourth quarter, a change was made to the way Rob Ryan communicated the calls to his defense in two-minute drill situations.
Rather than give the call to middle linebacker Sean Lee via the radio in his helmet, Ryan began to signal out the calls to the line, the linebackers and the secondary from the sideline. In the rest of the game, however, Lee is still responsible to disseminating the calls.
For a defense that could use fewer complications rather than more, it doesn’t help that Lee hasn’t been able to practice this week due to an illness. Lee has been a part of morning walkthrough, but the team has sent him home for most of the last two days. In the meantime, the Cowboys are left to forge ahead without their best inside linebacker, the nerve center of the defense.
"Really what you try to do is just keep working on it," Jason Garrett said. "There are a lot of time that teams all throughout the league have to deal with players not being able to practice, and you have to keep going forward. Sean’s a big part of our defense, we’re hopeful he’s going to be able to play in this game, and then in regards to his individual reps and our reps as a unit, you just hope he can catch up as the week goes on.
"He’ll do a good job of that, preparing, and hopefully that communication won’t be an issue for us."
One of the team’s most devoted players in film study, Lee is surely getting work done from home, though he’s missed out on meetings.
If he’s well, he’ll play, even with no practice during the week, so the first order of business for Lee is to get over the sickness, which has been a process this week.
"He had a fuller day yesterday," Garrett said. "Just came in for a checkup today."
Perhaps this speaks to just how fortunate Cowboys and Giants fans should feel that they have a chance to extend their season on Sunday, or perhaps it’s a testament to the fact neither team is really deserving of the title NFC East champs.
For the first time since being formed as the NFL Capitol Division in 1967, a record as poor as 9-7 will win the title. Renamed the NFC East in the merger of 1970, a record of 10-6 has won the division seven times.
Since the league went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, a record of 9-7 or worse has been good enough to win any division only 20 times. It has happened more frequently in recent years, since the parity of the salary cap era has made for fewer outliers in the win-loss chase.
Last year, Seattle became the first team to ever win its division with a losing record, finishing 7-9 and beating St. Louis in Week 17 to get into the playoffs. The Seahawks then upset New Orleans in a home playoff game.
In the last decade, seven teams have won their respective divisions at 9-7 or worse.
Arizona, which won the NFC West at 9-7 in 2008, was the only one of those teams to advance to the Super Bowl.
New York Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning is not entering Sunday’s game against the Cowboys on much of a roll.
In a 23-10 loss to Washington at MetLife Stadium, he was intercepted three times. In last week’s win against the Jets, he completed only 9 of 27 passes for 225 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
“It can improve,” Manning said of his recent play, “and I’ll need to play better this week.”
Seeing a Ryan-led defense for the second straight week might help. Whole Rob Ryan’s Cowboys defense was unable to sack Manning on Dec. 11, Rex Ryan’ Jets defense was able to drop him twice.
“There definitely are some similarities,” said Manning, who threw for 400 yards in his first game vs. Dallas “They’re both trying to get pressure on the quarterback. That’s the goal, try to confuse and show a lot of different looks.”
But the Cowboys’ secondary does not possess a Darrelle Revis. In fact, Manning was able to beat every Cowboys cornerback in the first meeting for big completions.
“Most of the time you’re going off your reads,” Manning said. “Sometimes there are certain matchups you like better than others and that can be a factor, but you’re trying to make your reads and go to the right place.”
FOLLOWUP – Dallas Cowboys exec Stephen Jones: his father’s sideline visit didn’t undercut Jason Garrett’s authority
The sideline visit owner Jerry Jones paid to head coach Jason Garrett in the first quarter of the Cowboys Christmas Eve loss to Philadelphia continues to spark discussion.
Stephen Jones, the team’s chief operating officer, went on 103.3 F.M. Thursday and said his father did not undercut Garrett’s authority with that move.
"Absolutely not,” Stephen Jones said. "What happens is we were in a situation that Tony (Romo) got hurt. Jerry was dying to find out what was wrong with Tony, whether it was something significant, something is he going to be go back in the game or be out for the rest of the season. He was wanting to get down there to find that out and just as he was heading down, we obviously came to the conclusion that the Giants were going to win the game and we had talked as an organization what our plan would be if the Giants won.
"When we got the information that Tony was going to be alright but probably not a good idea to go back into the game under the circumstances he wanted to just let Jason know that the Giants had won and that was the extent of it. When you’re down there on that sideline a lot of coaches will tell you that you don’t necessarily know who has won other games. You’re totally focused on what is going on in other games.
"That was the extent of it,” he continued. "In my mind, it in no way takes away from Jason. He makes all the decisions in terms of who plays and what plays are called, any duties that a typical head coach would have.”
As many ups and downs as the Dallas Cowboys have had this season, the goal of an NFC East championship — and a playoff berth — remains in reach. That means the possibility of reaching the Super Bowl is still in play, and that’s all you can ask for.
Recent playoff history has proven that if you’re in, then you have a shot to win it all. Are the Cowboys good enough to make a serious run? With the way that Tony Romo is currently playing, there is that possibility.
But first there’s a little thing about beating the New York Giants –a team that has similar and — at some positions — better talent than the Cowboys.
Expect a healthy dose of JPP, Tuck from Giants
When I break down these games, I always try to look at the areas where the Cowboys can get an edge but also where they might run into trouble. To me, both teams are going to have matchup problems.
The area that could give the Cowboys the biggest problem is Doug Free against Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul. If Free was playing at a level like he was in 2010, I’d say this matchup had a great chance of being a wash. Pierre-Paul has gone from a raw rookie pass rusher to a dominant force on the outside and off the edge.
Tony Romo’s hand is banged up, DeMarco Murray is done for the year, the defense is struggling and the offensive line seems like it will be over-matched in the season finale on New Year’s Day. But other than that, the Cowboys feel like they’re in a good position to win in New York and make a playoff run, according to Stephen Jones.
The team’s executive vice president talked Thursday about the win or go home situation the Cowboys are facing on Sunday and used last season’s Super Bowl champs to explain why there’s hope for a postseason run over at Valley Ranch.
"We feel like we can be one of those teams that get hot in the playoffs," Jones said on 103.3 (KESN-FM) in Dallas. "At this time last year, Green Bay was squeaking in and they ended up winning the championship and went onto have a great year this year. We have a lot of confidence in this team. We feel confident going up to New York and feel that we can beat the Giants and then make a successful playoff run."
Those certainly seem like lofty expectations for a team that has lost three of their last four. But like his father, Jerry Jones, has mentioned several times in the last few weeks, having Romo playing at a high level, gives the franchise hope.
"We certainly don’t back away from expectations," he said. "When you look at the Super Bowl trophies that our franchise has been able to get over the years, we certainly hold that as the gold standard. As long as we’re in it, our goal is to go win a championship and win a Super Bowl.
"We still think that’s the bar of what we want to have, what’s going to get us satisfied in terms of being successful, the only thing is to win a championship. We feel very strongly that we can still get that done this year."
For Rob Ryan, the night of Dec. 11 unfolded like a nightmare. The New York Giants moved up and down the field, shredding his defense in a 37-34 victory over Dallas. By the time the final whistle sounded, the Cowboys had failed to collect a sack and surrendered 400 passing yards to quarterback Eli Manning as their secondary was left in tatters.
"Hate to revisit a poor game by us," said Ryan, the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator. "We didn’t execute well. I don’t think we did much well at all. I don’t think I called necessarily good enough things."
The plan, Ryan asserted, was also ill-conceived. In fact, he acknowledged it may have been too complex — an implication cornerback Mike Jenkins made only two days after the loss.
"We need to go back to the basics," Jenkins said then.
Ryan agreed, and he has since simplified his scheme.
"Your players are making mental mistakes, and that’s on the coaches," Ryan said. "It’s not on them. And that’s on me. So, we’ve done a good job of trying to figure out our guys first of all, identifying what we do best and playing that. When we play it well, we’re damn good."
As usual, Ryan projected confidence Friday. When asked if the Cowboys’ defense was capable of redeeming itself against the Giants on Sunday in a game that will determine the NFC East champion, Ryan didn’t waver.
"We’re going to be great this week," Ryan said. "We’re not going to make excuses, because we’re not going to have to. … If it doesn’t work out, I’ll be pissed off because everything we’ve got is in this one. …
"Hell, my family’s already traveled there a couple days early. I know they’re going to see the Empire State Building, probably see their Uncle Rex and cousin Matthew, but they’re there to watch their dad become a champion again, and that’s what we’re going to do."
IRVING – Dallas Cowboys left guard Montrae Holland had successful surgery on his partially-torn left biceps and should be able to resume offseason activities in three months.
The operation was handled by team physician Dr. Daniel Cooper.
Holland, who will be a free agent in 2012, started 10 games for the Cowboys after re-signing with the team Oct. 18. He suffered the injury during Dallas’ 20-7 loss to Philadelphia last Saturday.
With Holland sidelined, Derrick Dockery is expected to be inserted into the starting lineup this Sunday, when the Cowboys face the New York Giants.
"I am excited for the opportunity,"said Dockery, who has only played two offensive snaps since Week 2. "I practiced real well. Hopefully I can transfer what I did in practice to the game."
Since taking over as head coach, Jason Garrett has done as much as possible to make the Cowboys’ eight-man practice squad feel like part of the team.
While not counted on the official 53-man roster, the players serve scout team purposes in practice, and go to work every day just like everyone else. Garrett has emphasized their contributions by designating a scout team player of the week for each win, honoring them right alongside the guys who won offensive, defensive and special teams game balls, and speaking in terms of the 61 players under his control, not just 53.
This week, as an end-of-the-season reward, and for the experience of the biggest game of the year, Garrett has decided the entire practice squad will make the trip to New York with the rest of the players and coaches, a first within recent memory.
"It’s just a whole feeling of togetherness," says lineman Rob Calloway, who has been on the taxi squad most of the year. "We put our hearts and souls out there when we’re running down for the scout team, or when we’re giving the defense or offense a look. So (Garrett) feels like, why not bring us along? We’re just as much included in this as anybody else. We’re an unseen part of what goes on in here.
"We want to be there to support our team. We’re a family, a band of brothers, and we want to be there for our brothers."
Calloway, who says he’s been playing the part of former Cowboys defensive lineman Chris Canty in practice this week, is a first year pro from Saginaw Valley State.
The Cowboys practice squad also includes Georgia Tech cornerback Mario Butler, Carson-Newman punter Chris Jones, Oklahoma State linebacker Orie Lemon, UT-San Antonio wide receiver Teddy Williams, Baylor defensive back C.J. Wilson and quarterback Chris Griesen, a 35-year old signed when Jon Kitna was placed on the injured reserve.
Jerry Jones repeats: Jason Garrett’s the coach next year, ‘period, no matter the score’
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said again Friday that Jason Garrett’s job does not depend on the outcome of Sunday night’s game against the New York Giants.
The Cowboys and Giants play for the NFC East title amid speculation that the losing coach’s job is in jeopardy. But Jones, asked about it on his weekly radio show on KRLD 105.3 FM, said that speculation is “just ridiculous.”
He said, “As I’ve said earlier, and I think it expresses it very well, we’re just getting started with Jason, and it’s just not the case at all. We can go free-wheeling with anything we’re going to do to ultimately do one thing, and that is win one ballgame. Nobody’s worried about the coach’s job here.”
No matter the score? Jones was asked.
“We’re going to answer this thing as many ways as you want to answer, with as many circumstances,” Jones said. “His job has no bearing and is not a part of this ballgame. Yes, he’s going to be our coach next year, period. No matter what the score is.”
FRIDAY PRESS CONFERENCES: Jason Garrett | Rob Ryan | Miles Austin | Film Session | Bonus Randy White video
Jason Garrett spoke to the media for the final time before heading to New York to face the Giants.
Rob Ryan talks about what his defense needs to do to improve after their last outing against the Giants.
Austin: Ready To Get Out There <—click here
Miles Austin talks about the long wait for Sunday nights game.
Film Session: Jason Pierre-Paul <—click here
Judd Garrett takes a look a key part of the Giants defense.
Randy White Remembers ’93 Against Giants <—click here
Randy White talks about the Cowboys trip to New York in 1993 that saw them clinch a playoff spot.
The one significant change to Friday’s practice was the return of linebacker Sean Lee, who was back on the field after missing two straight days of work because of an illness.
Lee, the team’s middle linebacker and signal caller for the defense, is expected to be ready to play Sunday night against the Giants. He leads the team in tackles with 121, nearly 50 more than the next-closest defender (Gerald Sensabaugh 73). Lee also is tied for the most interceptions on the team with four and has the second-most pass deflections (nine).
- Quarterback Tony Romo practiced again with a wrap around his right hand as he participated in pre-practice throwing drills. Friday’s wrap was a bit heavier than what he wore on Thursday. Romo said the wraps are used to compress the hand and minimize the swelling that still exits after taking a direct shot on his right hand from a helmet last Saturday against the Eagles.
- Safety Danny McCray isn’t likely to play after missing yet another practice with a high-ankle sprain. McCray has been the Cowboys’ best special teams player the last two years. He still leads the squad with 18 special teams tackles in 2011.
- Defensive tackle Josh Brent has a chance to play for the first time since Thanksgiving, when he suffered a sprained knee. He has been limited in practice all week.
DIAMOND DEZ PAID-IN-FULL: Jerry Jones says he knows ‘first-hand’ Dez Bryant’s New York bill has been paid
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he knows ‘first-hand’ that Dez Bryant’s bill from a New York finance company has been paid.
“I know first-hand that the bill was paid and accepted,” Jones said Friday on his radio show on KRLD 105.3 FM.
The Boston Herald reported this week that Bryant had been sued for $50,000 by Endurance Capital Fund, a New York company that had loaned him $100,000 a year ago. The suit said Bryant had not paid the loan back in full, and the report said the company was waiting to serve him papers when the team arrived at its New York hotel on Saturday.
“I have some familiarity about the detail – quite a bit of familiarity about the detail – of this business that he had this week off the field,” Jones said. “I would say that’s the reason you have disagreements. … I can’t say, and wouldn’t say, any more about that.”
It’s not the first time Bryant has run into money issues. He settled two other lawsuits earlier this year in which he was accused of not paying for jewelry.
But Jones said Bryant, drafted in the first round in 2010, has shown “outstanding” maturation over the two years he’s been with the Cowboys.
“Relative to his habits of meetings on time, timeliness, preparation and from the kinds of things that we were concerned about when we drafted as opposed to where he is now, he’s made tremendous progress,” Jones said.
Bryant has 57 catches for 858 yards and nine touchdowns. The Cowboys haven’t had a 1,000-yard receiver since Terrell Owens had 1,180 in 2006.
NFL player Jason Witten-Dallas Cowboys poses for a photo with Cowboys fans on top of a Humvee proudly displaying a Cowboys flag, which Witten later autographed.
The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders are perhaps the most prolific of celebrity entertainment tour participants the USO has out there right now. Their tireless support of Troops and families has manifest itself in 70 tours, and they show no sign of putting away their pom-poms any time soon! This anniversary photo features the cheerleaders in action during a Navy show in 1983. Check out that view!
From Fred Baker III, American Forces Press Service: ”The ceremony began much as any typical military procession does – with troops called to formation.
Legendary former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach lights the ceremonial torch at the inaugural Warrior Games at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., May 10, 2010. Staubach is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and Vietnam veteran. Athletes from each of the services will compete in archery, cycling, basketball, shooting, swimming, track and field and volleyball during the week-long games.
Read the entire article HERE! Enjoy
USO.org | Until Every One Comes Home
Giants running back Brandon Jacobs might not be an All-Pro on the field this season, but he continues to be a superstar for reporters looking for a good quote.
With the NFC East title at stake in Sunday night’s game at MetLife Stadium, Jacobs bypassed taking a shot at the Dallas Cowboys … at least for now. Instead, he chose to throw some unprovoked daggers at Dallas’ fan base.
“You know what it is? You’ve got a lot of people on other teams hating the Cowboys. It’s their fans,” Jacobs said Thursday, according to the New York Daily News. “Some of their fans are loud, obnoxious and just bad.
“Just everywhere you go you’ve got them Dallas fans, running their mouth about Dallas," Jacobs went on. "They keep going. It’s not really the team and the star and all that. They’re just like any other team in the National Football League if you ask me. But their fans are the ones that have me really just feeling the way I feel.”
Jacobs said Dallas Cowboy fans out-obnoxious even the infamous “Iggles” supporters in Philadelphia.
“Yeah, they are (worse),” Jacobs said. “I’m not talking about being actually at the game and doing the type of stuff they do in Philly. I’m just talking about in everyday life. Cowboys fans get on my nerves.”
With his future in New York far from secure, this could be Jacobs’ last taste of the Giants-Cowboys rivalry. Did you really think he’d go out quietly?
IN A LEAGUE OF HIS OWN: Former Dallas Cowboys WR Terrell Owens closer to playing football (and selling popcorn)
After three tumultuous seasons with the Cowboys, flamboyant wide receiver Terrell Owens could soon be returning to the area to play football.
No, not for the Cowboys, but for the Allen Wranglers.
The Indoor Football League team extended a formal, six-figure contract offer to Owens a month ago. Talks between Wranglers owner Jon Frankel, Owens and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, have increased recently, Frankel said.
Frankel said he talked to a member of Rosenhaus’ agency Thursday that Owens is "significantly closer" to signing with the Wranglers’ team than he was a month ago. Rosenhaus couldn’t be reached for comment.
Owens, 38, would become co-owner, CEO and wide receiver for the Wranglers, Frankel said. The team begins a 14-game season Feb. 25, with seven home games at the Allen Event Center (capacity 6,300).
Players in the Indoor Football League get free housing, free food and a flat rate of $225 per game that increases to $250 per game for each win.
"It doesn’t make a ton of financial sense, but it would make it the No. 1 fan experience in Collin County," said Frankel, who bought the team in May. "The awareness of the team would skyrocket, and I would imagine we’d sell out every game."
Owens is a free agent who has received little NFL interest after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament and having surgery in early April. No NFL teams attended Owens’ workout in late October.
Owens signed with the Cowboys in March 2006 and posted three consecutive seasons with more than 1,000 yards receiving and at least 10 touchdowns.
He also sparked plenty of off-the-field drama.
"At first everybody thought it was a big joke but it wasn’t a big joke. It’s serious," Wranglers coach Pat Pimmel said about the contract offer to Owens. "It’s real close. I think it will be within the next week or so. He would have never got his agent involved in it if he wasn’t thinking about it. He can still play, you know that."
Obviously with a game like this on the horizon, it’s difficult to focus on anything other than the factors that play the biggest role in Sunday’s gigantic matchup with the Giants.
To win, the Cowboys will obviously need big plays from the offense, particularly the passing game. That’s what they did against the Giants in the first meeting back on Dec. 11 with Tony Romo throwing four touchdown passes to four different receivers.
And it’s that type of distribution that could give the Cowboys a franchise first.
If Laurent Robinson and Dez Bryant each catch a touchdown pass Sunday, it would mark the first time in the Cowboys’ 52-year history to have two different players with double-digit touchdown catches.
Both Robinson and Bryant have nine each this year not too far behind is Miles Austin, who has seven touchdowns despite missing six games this season. And let’s not rule him out completely since he does have a three-touchdown-catch game already this year in San Francisco.
But with all the great receivers this team has had over the years, and even the great 1-2 combinations of Alworth and Hayes, Pearson and Hill, Irvin and Harper and even Owens and Glenn, you would think it’s a feat that has occurred at least once before.
And it still hasn’t happened yet. Having both Robinson and Bryant catch a touchdown pass in the same game isn’t a given, although it has happened four times this year, including twice already this month.
The Cowboys are 3-1 this year when both Robinson and Bryant have a touchdown in the same game. Of course, the one loss . . . was to the Giants.
Hakeem Nicks, left, could not make this catch in a 23-10 loss this month to the Redskins at MetLife Stadium, where the Giants are 3-4. Pass interference was called.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — For the Giants, Sunday’s prime-time game against the Dallas Cowboys should be a dream scenario: home-field advantage and needing only a win to make the playoffs. Instead, MetLife Stadium could be a setting where Giants fans may be reaching for a bottle of Pepto-Bismol or a stiff brew.
The Giants (8-7) have a poor record at home (3-4) even when matched against a supposed inferior opponent, leaving behind a series of forehead-slapping performances for their seat-license-paying crowds. This year’s low points included a loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 5 and an unsightly defeat to the Washington Redskins in Week 15. There are no explanations.
“If I had an answer to that, it wouldn’t ever happen,” Coach Tom Coughlin said of his team’s troubling home record. “Our approach is always the same.”
The Giants are 5-3 on the road and have had some notable performances away from home. They rallied in the fourth quarter to beat the Eagles in Philadelphia in Week 3, toppled the mighty New England Patriots on the road in Week 9 and emerged victorious from a thriller at Cowboys Stadium in Week 14.
Some players said that they do not buy into the notion that the home environment relaxed them to the point of complacency, or that going on the road offered us-against-the-world motivation that comes with playing in front of a hostile crowd.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with home; I think it is just being consistent in general,” safety Antrel Rolle said. “I don’t think we have been a consistent team all year-long.”
The Giants’ lack of success at home, and their triumphs on the road, runs counter to the precedent established this season by the nine teams that have already clinched playoff spots. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, all of them have thrived at home.
In the AFC, the four playoff teams — the Patriots, the Texans, the Ravens and the Steelers — have won 86.7 percent of their home games, compared with just 60 percent of their road games. The five N.F.C. playoff teams — the Packers, the 49ers, the Saints, the Lions and the Falcons — have an 83.8 winning percentage at home and a 68.4 winning percentage on the road. New Orleans, Green Bay and Baltimore are all undefeated at home.
Whether playing at Giants Stadium or MetLife Stadium, the Giants’ playoff fortunes in recent years have mirrored their home record. They finished 5-3 at home last year and 4-4 in 2009 and missed the playoffs both seasons. But they went 7-1 in 2008 and won the N.F.C. East.
This season, though, the Giants’ successful record comes with a caveat. They acquired a road win over the Jets last Saturday that might have counted as such in name only: the teams share MetLife Stadium. The Jets still did their best to make the Giants feel uncomfortable by hanging black curtains over a mural near the locker room of the team’s Super Bowl trophies. By doing so, the Jets may have unwittingly done the Giants a favor by making them feel unwelcomed, a context in which they have largely succeeded.
“We let a few slip away early at home and certain times we didn’t come to play,” receiver Victor Cruz said. “We have to come out well and be ready to play. We are fighting for our playoff lives, and this last game is going to determine that.”
The atmosphere for Sunday’s game will be playoff-like. The kickoff was flexed last week to accommodate a prime-time television audience, and the Giants will be distributing white towels at the stadium with the team’s newest rallying cry: “All In.”
The Giants are hoping that the team-first mantra will help rally them to a run in the playoffs. But in order to do that, they will need to overcome perhaps the worst best-case scenario possible for them this season and pick up a big win at home.
A side story to the biggest game of the year for the Dallas Cowboys and Giants is the possibility that second-year wide receiver Dez Bryant could be served with a lawsuit by a New York-based finance company while in the area this weekend.
Endurance Capital Fund alleges Bryant owes the company some $50,000 for a loan he has not repaid. It is the third debt-related lawsuit filed against Bryant since he was drafted by the Cowboys in April of 2010.
The team is aware of the situation, and continues to attempt to help Bryant, Cowboys Vice President Stephen Jones told Sirius NFL Radio on Wednesday evening.
"I think most of these incidents revolve around things he did early on, when he first got in the NFL," Jones said. "I think he’s learning from that, but there are still some lingering things that probably, if he had to do over again, he’d do differently.
"We’ve obviously sat down with him on numerous occasions to give any advice we can . . . Hopefully he’ll be able to correct those things so it doesn’t affect what he can accomplish on the field. If you don’t clean those things up, they tend to affect your career. He understands that."
For the second straight day, quarterback Tony Romo practiced with the team and all signs are pointing towards him being ready to play for Sunday night’s crucial game with the Giants.
Romo, who said Wednesday that is right hand remains somewhat swollen but is improving, practiced Thursday with a light bandage wrapped around his right wrist and hand, but had his fingers free and able to throw the ball.
During the early part of practice, Romo appeared to throw the ball with the same velocity and zip as usual, despite the wrap.
Romo began practice wearing a black glove but took it off to start the workout. He also said in a conference call with the New York media that he doesn’t anticipate wearing a glove for the game, but fully expects to play.
As for other injury news …
- Linebacker Sean Lee missed his second straight practice. Lee was held out Wednesday because of an illness. He’s also listed on the injury report with the wrist injury he’s played with for the last two months and Lee also sat out the second half of last week’s game with a strained hamstring.
- Safety Danny McCray, the team’s best special teams player who missed last week’s game with a high-ankle sprain, missed his second straight practice.
- Linebacker DeMarcus Ware (stinger) and defensive tackle Jay Ratliff (ribs), who both missed practice on Wednesday for precautionary reasons, were back to practice Thursday.
- Defensive tackle Josh Brent hasn’t played since Thanksgiving but was back on the field for a second straight practice. Brent was limited on Wednesday with the sprained knee injury.
Dallas Cowboys legendary Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith discussed the Cowboys’ mental toughness during an ESPN interview. Afterwards, Tony Romo said the team has proven its mental toughness more than once this season.
"We had a big game at San Francisco earlier in the year," Romo said. "It felt like a must-win at that time, and we went out there and laid it on the line, and the team won, and we were trailing late in that game. So there was a lot of mental toughness in that game. I think we went up to Washington in a game that was big for us there and showed a lot of mental toughness there. This football team just has a way of keep coming back and keep grinding. Obviously, it comes down to a game like this. That’s why you play sports. That’s why you play this game, is to be involved in games that can allow you to keep going on and playing. I know it’s fun for us to prepare for a game like this."
The Cowboys have had fourth-quarter leads in five of their seven losses. That includes double-digit, fourth-quarter leads against the Jets, the Lions and the Giants.
Smith points to those close games as reasons for questioning mental toughness.
"Talent-wise, I think they have it," Smith said in an ESPN interview. "Leadership-wise, they have some good leaders on the ball club. Do they have enough? Probably not. Can they go up to New York and be mentally tough in this situation? I think Jason [Garrett] has done a very good job of preparing the guys to be physically and hopefully mentally tough, but I think mental toughness is the thing needed in games like this.
"Mental toughness for four quarters or five quarters, if you have to go that far. But that’s something our Cowboys have not been able to do in close games. And that’s where mental toughness comes into play."
LAST HURRAH: Do or die for some Dallas Cowboys, possibly Spencer, Martellus Bennett, Bradie James and Terence Newman
Sunday’s winner take all match up against the Giants has been billed as a do or die game for Cowboys.
A win puts them in the playoffs. A loss ends their season.
What’s also true is that the game could possibly be the last one in a Cowboys uniform for a number of players.
That includes 20 Cowboys who are in the final year of their contracts, including linebacker Bradie James, safety Abe Elam and tight end Martellus Bennett.
The case could be the same for a few others like Terence Newman, who is signed through 2014 but could be salary cap casualty because age, injury and declining production.
Bradie James has seen the writing on the wall since the beginning of the season when his role was diminished because of the emergence of Sean Lee. James ranks eighth in tackles with 51, ending a club record streak of leading the team in tackles the last six years.
The nine-year veteran would like to continue his career with the Cowboys but he knows nothing is guaranteed. He acknowledges that a loss on Sunday could possibly usher in wholesale changes to more than just the players who are no under contract for next season.
"It could all just change around," James said. "That is just the reality of it."
Anthony Spencer, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent, is of the same mindset after what has been a disappointing season for him. The Cowboys have not engaged in talks of a contracts with the former 2006 first round pick.
"It could be that," said Spencer was asked if this could be his last game with the Cowboys. "Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. So I’m not worried about it. I’m just trying to get through the season."
Spencer and the Cowboys had huge expectations come into the season that he would thrive under new coordinator Rob Ryan and provide legitimate pass rushing threat opposite Pro Bowler DeMarcus Ware. But after getting three sacks in the first thee games, he has just three over the last 12. His six sacks on the season are a huge disappointment for him and certainly weren’t enough to prompt the Cowboys into signing him to a long-term contract extension.
"I started fast," Spencer said. " I had high hopes for more sacks. It didn’t end up that way. (Playing more coverage) had something to do with it. You can’t get sacks when you are not rushing. I want to be here. I like it here. But I got to do what’s best for my family."
Other Cowboys whose contracts expire at the end of the season are cornerback Alan Ball, guard Derrick Dockery, fullback Tony Fiammetta, defensive end Clifton Geathers, guard Montrae Holland, receivers Jesse Holley, Laurent Robinson and Kevin Ogletree, quarterback Jon Kitna, guard Daniel Loper, punter Mat McBriar, running back Sammy Morris, tackle Jeremy Parnell, cornerback Frank Walker and running back Chauncey Washington.