Category Archives: The New York Times

RIVAL HEADLINE: Home loss to Giants leaves Cowboys dispirited and fans disgusted

Tony Romo got past Chase Blackburn to score - The Boys Are Back blog

ARLINGTON, Tex. — A dramatic finish would eventually unfold, but Dallas Cowboys fans wanted instant gratification Sunday. And after Tony Romo had thrown three interceptions and Dez Bryant had fumbled away a punt, a crowd announced at 94,067 also wanted its displeasure to be heard.

“I would have booed us, too,” Romo said. “We deserved it at that time.”

The Cowboys’ body language matched their sluggish start as they fell behind the Giants by 23 points early in the second quarter. Still, after the Cowboys nearly overcame that deficit, and six turnovers in all, the mood among them was that they had let the Giants escape with a 29-24 victory.

The Cowboys thought they had won with 10 seconds to play, when Romo’s heave into the end zone was hauled in by Bryant and officials signaled a touchdown. But replays showed that Bryant’s right hand landed out of bounds and the call was reversed, giving the Cowboys (3-4) a season split with the Giants (6-2) and dropping Dallas into a tie for second with the Philadelphia Eagles in the N.F.C. East.

The Giants also remained unbeaten at Cowboys Stadium, improving to 4-0 since it opened in 2009.

“It hurts for you to know you played your heart out,” Dallas cornerback Brandon Carr said. “We got off to a late start. We woke up late. To have the game end the way it ended and to get it taken away from you, it hurts.”

Dallas’s defense limited Eli Manning and the Giants, even with good field position, to five field goals and a rushing touchdown, and allowed only 293 yards. The Giants’ other score was provided by their own defense.

“The emotions were crazy,” cornerback Morris Claiborne said. “We really wanted this game. But as a unit, as a team, we didn’t do enough, we didn’t make enough plays. We didn’t go that extra mile to get the job done.”

Romo was 36 of 62 for 437 yards, ran for one touchdown and passed for another, but also threw four interceptions. Tight end Jason Witten caught 18 passes, a team record, but with a stunning comeback seemingly in reach, Dallas derailed itself with questionable play-calling.

The Cowboys reached the Giants’ 28-yard line with 1 minute 27 seconds to play, and on first down Romo connected with Witten for a 9-yard gain. Needing only 1 yard for another set of downs, and with all three of their timeouts remaining, Dallas called three straight pass plays, and the series ended with Romo scrambling backward before heaving a desperation pass that was intercepted by Stevie Brown.

“We had a couple of plays called,” Romo said. “It’s dictated off coverage. They’re going to have a free guy if we run it. So you could bang it up there, but at the same time you could be wasting a play. It is what it is.”

The Giants’ victory is certain to fuel more criticism on how much of a home-field advantage the Cowboys really enjoy at their $1.2 billion stadium. They are now 14-13 since the retractable-domed structure opened in 2009 (compared with 14-14 on the road during that time). Cowboys management even addressed the issue last week with a letter to season-ticket holders, exhorting fans to make more noise, along with a new video that was shown on third downs to “help give our Dallas Cowboys a true home-field advantage.”

Instead, the crowd turned hostile toward the home team after Jason Pierre-Paul picked off Romo’s swing pass to running back Felix Jones and gave the Giants a 23-0 lead early in the second quarter. Romo was booed after every incompletion, and fans let Coach Jason Garrett know what they thought of his play-calling. Jerry Jones, the Cowboys’ owner, was also booed when he appeared on the video screen during a segment to promote breast cancer awareness.

“I’m the boo-ster,” Jones said. “The fans had the same feeling I did, frustrated and mad we had dug ourselves a big hole.”

He added: “I understand their frustration. I share their frustration.”

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RIVAL HEADLINES: New York Times – ANALYSIS: Cowboys’ Romo Wins Signature Victory

Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant caught four passes for 85 yards - The Boys Are Back blog

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — There is often something cartoonish about the Dallas Cowboys, whether it is their shocking decision to allow Jason Witten and his tender spleen to play in the season opener Wednesday night, or the giggle-worthy television shot of someone else apparently cleaning Jerry Jones’s eyeglasses before delicately handing them back to him.

This summer, the former Giants receiver Amani Toomer added to the comedy when he said that Tony Romo was a better quarterback than Eli Manning. That, of course, is ridiculous, considering that Manning is a large reason that the Cowboys and Romo had to endure a brief celebration of the Giants’ latest Super Bowl victory before the first game of the season began. But by the time it was over, and the Cowboys had won, 24-17, Toomer at least had a little more ammunition for his argument, and it was time to retire one joke that had attached itself to the Cowboys during Romo’s career.

Now entering his ninth season, Romo really can win the big game after all. He has just one playoff victory in his career. But no opening game could have meant more for a team than this one did for the Cowboys, and Romo played what might have been the game of his career, to perhaps finally silence the whispers that he wilts at the biggest moment, that the Cowboys’ failures have been mostly his.

They were not Wednesday night. Romo moved away from the Giants’ defensive pressure and, with the exception of one awful interception early in the second quarter, he was nearly flawless, completing 76 percent of his passes. With three dazzling touchdown passes and a handful of other spectacular throws, including a laser to Dez Bryant into tight coverage down the right sideline for 38 yards on third-and-one late in the second quarter, Romo led the Cowboys to becoming the first team to beat a defending Super Bowl champion since the N.F.L. began staging a kickoff spectacular in 2004.

The Cowboys lost twice to the Giants last season, including in the season finale, when the Giants clinched the playoff spot that propelled them to the Super Bowl. Considering the weight Jones, the Cowboys’ owner, had placed on beating the Giants, this might count as Dallas’s biggest victory since Romo’s lone playoff win in 2009.

In the locker room afterward, where Jones held court, he proclaimed it “a very significant win for our franchise.” Then, he added: “I’m not so sure this was as big a deal to the Giants as it was to us.”

For the Cowboys to string a few more of these together to overtake the Giants in the N.F.C. East this season, they will rely on Romo more than ever. They struggled to run in the first half — the Giants struggled the entire night — and Romo will be responsible for managing a gaggle of potentially high-maintenance and injury-prone receivers (Bryant and Miles Austin, who caught one of Romo’s touchdown passes) and inexperienced projects (Kevin Ogletree, the Queens product who had caught 25 passes, none for touchdowns, in his previous three seasons, before catching two touchdown passes Wednesday night).

The pass is the way teams win in the N.F.L. now, with wide-open offenses and multiple receivers sets. And if Romo is not yet in the most elite class of quarterbacks — Manning is — he is certainly in the top 10. This victory affirms that he still has the potential to outduel even the very best of them, especially against a Giants secondary that, as it did early last season, looked injury-ravaged and shaky. Even if Romo’s most important security and surest weapon, Witten, acted largely as a well-padded decoy.

On Wednesday, Romo was good enough to erase the past failures of the defense. They had become famous for blowing fourth-quarter leads, but with the Cowboys clinging to a touchdown margin and the offensive line just called for holding, Romo kept his defense off the field, completing a quick pass under pressure on third-and-12 to Ogletree at the two-minute warning. With that, the Giants’ fans headed for the exits, and Romo cleared some psychic space between himself and his critics.

After the game, Romo spoke on the field to NBC about knowing that he had to disregard the interception “whether you’re playing in the parking lot or in Giants Stadium against the world champions.”

After the first touchdown, he said, he wanted to have a killer instinct, because he expected the Giants and Manning to come back. They almost did. But in the biggest first game the Cowboys have ever played, it was Romo’s reputation that had the bigger revival.

JUDY BATTISTA | New York Times

RIVAL HEADLINES: New York Times – Manning fails to solve Cowboys’ new look defense

Eli Manning being sacked by DeMarcus Ware in the second quarter - The Boys Are Back blog

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Eli Manning got a different look when he surveyed the Dallas defense in the season opener. For the most part, he did not like what he saw in a 24-17 loss to the Cowboys on Wednesday night.

Jerry Jones, the Cowboys’ owner, used the off-season to bolster a secondary that Manning had exploited in leading his team to victories in six of the previous eight meetings between the teams. Jones signed cornerback Brandon Carr to a five-year contract worth $50 million. Jones was so determined to pair him with the highly rated Morris Claiborne that the Cowboys traded up eight positions to draft Claiborne sixth over all.

Manning completed 51 of 80 passes for 746 yards and 5 touchdowns with 1 interception when the Giants downed their N.F.C. East rival twice in the final four weeks in 2011, including a 400-yard effort when the Giants prevailed, 31-14, to wrest the division from the Cowboys in the regular-season finale.

This time, Manning, the two-time Super Bowl most valuable player, found limited opportunities. He finished 21 of 32 for 213 yards and 1 touchdown, on a 9-yard strike to tight end Martellus Bennett with 2 minutes 36 seconds left. He went 8 of 14 for 83 yards in the first half, and the Giants trailed, 7-3, at halftime.

Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, Manning’s top passing targets, also are accustomed to rousing performances against Dallas. Cruz turned six catches into a career-high 178 yards and danced the salsa after his touchdown grab in last year’s clincher.

Carr vowed after joining his new team that there would be no fancy stepping. For one game, at least, he backed up his braggadocio. Cruz totaled 6 receptions for 58 yards. Nicks, who made 8 catches for 163 yards when the visiting Giants outscored Dallas, 37-34, in Week 13, was held to 4 receptions and 38 yards.

Nicks appeared to be limited by more than the Cowboys. He continues to recover from a broken bone in his right foot. The injury kept him from preseason action until he participated in two series in the final tune-up for the regular season. Soreness in his foot also cost him practice time in the days before the opener, and the Giants’ offense was unusually quiet against Dallas.

Courtesy: TOM PEDULLA | New York Times

INSIDE THE NUMBERS: Why Tony Romo will throw it deep in 2012

One of the primary areas of concern for the Cowboys’ offense in 2012 is effectively replacing wide receiver Laurent Robinson. Robinson was sensational in Dallas last season; his ability to stretch the field vertically helped the Cowboys move the ball in Miles Austin’s absence. Actually, Robinson caught 58.8 percent of his targets that were thrown 20 yards or longer—good for the third-best mark in the NFL.

Of course, Robinson wasn’t the only receiver to whom Tony Romo succeeded throwing the ball deep. Over his career, Romo has been remarkably adept at throwing the ball downfield. A big reason for that is his ability to buy time in the pocket, allowing receivers to get open even if they were initially covered.

I detailed Romo’s superb deep passing ability in my projection of his 2012 season, arguing the ‘Boys need to throw downfield way more often than their 6.6 deep ball rate from 2011. Here is more evidence why. . .

Tony Romo passer rating by pass length

I’ve tracked all of Romo’s throws from the past three years by location and distance. Above, you can see the passer rating he has generated throughout nine areas of the field. The peak is on throws of 20-plus yards to the right side of the field. Although those throws represent just 4.0 percent of his passes, Romo has amazingly racked up 17.1 percent of his touchdowns in this area.

Overall, Romo’s passer rating on deep passes is 114.3 since 2009—superior than the 103.6 rating on intermediate throws and the 97.0 rating on short throws.

While Romo has thrived on deep throws, you can see he has done the same when throwing to the right side of the field. His passer rating of 114.2 to the right trumps the 92.0 and 101.3 numbers he has posted on the left side of the field and between the hashes, respectively. Despite throwing fewer than one-third of his passes to the right side of the field, he has parlayed those throws into 45.7 percent of his touchdowns.

While the graph above is certainly interesting, I don’t think it tells the whole story. Passer rating is an imperfect measure, artificially inflated by an abundance of completions. It’s also affected heavily by a quarterback’s touchdown-to-interception ratio. In reality, passing efficiency in terms of yards-per-attempt is probably a superior measure of a quarterback’s success.

Below, I’ve broken down Romo’s attempts, charting how they compare to what we should expect from Romo on each throw. That is, taking into account Romo’s overall yards-per-attempt over the past three years, how does his efficiency in each area of the field compare to what we should expect?

Tony Romo effeciency

You can see that, when breaking down Romo’s throws like this, there’s really no comparison; he is far superior on deep passes than short ones. When throwing short, Romo is most effective over the middle (likely due to the presence of Jason Witten), but even in that area, his yards-per-attempt is 17.3 percent worse than what we’d expect.

In terms of pure efficiency, Romo has been at his best when throwing deep down the middle of the field. He’s had a few fluky interceptions in that range (which is what has thrown off his passer rating), but the quarterback has somehow managed to average an incredible 20.0 yards-per-attempt on his 34 deep passes between the hashes over the last three seasons. That’s 144.2 percent above expectations.

Overall, it seems pretty clear that Romo and the ‘Boys should air it out more in 2012. There could be a bit of a selection bias at work, meaning the deep passing numbers are inflated because Romo doesn’t generally force passes downfield unless something is open, but the stats are so skewed that a dramatic increase in deep passes seems likely.

Thus far in the preseason, Romo has already attempted a throw of 20-plus yards on 15.7 percent of his passes. It’s a small sample size, but with his career success throwing the deep ball, I expect that rate to remain pretty steady during the regular season.

Jonathan Bales is a special contributor. He’s the founder of The DC Times and writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He’s also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People.

NEW YORK TIMES HEADLINE: For Giants, home field has been a disadvantage

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.

Suzy Allman for The New York Times

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.

Tony Romo hand is improving; expects to play on Sunday night

Eagles Cowboys

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo told the New York media on a conference call that his injured right hand is improving, and he expects to play Sunday. Romo bruised his throwing hand on the fourth play of last week’s loss to the Eagles when he hit it on Jason Babin’s helmet. Here is the transcript from his interview with the Giants’ media:

Q: How is your hand feeling?

A: It continues to improve day-by-day. Today was good. I was able to do some things with the ball that we weren’t sure about so it was a good start to the week. We are going to keep working on it and get all the treatment and stuff. We should be good to go for this weekend.  

Q: Do you have to continue to get it checked out throughout the week?

A: I think we are going to evaluate it all the time. I think before practice, after and in the morning and at night. We are going to work on it and the trainers have done a great job of being on top of it. The swelling continues to subside a little bit each day and that is a good sign.

Q: Do you expect to play?

A: Yes, I expect to play. 

Q: How much has this season answered questions about your toughness?

A: I think when you play quarterback in the National Football League, you have to understand that you are going to have bumps and bruises throughout the way. Every week is important and you just have to go out and play. That is the way you have to approach it. I love competing and playing and that is why you get out there and play every week.

Q: What is harder playing with, a broken rib or bruised hand?

A: I don’t know, I haven’t played with a bruised hand yet but I will assume the rib was a pretty painful thing so that would be tougher.

Q: Do you plan on wearing a glove on Sunday?

A: I don’t know what we are going to do. We are experimenting with a couple things and we will see as the week progresses what we are going to do.

Q: What does the glove help you do?

A: We are working on the compression of the hand and trying to get the swelling to go down. That is the big part of it right now, keeping it compressed. Hopefully it will continue to get better and better.

Q: Have you ever played with a glove on your throwing hand?

A: Yes, I have played with it before but as of now, I am not anticipating playing with the glove this weekend.

Q: Do you have to change how you accept the snap from center because of your hand?

A: I don’t know, we are doing some different things during the week. The game is not until Sunday so we have a lot of time to get it right so you feel better. I expect that we will do all the things like we normally have done by the end of the week.

Q: What do you expect from the Giants secondary this time around?

A: I think when you watch the tape, they are playing really good football. We caught a break one time when they had a miscommunication and sometimes you have to make some of those plays so that could be part of it because they are relying on their instincts a little bit. They are a good group so you have to be ready for them to come out and play their best game. I expect for them to come out and play tight man coverage and come after us. That is what our game plan is, to be ready for that. I think that is what we are trying to do.

Q: They haven’t played man that much the last few weeks so what makes you say that?

A: They do it early in the game to see if they can get away with it and things of that nature. I just think that the fact that we are going to be on the road and they are going to be at home, they are going to want to set a certain type of tempo. I think they are going to bring a little bit extra pressure and play some man coverages. In a game like this, that’s what they want to do.

Q: If Osi plays, what does that do for their defense?

A: I think that Osi is a good player so anytime they get another pass rusher it presents more of a challenge. We have to prepare for that. I think that group upfront is an outstanding group and they have three or four guys that you really have to account for. It is going to be a great challenge for our guys up front and for me to see different things and you just have to know that going into the week. We will be prepared for it.

Q: Do you expect to see the same kind of game as the first one?

A: You never know. You just have to do whatever you can so your team finds a win. You never know what the conditions are going to be. This time in New York, it could be anything. For us it is just a matter of going up there and executing each play and getting into the end zone as many times as you can. It is a big game and it is important. This is why you play the game, these are fun. This is why you get better every year so that you can perform at the highest level when these games come.

Q: What team do you think is going to show up for both teams?

A: I just think you go out and play and each game is different each week. I think these two teams are very comparable team-wise, not only in record but the types of seasons we have had. I suspect that talent wise, we are pretty close so there will be a few plays here or there that will decide this game. We have to be ready to make those plays.

Q: Did you think it was going to come down to this game when you saw the schedule?

A: It seems to have a way of doing that in the NFC East. Each year is different and I always think that it is hard for a team in the NFC East to get the number one seed and go on because in this division we beat each other up a lot of the time. You have four teams that have the ability and when it is all said and done, the records don’t indicate top notch teams but I think a lot of the losses come within the division if you look at these teams. If Washington can beat the Giants twice and we lost to the Eagles, it just shows you the ability each team has each week to go out and win football games. There is a lot of talent, you just have to keep grinding away in order to win the division.

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SPECIAL FEATURE: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in the Barber’s Chair (Video)

Roger Goodell - Barber shop

CLICK ON PICTURE TO PLAY VIDEO

Roger Goodell, the N.F.L. commissioner, joins William C. Rhoden and others in a barbershop in Harlem for a talk about the safety of the pro game and other issues.

Courtesy: National Football League | The New York Times | William C. Rhoden

NEW YORK HEADLINE: Toughness of Coughlin Rubs Off on Giants

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — After running back D. J. Ware crashed into Tom Coughlin’s left leg in the Giants’ victory over the Jets on Saturday, the Giants players reminded Coughlin of a saying he has used to motivate them, “No toughness, no championships.”

It was a fitting illustration of how the Giants embody the manner with which Coughlin coaches them. They have adopted his no-frills, understated toughness, especially this season, when they have overcome a glut of injuries, and seemingly long odds, to remain in control of their playoff fate heading into Sunday night’s regular-season finale against the Dallas Cowboys (8-7). That game will determine whether the Giants (8-7) win the N.F.C. East or miss the postseason.

“Tom’s had a lot of success, so you better buy in to what he’s teaching us,” kicker Lawrence Tynes said. “He embodies ‘No toughness, no championships’ and ‘Talk is cheap, play the game.’ That’s just who he is, and guys respond.”

Hobbling on his injured left leg, Coughlin arrived at the Giants’ facility Monday still hurting from the hit. He said he did not seek medical attention for the injury, and did not expect to in the near future. He also has no plans to coach from the press box Sunday.

The extent of Coughlin’s injury remains unknown, at least publicly. For a coach who provides cryptic status updates about injured players, it was only appropriate that he declined to discuss his own health. He did not use crutches, however.

The entire situation was classic Coughlin, and on many levels this season, the Giants have adopted the ethos he has established. It has been evident in the next-man-up achievements of a player like Victor Cruz, their fourth-quarter comebacks and the relative scarcity of headline-worthy comments in the week leading to the game with the Jets.

Part of the players’ reaction to Coughlin goes back to the consistency and transparency with which he operates. But to see him wincing on the sideline Saturday viscerally reinforced to the players that he stands with them. Coughlin nudged aside the trainers and kept coaching, moving gingerly on the leg, which he appeared to hyperextend.

“He would never ask us to do anything he himself wouldn’t do,” defensive end Dave Tollefson said. “He means what he says, and a lot of the things he does say, there’s conviction in his voice. You don’t want to let him down because you know he’s doing everything he can to not let us down.”

Or as defensive end Justin Tuck said: “We are all all in. Coach Coughlin is the same as all of us.”

That Coughlin has still been able to connect with the team was one of the reasons the front office retained him after the Giants failed to reach the playoffs last season. John Mara, a team co-owner, said that he never sensed that Coughlin lost the players. Indeed, the very idea of the Giants’ winning the division title this year would have seemed improbable during the preseason, when a number of offensive stars departed as free agents and injuries decimated the defense. But here they are.

The Giants have once again taken a cue from their resilient coach, who showed his toughness Saturday. The cringe-worthy sideline hit led some on the team to joke about whether Coughlin would join the injured players Sunday in the training room.

“I did,” Coughlin said Monday. “To check on the players that were there.”

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Courtesy: MARK VIERA | The New York Times

NEW YORK HEADLINE: Giants will face Cowboys in regular-season finale with a lot on the line, but their playoffs have already started

Giants Eli.JPG

The official NFL schedule says next weekend is the 17th and final week of the regular season.

Ask the Giants and they’ll tell you it will be their second week of the playoffs.

The elimination stage of the Giants’ season began with an emotional 29-14 Christmas Eve victory over the Jets in what was billed as the Battle for New York.

The emotion and intensity will continue when they battle another rival, the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday night at the Meadowlands with everything at stake.

It’s simple. Both 8-7 teams — if you believe in such a thing — control their own destiny. Win and you earn a postseason berth as the NFC East champions and the conference’s No. 4 seed.

Lose and the entire franchise from the front office on down will face a long offseason of scrutiny.

“It started last week,” coach Tom Coughlin said of the week of practice leading up to Saturday’s victory over their fellow MetLife Stadium tenants. “We knew that if we won two that we would be the winner of the NFC East and be in the playoffs, so we have two games and now one under our belt.

“To be honest with you, we need to put this one aside as fast as we can and go to work on Dallas with the same attitude we had last week.”

The attitude Coughlin refers to is a boost of energy and focus at practice that he and his players highlighted during a week in which their backs were up against the proverbial wall. Whether it will continue and translate to another imperative victory on Sunday is not a foregone conclusion given their recent track record.

It was two weeks ago today that the Giants were riding another high after a miraculous fourth-quarter comeback victory over the Cowboys in Dallas. But the next Sunday at home they inexplicably laid an egg against an inferior Redskins team to put themselves in this do-or-die situation.

“Playoff game. That’s it,” linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said of the looming matchup with Dallas on New Year’s night. “It’s a playoff game and we need this one to accomplish our goal. We’re just going to keep the pedal on the gas and go forward.”

Sunday’s matchup will be the second time the teams face each other in less than a month, and having such a high-stakes divisional game for the last weekend of the season is exactly what the NFL was aiming for when it decided to group divisional games at the end of the regular season. The game was originally scheduled for 1 p.m., but the league used its flexible scheduling to move the showdown to prime time.

The first time around, on Dec. 11, the Giants overcame a 34-22 lead with 5:41 remaining to overtake the Cowboys. Now the Giants will look to duplicate the result 21 days later.

“That’s a little different,” Kiwanuka said of playing the Cowboys twice in such a short span. “When I looked at the schedule, it looked a little odd, but given the situation, this is a beautiful situation to be in.”

Last season, the Giants were in a better situation record-wise when they headed into the final weekend one game better at 9-6. They took care of business, beating the Redskins, 17-14. But unlike this year they needed help from other teams to earn a berth in the postseason and didn’t get it.

This time it’s all on them to avoid missing the playoffs for the third consecutive season.

“It’s what you like to have: to control your own destiny,” guard Kevin Boothe said. “That’s the best way to put it. It’s not like last year when we had to worry about somebody else helping us on the last game of the year. This year it’s all in front of us so we’ll see if we can advance again.”

Jerry Jones’n: Students Battle a Dallas Cowboys Unit Over College Apparel

Published: September 23, 2011

The Dallas Cowboys have a new merchandising arm that recently jumped into the business of producing college-logo apparel for leading universities, but the Cowboys subsidiary has already encountered a stubborn opponent — student groups that contend it is using overseas sweatshops.

Greg Sailor for The New York Times

Teraisa Bradford, left, and Natalie Yoon with Prof. Greg Jusdanis on Wednesday at Ohio State University. Ms. Yoon and Ms. Bradford are members of United Students Against Sweatshops.

At Ohio State, many students and professors are pressing the university’s administration not to sign a proposed multimillion-dollar deal with the Cowboys’ affiliate, Silver Star Merchandising. And at the University of Southern California, students returning to campus this fall are voicing outrage that their school signed an ambitious 10-year licensing deal with the Cowboys last May while keeping the negotiations secret from the students.

Natalie Yoon, president of the United Students Against Sweatshops chapter at Ohio State, said: “This proposed licensing deal is very problematic given the Dallas Cowboys’ labor history. Just skimming the surface, we found the Cowboys produced merchandise at four factories that have egregious sweatshop violations.”

That anti-sweatshop group, with more than 150 college chapters nationwide, said Silver Star Merchandising had used one factory in El Salvador that, according to monitoring groups, threatened union supporters, had drinking water that was contaminated and illegally forced employees to work huge amounts of overtime. The group cited a second El Salvador plant that factory monitors said had spied on union supporters and put them in worse jobs at lower pay.

United Students Against Sweatshops also said that Silver Star had manufacturing done at an Indonesian factory that suddenly closed, its owners fleeing, without paying $3 million in legally required severance pay owed to its 2,800 employees.

The Cowboys’ Silver Star Merchandising subsidiary acknowledges that it, like many other American apparel companies, has used some factories that had problems, but it said it was trying to improve conditions at those facilities.

“We are very serious about our social compliance responsibilities,” said Bill Priakos, Silver Star’s chief operating officer. “We have a very aggressive code of conduct for all factories representing our brand.”

In 1996, the Cowboys became the first football team to insist on handling its merchandise rights in-house. Jerry Jones, the team’s owner, sought to extend the team’s retail expertise last year by founding Silver Star, which says it is seeking to produce and distribute college-logo apparel for a limited number of prominent universities, starting with U.S.C. and Ohio State. His son Jerry Jones Jr. is Silver Star’s president.

The anti-sweatshop groups have tussled in recent years with Nike, Gap, Russell Athletic and other companies, pushing them to improve poor conditions at some of the factories they use. Now these groups have made Silver Star their newest target, arguing that it, as the new kid on the block, has not done its human rights homework and has an especially bad track record in using factories with violations.

Rick Van Brimmer, Ohio State’s director of trademark and licensing services, said his university would not consider a licensing deal with a company that did not take workers’ rights and codes of conduct seriously.

“Whether we are talking about prospective licensees or existing licensees,” he said, “we are committed to an aggressive and meaningful corporate social responsibility program.” He said this meant engaging with “companies that share those goals” and were willing to work on corrective measures.

Both Silver Star and Mr. Van Brimmer said their philosophy was not to walk away from a bad factory, but to press the factory to make needed changes.

Julia Wang, a U.S.C. sophomore who is a co-president of the school’s Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation, said students were angry that they learned of their school’s Cowboys deal only through news reports.

“We asked how they managed to sign a deal with the Cowboys without any student input when there are all these widely known cases of sweatshop abuse in some of the factories they use,” Ms. Wang said. “We asked, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ and again and again all we’ve gotten are wishy-washy answers. We’re looking for improved policies and action.”

U.S.C. officials defended Silver Star, maintaining that it, like the school’s other apparel licensees, was intent on working with universities and factory owners to ensure that the factories complied with codes of conduct. U.S.C. officials declined to discuss the scope or value of the contract, although they said total sales of U.S.C.-themed merchandise exceeded $20 million a year.

Matthew Curran, U.S.C.’s director of trademark, licensing and social responsibility, said the school required all licensees to comply with a strict code of conduct that barred factories from violating labor laws and having abusive conditions. Mr. Curran said that his university’s agreement with the Cowboys would enable U.S.C. to consolidate more of its marketing and distribution with a small group of companies.

“We believe this will give us and other parties involved an enhanced ability to track, monitor and to ideally have greater influence on those factories,” he said.

When the PT Kizone factory in Indonesia closed without paying $3 million in severance, Nike, one of the factory’s major customers, said it and one of its middlemen would put up $1.5 million toward severance. Teresa Cheng, international campaigns coordinator with United Students Against Sweatshops, complained that Silver Star had been very reluctant to help pay for severance.

“We went to the Cowboys and asked them to tell us the name of one factory they used that complied with Ohio State’s code of conduct, and they couldn’t name a single factory,” Ms. Cheng said.

Mr. Curran of U.S.C. defended Silver Star, saying it stopped doing business with PT Kizone before the factory closed — an assertion the student group contests. Mr. Curran said Silver Star was not contractually or legally responsible to help pay severance, but it “has been in contact” with “other stakeholders in an effort to find a resolution.”

As for the two El Salvador factories, Mr. Priakos of Silver Star said his company represented less than 5 percent of their production. He said a monitoring group was working with the factories to ensure that the factories came into compliance with the law and codes of conduct.

Ms. Yoon, mentioning a November 2010 e-mail by Mr. Van Brimmer, Ohio State’s licensing director, said the university had an unfair, telescoped selection process that unduly favored Silver Star. In that e-mail, Mr. Van Brimmer told Silver Star: “I may be forced into looking at ‘bids’ simply because we are a state agency. But don’t fear that process.”

Mr. Van Brimmer said the process was transparent, thorough, competitive and fair, adding, “No one was promised anything, and to classify it as a ‘charade’ is blatantly untrue, unfair and disrespectful,” to all those involved in the process.

By  of The New York Times

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