EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck might be on to something. A few days before the Giants dismantled the Cowboys 31-14 to win the NFC East on Sunday, he had said that he was tired of hearing Dallas referred to as "American's Team."
Sure, they may be popular but I guess that's to the palate that prefers the common burger to a perfectly cured and cooked steak. Dallas is ordinary.
In a year when the NFC East had just one team with a winning record, the Cowboys finished 8-8 and failed to make the playoffs -- again. Their division rival, Philadelphia, took a lot of heat for not living up to their preseason "Dream Team" hype but the Cowboys have made a habit of falling short for years.
To note, although they finished with the same record as the Eagles, Dallas technically finished third because Philadelphia emphatically swept the Cowboys. The disappointing "Dream Team" finished ahead of the disappointing "America's Team."
Enough. The Cowboys' modern reputation isn't about quarterback Tony Romo's shortcomings, coach Jason Garrett's inexperience or owner Jerry Jones' meddling. It's about a team that's old in the wrong areas, isn't good in others and one that needs to stop living off a moniker that was earned by the talented teams of the '70s, '80s and '90s.
A very upset Jones said after Sunday night's loss that he wouldn't make any rash public proclamations about personnel, but changes are coming. He's tired of swinging and missing and casting the illusion that there's really more talent on the roster than billed.
One of those changes won't be at coach. Jones said Garrett "unequivocally" will return as coach, which is a good move. Regardless of how people feel about Garrett, he's a sharp guy who will grow into a better coach. It wasn't Garrett missing tackles or under-throwing players or missing blocks for parts of the season, either.
He made his share of blunders, but if Jones continues to change coaches every time things get uneasy, then he's missed the model that's worked so well for other teams -- like the one that lambasted his squad Sunday night.
The Giants have hung with Tom Coughlin through a lot of good and bad. How many times have we heard that Coughlin was on thin ice? It happened this season, including this week. By maintaining continuity, players know what is expected of them and how to pull it together when things matter most. They ended a four-game losing streak in early December against Dallas and then stepped on them in the regular-season finale to earn the right to host the wild-card Falcons next Sunday.
Safety Antrel Rolle, who had a third-quarter interception of Romo and helped a defense that thoroughly out-schemed, out-played and out-cared the Cowboys, told me that the Giants played for Coughlin. We often hear players say they play for coaches -- most of them rarely do -- but the Giants clearly meant it. Rolle said players respect Coughlin enough that they want him to go out on his own terms.
By winning, they assured Coughlin will be coaching for another week and pretty much secured his job with the Giants, although people I've spoken to said they didn't believe Coughlin was in trouble regardless.
New York's players talk a lot -- Rolle and running back Brandon Jacobs seem to always be stepping on self-planted land mines -- but they back it up. Several players told me last week that they had a great game plan on both sides of the ball and if players stuck to it, they'd put it on Dallas.
An offensive player told me that they'd spread the Cowboys out and make their defense try to stop the Giants' playmakers. A short pass to Victor Cruz, a slipped tackle and a salsa dance in the end zone 74 yards later in the first quarter was just the start of Dallas' players being unable to contend with what the Giants had to offer.
Defensively, I asked end Osi Umenyiora if the high ankle sprain was healthy enough for him to possibly flop to left defensive end. It was a hunch but I know how creative defensive coordinator Perry Fewell can be and because Umenyiora rarely played left end, I figured it could be a surprise element to the plan. Umenyiora told me he hadn't played left end for years -- until Sunday night, when he got a sack from the the southpaw alignment.
The Giants have won two straight (against the Brothers Ryan -- Dallas defensive coordinator Rob and Jets coach and defensive guru Rex -- and now have some steam behind them. They're dangerous. The Falcons are equally dangerous and they come to town next week trying to get quarterback Matt Ryan and veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez their first playoff victories.
"Bring 'em on up here," a player told me. "Bring 'em on outside. Hopefully it's nice and cold for 'em."
The Giants know the Falcons are a dome team that's much more comfortable playing at home. They're not worried about Atlanta because New York is focused on New York. The Giants are a scary team -- not "America's Team" -- that's shown it can stop the bleeding and induce its own pain when needed. They might be a tough out in the playoffs, especially with quarterback Eli Manning back on track.
As for the Cowboys, Jones, was none too pleased that his team made such a lame showing with so much at stake. He was too hot after the game to assess all his team's problems but he knows this version isn't going to work. Evaluations will start soon, to which he said, "unfortunately," they'll have a lot of time to comb through what's not working.
Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.