ARLINGTON, Texas -- When Dez Bryant leapt into the air, secured the ball and landed hard on his hip, Cowboys Stadium erupted. The Dallas Cowboys had emailed season-ticket holders before this rivalry bout against the New York Giants and asked for noise, and when it appeared the mercurial receiver had snatched a 37-yard touchdown pass out of the air to steal an improbable victory, they got it.
New York defensive lineman Osi Umenyiora: "Sickness. I felt sick."
As quickly as trainers huddled around Bryant the ailing would-be hero, though, the stadium hit pause. Replay. Ten seconds left. Game on the line. Had Bryant placed his hand on the end line? Big Blue sensed a second life.
And finally, there was Eli Manning, who knows a thing or two about resourcefulness when it counts the most. Standing on the sidelines with the difference between a crushing loss and a gutty win hanging in the balance, Manning searched for info.
"I heard a few rumors on the sidelines from people texting their brothers back home after watching the TV copy," Manning said. "People were getting word."
When thunder became silence, it was clear what had happened. Bryant was ruled out, the Giants' defense eventually held, and they wound up with a 29-24 win over the Cowboys in front of 94,067 stunned, confused, frustrated fans.
Monday's focus was likely be on the Cowboys. It always is. Tony Romo threw four interceptions. Coach Jason Garrett's questionable play calling in the red zone with under two minutes remaining. That Felix Jones fumble. And Bryant's near-heroics coming up just short -- again.
For a Dallas team that is 3-4, everything is up for discussion.
But let's not overlook the victor's spoils. This was the type of game the G-Men could have lost, but rarely ever do. Just a few inches of Bryant's hand had hit the back line.
Nothing. That's it. A few inches was enough to earn the win, and the Giants always seem to be on the right side of those inches. It's been that way for years in the Coughlin-Manning regime. Like the inches that separated the football from the ground on David Tyree's miraculous catch. The inches between Mario Manningham's feet and the sideline.
A reporter suggested to Umenyiora that luck was on the Giants' side. Tsk, tsk.
"It's no luck, man," said Umenyiora, part of a defensive line that sacked Romo four times. "That's football. (Bryant) didn't make the play at the end of the day. I don't think it's luck. He wasn't able to make the play."
That is the difference between the Giants and the Cowboys -- now and over the past couple of years. The G-Men eke out wins over the Washington Redskins and Cowboys, two NFC East opponents, in back-to-back weeks. After the second victory, Manning praises his team's fight and says, "We find a way to win the close ones. That's what it's all about."
Better third-down percentage, more yards, more 100-yard receivers, more time of possession, better in the red zone, more touchdowns. Yet, just like in the game against the Baltimore Ravens two weeks ago, a missed opportunity defined the Cowboys, leaving Bryant to say, "I know we're better than our record."
If the Cowboys keep losing games like this, are they? Are they the team that flashes eye-popping potential? Or the one that has a losing record?
Yes, they overcame a 23-point deficit on Sunday. But they also fumbled the ball away at a crucial point. Yes, the Giants blew a 23-point lead. But as Umenyiora pointed out, "We didn't expect to come here and destroy them. We knew it was going to be a battle."
"It's the mistakes that will lose the ballgame," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "The big plays don't win the games as much as mistakes lose the ballgame. We made the kinds of mistakes that lose ballgames. Frankly, with that many turnovers, with those kinds of interceptions, it shouldn't surprise us that we didn't win this game."
At 6-2, winners of four straight, the Giants found a way. Even if it wasn't pretty. The 23-point lead that took 17 minutes to build evaporated in 24 minutes. Yet they took a 26-24 lead on a Lawrence Tynes field goal. And when the Cowboys drove to the Giants' 48 in the fourth quarter, it was safety Stevie Brown who knocked the ball from Jones' grasp to set up another field goal, giving New York a five-point lead with 3:31 left.
What transpired next was surreal.
After driving from his own 22 with five completions, Romo faced second-and-1 from the 19 with 1:23 left. The result? Two incompletions and a forced interception. Asked about the Cowboys calling three straight pass plays despite needing just 1 yard for a first down, Romo said that, at least on third down, the coverage dictated a pass.
Yet Rob Ryan's defense rose up to make a stop, giving Romo the ball back with 44 seconds left. Six plays later, on second-and-6 from the Giants' 37, Romo found Bryant in the end zone for the game-winning score. Or so it seemed. Instead, "My heart just dropped," Bryant said.
In the end, the Giants went on to keep Dallas out of the end zone on three straight plays over 10 excruciatingly long seconds to secure the win. Of course they did. Coughlin, Manning and company always do.
"We're fighters," Coughlin said, "and we've been through a lot of big games. Sometimes, it comes out a little bit different than we would have liked to design it. But we've very pleased to leave here 6-2."
What else is going on? Here is a rundown:
The maturity (and inevitability) of Michael Vick
The way Vick sounded after the gross 30-17 home loss to the Atlanta Falcons, he doesn't believe he will. With Nick Foles waiting, and coach Andy Reid saying he'll look at everything -- and with Reid's job on the line this season -- a quarterback change wouldn't be surprising.
I'm struck by two things: Vick's maturity and the air of inevitability surrounding this decision.
Speaking to reporters, Vick said, "Obviously, (Reid) is thinking about making a change at quarterback. If he makes that decision, I support it."
Later, in a conversation with Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia's Reuben Frank, Vick sounded resigned to his fate. He sounded defeated. "I would love to stay in there and finish what I started. It would mean the world to me. But, hey, that's not my decision right now."
If Vick is eventually replaced in Philadelphia, his tenure will have ended with mixed reviews. He did resurrect his career. He did extend Reid's lifeline. Yet he'd also be leaving us wondering just how good he really is. One question raised to me on Twitter: Is he a modern-day Allen Iverson, a magician whose magic has simply disappeared with age?
The class with which Vick handled an incredibly difficult situation -- even if he created the situation with his play -- won't be forgotten. Vick could be blaming a lot of different people: his defense, his offensive line. But he's not. He's taking it like a man. That's impressive.
Pat Shurmur is coachin' 'em up
When Jimmy Haslam bought the Cleveland Browns, many of us assumed he'd clean house. President Mike Holmgren already is on his way out, and general manager Tom Heckert is pessimistic about his chances of sticking around. It seemed likely that coach Pat Shurmur would be out, too. After all, he was a fledgling coach who won just four games last year and, as of three weeks ago, none this season.
Yet when Haslam and Shurmur sat down before the NFL Fall Meeting in Chicago, Haslam told his young coach, "We have a lot of football left to play." He insisted no decision had been made and that he would do everything possible to "support Pat and his coaches and his team for the balance of the season."
Haslam seemed earnest. And if this keeps going, Shurmur just might have a shot. The Browns earned their first win of 2012 by beating the Cincinnati Bengals a few days before Haslam officially took over. Then, a gritty 7-6 victory over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday took them to 2-1 in their last three.
The way they've done it is what's been most impressive. Holding the Chargers' offense to two field goals. Getting 122 rushing yards from a first-round draft pick (Trent Richardson). Winning in the kind of elements that are prevalent in Cleveland. Thwarting Philip Rivers right at the end.
Few teams are as talent-deficient as the Browns, but the way they're playing is what Haslam will evaluate. Things are looking up for Shurmur.
The Chiefs are epically bad
When the season began, the Kansas City Chiefs were everyone's sleeper team to win the AFC West. Or, at least, mine. Yeah ... that's not looking so hot. In reality, Kansas City has been stunningly bad. So bad, it makes you wonder how on earth they could be this bad.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Chiefs are the first team since 1940 to complete seven games without ever having led in regulation. What are the odds?
Sunday's 26-16 loss to the archrival Oakland Raiders had to be a crushing blow for those who believe this team is worth saving. Of all teams, did it have to be Oakland? Sure, as quarterback Matt Cassel said, "There is a lot of football season left." But not that much. And is there any sign of hope?
There really isn't anywhere the Chiefs can turn. Quarterback controversy? Eh. Both Cassel and Brady Quinn have struggled, and Quinn was knocked out with an injury Sunday. The offense is turning the ball over at a record rate; the defense isn't doing it enough.
Think about this point made by the Kansas City Star's Sam Mellinger: "The Royals haven't played in 25 days, finished their season like dogs, and still have two wins since the Chiefs' last victory." I don't really have an answer. But in that regime, everything must be questioned.
Some rapid-fire takes:
» How old is DeAngelo Hall? Five? I get that he's frustrated, but he wasn't even tossed in a rage. He took off his helmet, paused and then cursed out the official. A premeditated cursing. Classless. In my view, a suspension is warranted for the Washington Redskins corner.
» I mentioned on Sunday morning that teams are interested in Seahawks receiver Braylon Edwards, and it does make sense if Seattle would be willing to deal the veteran. He's helping the Seahawks in just a marginal way (eight catches for 74 yards and a touchdown), he could adapt to any system and Seattle could gain some value. A trade might not be a bad idea.
» The New York Jets' 30-9 loss to the Miami Dolphins was a disaster on all levels, but special-teams woes were the most glaring. Miami was the first team to block a field goal, block a punt and recover an on-side kick in a game, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Blame special teams coach Mike Westhoff? No. Special teams is a measure of depth, and the Jets are struggling to compete with the back half of their roster. Been an issue all year.
» There was something beautiful about the Chicago Bears' 23-22 win over the Carolina Panthers. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was bad, getting booed early on. The offense managed to score just seven points in the first three quarters of play. It took Carolina's Steve Smith falling down to give Chicago the lead. If you're going to have a special season, you need W's when you play poorly, not L's.
» On the other hand, that was a pretty stellar effort from Cam Newton in a losing cause. Three hundred and fifty-one total yards against one of the NFL's nastiest defenses? Strong. If only the Panthers could put it together ...
» Back in early October, Green Bay Packers receiver Donald Driver told me that as long as the team is winning, he's OK with a diminished role. He added that when he does get the chance, "I'll be ready." He was on Sunday. Without Jordy Nelson, without Greg Jennings, the 37-year-old Driver scored a 4-yard touchdown to help seal the win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. He wasn't lying.
» With Matt Hasselbeck assuming the Tennessee Titans' starting role the past few games, it's easy to forget he was a backup before second-year quarterback Jake Locker was injured. Hasselbeck is the NFL's best backup quarterback. Second-best? That's Matt Moore, who came into his own last season. With rookie Ryan Tannehill ailing, Moore went a solid 11-for-19 for 131 yards and a touchdown in an easy win.
» Jacquizz Rodgers, a promising fifth-round pick from a year ago, had just 31 carries before Sunday. Yet the Atlanta Falcons went to him eight times for 60 yards, including an impressive 43-yard scamper that masked the team's issues on the ground. Rodgers broke two tackles behind the line of scrimmage to earn his long run. Take that away, and Atlanta averaged 2.4 yards per rush. Matt Ryan has been great, but I still wonder if this team is too one-dimensional.
» After watching Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jonathan Dwyer on Sunday, it's amazing to think he had to scratch and claw just to make the roster in 2010 and 2011. Kudos to the Steelers for keeping him, as he now has back-to-back 100-yard games. But how was this minivan able to hide on the bench for two years?
» I don't blame Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan for wanting Robert Griffin III to be involved in everything. But sending him out for a pass -- only to watch him get trucked -- is too much. Even if that play's worth two touchdowns, is it really worth risking your quarterback of the future?
» Finally -- maybe -- the Oakland Raiders are finding room for Darren McFadden. He's still racking up the negative yardage, but if he can bust a few like that 21-yarder late in the fourth quarter Sunday, it will be enough. He can keep that offense on the field. At 3-4, the Raiders are still kicking.
» If Sean Payton were coaching the New Orleans Saints, would his defense have allowed 530 yards to the Denver Broncos? No way in the world. He coached the entire team, not just the offense. Yes, the Saints have defensive personnel issues. But Payton's teams never looked like this.
Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @RapSheet.