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Odell Beckham, Giants echo 2011 in topping Cowboys

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Giants' biggest regular-season win in nearly five years ended with a head shake.

Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant's face was plastered on the TV screen as officials met to discuss whether or not he caught Dak Prescott's frantic pass out of the back of the end zone on fourth down -- with 52 seconds remaining and the Giants clinging to a 10-7 lead -- to keep the drive moving.

Clearly, the ball had dropped out of his diving arms and hit the turf. The inevitable cacophony was building. He signaled the bad news to hopeful teammates while 80,000-plus awaited the chance to erupt when the call was officially overturned. For the first time since Christmas Eve of 2011 or New Year's Day 2012, there was meaningful winter football in northern New Jersey. The Giants are 9-4 with two wins over the best team in football. They are, at the moment, securely nestled into the playoff picture, on track for their first berth since that 2011 season half a decade ago.

Back then, the Giants had to beat the rival Jets and Cowboys to stumble backwards into the postseason. Everyone knows what happened next.

"It feels fantastic," said Victor Cruz, one of the remaining holdovers from their last Super Bowl team. "I wanted Dallas to come out of that bubble, come out of that dome and play us and see what happens. And we came out victorious."

They were careful. This team avoids the well-laid comparisons. Only after some prodding does Odell Beckham admit that if they are not hoping for the playoffs or the Super Bowl, then what are they all doing here?

He embodies this team -- perhaps not in spirit, but in its ability to be so confounding and brilliant all in the same 60 minutes. He is the man grabbing one-handed touchdowns before games and then breaking to make snow angels in the fresh powder near the corner of the end zone.

After dropping a sure touchdown in the first quarter and a key third-down conversion attempt in the third, Beckham lined up against Dallas cornerback Brandon Carr in tight press coverage with 1 minute and 18 seconds remaining in the third quarter. After a shake and plant, he was a step ahead. Beckham caught the modified slant route and started pushing upfield.

The end zone path opened up once he kicked his sprinter's stride into second gear -- then third. After the game, he would say that he's never felt someone chase him faster than Carr. He still ended up in the end zone 5 yards ahead of the nearest defender and whipped into a Michael Jackson leg kick from Thriller. On that 61-yard score, Beckham passed Plaxico Burress as the receiver who'd caught the most touchdown passes from Eli Manning in franchise history (Beckham has 34 to Burress' 33). It was his ninth touchdown catch of 60-plus yards (the most in the NFL since 2014).

"That dude has caught so many slants and taken them 50-plus yards," linebacker Jonathan Casillas said afterward. "I've never seen a receiver do that. Take a 5- or 6-yard pass and take it 67 (sic) yards almost every time he does it. It's almost insane."

Almost insane, but it all works in some dysfunctional ballet. The team's $200 million defense was able to pound Dallas and cut off any availability to Dez Bryant, who finished with just one catch for 10 yards. Ezekiel Elliott got his 100 yards, but a majority of them were earned after first contact. His long run for the day was a manageable 15.

And Manning, who was nowhere near good enough, was smart enough to know that feeding his best wide receiver usually negates all the mistakes made before or after. He finished the night 17 of 28 for 193 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. What would have been a second interception was ruled out of bounds.

"It's a big win, but only because it's the next win," Manning said. "Obviously, we're not satisfied. We know we have to play better. But it was a big win."

Cruz, who broke a 99-yard touchdown on Christmas Eve five years ago, has become battle-hardened since then. A torn patellar tendon tends to take the magic out of football, especially when it takes nearly two years to fully recover. But that touchdown from Beckham reminded him what it was like to feel the energy again.

"It had that same eerie kind of feeling," Cruz said. "To be a part of it on both ends and be the actual one scoring the touchdown back then, is a beautiful thing. To be a part of this team this year... it's been great, and we still have more of a story to write."

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