New York, with its steeled persona and recent Super Bowl champion pedigree, overcame the hype and festivities of the regular-season debut of Jerry Jones' palatial Cowboys Stadium and an opponent that was supposed to make this grand opening grand. The Cowboys, meanwhile, succumbed to every form of pressure to accelerate expectations of another late-season collapse to September.
Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, whose fall failures are now starting to inch into the summer, threw three picks that led to three New York touchdowns. Eli Manning, whose stats, profile and everything else but bank account seem to pale to Romo's, played Cool Hand Luke -- again -- and led the Giants 56 yards in the final 3:34 to set up Lawrence Tynes' 37-yard field goal as time expired.
The Cowboys' constant quest for the big splash on offense, even though their running game is imposing, and certainly was in the second half against the Giants, cost them again. They couldn't leave well enough alone and let their trio of running backs (251 combined rushing yards) continue to batter the Giants' depleted defensive line that also lost standout defensive end Justin Tuck with a shoulder injury in the first half.
Dallas had to go for it all, on first down, in Giants territory in the third quarter with a four-point lead, and the result was a Romo pass that sailed well over the head of Sam Hurd and into the arms of Giants safety Kenny Phillips. Maybe it was offensive coordinator Jason Garrett's trust in Romo to make the big play when Dallas really didn't need one, but it was a show of faith nonetheless. In the end, it hurt the team and gave Romo one more pill of doubt to swallow with 14 more games remaining.
"My mistakes put us in a hole and allowed them to capitalize on some things that we were keeping in check," Romo said. "I'm really disappointed in myself right now. You work so hard on something and you try to do certain things to change them. We saw a lot of really good signs as an offensive unit. It's disappointing and frustrating. I'm really not okay with it right now."
New York's calling card of sticking with the running game prompted the Cowboys to sell out in regard to stopping it, and for the most part they did. Yet, the threat of getting hammered late by Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw opened the door for Manning to pick the Cowboys apart, especially in the play-action passing game. Of his 12 passes on the Giants' final two possessions, Manning completed 10.
He routinely found Steve Smith and Mario Manningham, who combined for 20 receptions, 284 yards and two touchdowns against Dallas. The duo stepped up all night, especially in crunch time. And they stepped up knowing they were pretty much all the Giants had. Domenik Hixon went out early with a knee injury and tight end Kevin Boss was kept in to block most of the night.
"We know what we've got," said Manningham. "We believe in ourselves as a receiver group. We know what we can do."
This isn't so much about a game or what happened in this NFC East thriller. It's about who these teams are and what they are -- and what each likely will become over the course of the season.
Still, Dallas players were already reflecting on their different offseason approach of keeping quiet, staying out of the headlines and doing things like, well, the Giants do them. The professional manner in which they conducted themselves was to prevent losses like this.
Before kickoff, before the regular-season grand opening of owner Jerry Jones' palace that will house his confounding team, the thought was that if the Cowboys got past New York, they could stake themselves to a 5-0 record, based on upcoming opponents Carolina, Denver and Kansas City. Those no longer seem like sure-fire victories.
It's New York that's about to step up to the free-throw line, with games against Tampa Bay, Kansas City and Oakland on deck before life gets much more difficult. New York could get complacent and lose one of its next three non-divisional games, but there seems to be a sense of professionalism that will prevent them from being too sloppy. Losing Tuck -- the severity of his injury isn't known -- and Hixon to go with a bevy of other injuries could make things tougher.
"Most of us have been here before, in big-time games," Manning said. "Those are the situations that you like to be in. You like to have a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter. We had a feeling it would come down to that."