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Supposedly dysfunctional Dallas dismantles defending champs

IRVING, Texas -- Controversy? What controversy, the Cowboys asked. Split? What split, they insisted. Playoff run?

Now you've got their attention.

And now they once again have ours.

Because when Dallas plays football in the manner of the star that helps define them -- as in a 20-8 thumping here of the Giants at Texas Stadium -- it is mesmerizing. The Cowboys had been playing as if they were wishing upon a star -- grasping for a handle, fractious and biting, uneven, uninspired. Lame.

Not today. Not against these Giants. Not after a week of finger-pointing and scuttle and alleged subterfuge between Dallas offensive stars Tony Romo, Terrell Owens and Jason Witten. Subterfuge? What subterfuge?

"We're like a reality show," Romo said. "What decides football games is the execution of the individuals on the field and the preparation and time you put in and this team did that this week."

Witten took his shot: "It's over with and we've moved on. I don't know what else I can say about it."

Owens brought it home: "We have always been together. No matter what rumors, lies that have been said, we have always been together and I think when everything came out we stuck together."

"Everything" was a reported gulf between the quarterback and tight end with the receiver. Who was getting balls thrown their way and who was not. Meetings with coaches over it, team meetings over it, and, finally, a huge matchup against the Giants.

A chance to beat up someone else -- instead of each other.

And the Cowboys did that. They sacked Eli Manning eight times; Manning had been sacked only 15 times all season. This Dallas defense led by end DeMarcus Ware (three sacks, three tackles for loss, two forced fumbles) became the first unit this season to prevent the Giants' offense from scoring a touchdown. It picked off Manning twice and limited the Giants to 218 total yards.

Dallas (9-5) can control its playoff entry by winning its final two games. The Giants slipped to 11-3, dropped their second straight game for the first time this season, and could lose homefield advantage with a loss to Carolina next week. And they looked disjointed, especially offensively.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin admitted it.

Giants defensive lineman Justin Tuck was also quite clear.

"We can't keep playing like we did today," Tuck said. "We gave up too many big plays. Our motto has been beat their offense and beat their defense, but their defense played better than our defense today."

No doubt.

After a scoreless first quarter, Dallas built a 7-3 halftime lead. They won the final quarter 13-5 with a touchdown pass and a scoring run. Huge for the Cowboys, considering their mantra all season has been finish. They entered this game having been outscored in fourth quarters, 82-78, but the Giants had won in fourth quarters, 97-66.

The Giants were the finishers, right?

They had beaten Dallas in the last two meetings, including in the playoffs last year.

That Dallas team was 13-3 with 13 Pro Bowlers, a nice, sleek group that was whacked in the playoffs. This Dallas bunch has the less sexy record and more battle scars and bruises. This Dallas team looks as if could peak just when it counts most.

That was the message they were sending Sunday.

"Everybody was looking at our offense to lead the way and for the guys in the middle of last week's storm to do it all, but people forgot about our defense," Cowboys receiver Roy Williams said. "A lot of stuff was made up with people trying to bring us down. I understand that the Giants are still Super Bowl champions until someone knocks them out. We want this, for us, to be the first step in doing that."

The Cowboys were motivated and it was apparent from the start. The Giants' top-ranked running game was held to 72 yards. Though Brandon Jacobs (knee) did not play, the Giants have enough weapons in the run game to make a difference. But not in this one against Dallas. The Giants ran the ball 17 times and Manning threw 35 passes and the imbalance spoke volumes about the Giants' frustration and wilting patience.

Dallas, however, manufactured a ground game that clicked and finished the game's scoring with a Tashard Choice 38-yard run with 2:16 remaining.

Dallas also showed:

» That they do not fear the Giants' offense minus receiver Plaxico Burress. It is a "shorter" offense and "shorter" field without Burress, the Giants' suspended star receiver. Dallas kept squeezing the Giants' offense, creeping closer and closer and suffocating it. The Eagles did it the week prior. Carolina will try it next when they play the Giants. This Giants' offense must find a way to get defenses to back up and back off with a deep threat. The Giants' long run Sunday was 12 yards. Their long reception by a wide receiver was 19 yards.

» That Romo can kill a defense when he is on the move, creating more time, collapsing and confusing defenders in space. Romo singed the Giants by scrambling in the backfield and creating new pockets that gave his receivers more time to work and adjust. Romo's first touchdown toss -- a 34-yarder to Patrick Crayton -- was a splendid example of his piercing mobility.

» That they can be disciplined enough offensively to stay with the running attack late in games. The Cowboys had struggled all game in running the ball but in the fourth quarter kept dialing it. And Choice finally broke things open. Excellent persistence.

» That this Dallas defense must now be considered capable of leading the Cowboys into the playoffs and on a lengthy run. The defense battled play for play against Pittsburgh in the Cowboys' previous game. Then they outworked and outhit the Giants. The Giants were considered all season the better of the defenses, but Dallas forced us to re-examine. In fact, the Dallas defense entered with 45 sacks, the Giants with 36. Dallas now leads the league with 53 sacks. Consider that the Giants led the league in sacks last year with 53 over 16 games.

"Honestly, I never paid attention to one word of the stuff that was supposed to be going on in here" Dallas offensive tackle Leonard Davis said. "I know that when it is time to play we have the type of players and team that will all pull together to play to win."

That is the feeling that Dallas owner Jerry Jones emphasized.

"You've got to believe in this group, stick together, work together, and we have no choice," Jones said. "This is family. Family does not have a choice. For family, it's worth it. This helps us deal with that tough loss at Pittsburgh and look forward to greater things. It gives us that bridge. We took some beatings in the public this week, but you expect it, and then you can deal with it. The players know I was right there with them this week getting my tail kicked, too. Winning helps solve that. Understanding that this team is family does, too."

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