Eli Manning and the New York Giants finally have something to show for all their hard work — first place in the NFC East.
On the verge of being knocked to the edge of the playoff chase, Manning led the Giants to two touchdowns in the final 3:14 and Jason Pierre-Paul blocked a field goal as time expired, giving New York a 37-34 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night.
“Good to get that winning feeling again,” Manning said.
New York ended a frustrating four-game losing streak filled mostly with narrow losses to division leaders. The Giants (7-6) appeared headed to another setback when they were trailing 34-22 with 5:41 left, but a series of clutch plays on their part and meltdowns by Dallas reshaped the division race.
With three weeks left, these clubs are tied atop the NFC East. New York has the inside track and will host Dallas in a season-ending rematch on New Year's Day.
“This is huge, another fourth-quarter comeback,” Manning said. “Last week we had something similar (against Green Bay) and couldn't hold onto it. This week we held on it and got the win. … Now we know we have a tough road ahead of us. It's going to come down to the final weeks to win games.”
The Cowboys lost their second straight, both in dramatic, frustrating fashion that involved missed kicks by rookie Dan Bailey, who'd been so good for so long this season. The really bad news for Dallas was running back DeMarco Murray breaking his right ankle, ending his record-setting rookie season.
“We certainly know we've got our work cut out for us,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a brief statement.
Manning was 27 of 47 for 400 yards and two touchdowns. He was intercepted once, on a tipped pass, and it led to a touchdown that appeared to put the game away for Dallas.
But Manning came back with a pair of touchdown drives. The first went 80 yards in eight plays, capped by an 8-yard touchdown pass to Jake Ballard. The New York defense had allowed Tony Romo to throw touchdown passes on the two previous possessions, but it forced a punt, and it was a short one. Then the Dallas defense had two penalties that helped scoot along a drive capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Brandon Jacobs, with D.J. Ware adding a 2-point conversion.
Romo hit Miles Austin for a pair of long gains that gave Bailey a chance to force overtime. He made a 47-yarder that ended up not counting because New York coach Tom Coughlin called a timeout. His second try was denied by Pierre-Paul, who already had contributed an early sack for a safety, and also forced a fumble.
“I rushed the center, put my hands up and got the block,” Pierre-Paul said.
Jacobs ran for 101 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. Hakeem Nicks had seven catches for 154 yards, including an early 64-yarder. Mario Manningham had two catches for 62 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown.
“Guys stepped up and made some big plays,” Manning said.
Romo was 21 of 31 for 321 yards with four touchdowns, two in the fourth quarter.
Laurent Robinson caught four passes for 137 yards and a touchdown, with a 74-yarder. Austin, who'd missed the previous six weeks with a hamstring injury, caught four passes for 63 yards with a touchdown. Dez Bryant's only catch was a 50-yard touchdown that put Dallas up by 12 in the fourth.
Felix Jones ran for 106 yards, and caught six passes for 31 yards. He started the season as Dallas' featured running back, and will end it that way, too, now that Murray is gone. The rookie got his foot twisted awkwardly at the end of an 8-yard run in the first quarter. He finished his season with 899 yards, with a franchise-record 253 coming in one game.
“This one's going to hurt, it's going to sting, but we've got to figure out how to do things a little better and play our best game of the season next week,” Romo said.
Both teams came in knowing this was a huge swing game. And, for the first 55 minutes, neither team led by more than five points.
The Giants got the scoring going with Pierre-Paul's sack of Romo for a safety. The 64-yarder to Nicks gave them a first-and-goal from the 5 and a chance to really break things open, but they settled for a field goal, and soon found themselves trailing 7-5.
After the teams traded touchdowns, leaving Dallas still ahead by two points, Pierre-Paul forced Jones to fumble and New York recovered at the Dallas 14. But the Giants again managed only a field goal, albeit to take the lead.
Bailey made a 49-yard field goal as time expired to put the Cowboys on top again, and he made another 49-yarder in the third quarter.
Manningham's touchdown put New York back in front, but then Dallas seemed to put the game away with touchdowns by Austin and Bryant. Only, it wasn't enough.
The Cowboys have lost six straight Sunday night games. They are 0-3 against the Giants at Cowboys Stadium. Romo also continued his trend of soaring in November, then slumping in December.
“We need to get a win next week and get back going,” Romo said.