New York Giants 28 – Dallas Cowboys 24

Game Overview: It was a great game with a storybook finish for the Giants and HB Tiki Barber. To beat the hated Dallas Cowboys with 11 seconds left in the game on a play that also gave Barber the franchise’s single-season rushing record seems like something out of bad movie script. (Ironically, last year in the Meadowlands against the Cowboys the Giants had also taken a 3-point lead with 11 seconds left in the game, but they had managed to blow that game). So ownership, management, coaches, players, and fans all head into the 2005 offseason feeling a bit better about the team.

That is a dangerous development. All that happened really on Sunday night is that a bad Giants’ team beat a bad Cowboys’ team – and just barely at that. Don’t read into it any more than that!

Don’t get me wrong. Winning the game was important. It should help the somewhat strained relationship (if overstated) between the head coach and players. It should help to build some confidence, especially with respect to QB Eli Manning and some of the other young guys on the team. It may actually encourage some veterans to say that playing for Coughlin is not such a bad thing after all (though that remains to be seen).

The danger is that ownership, management, and coaches may think this team does not need much help on the personnel front – other than staying healthy. This simply is not true. The Giants’ injury woes are a bit overstated. Many of the players on Injured Reserve are not key players and many will not even be on the team next year. Plus, injuries did not become a factor until later in the season. They were not the reason why the Giants lost to absolutely terrible teams like the Bears, Lions, and Cardinals.

The Giants will be better next year if they stay healthier. They will also be better simply because Eli Manning should be better, as well as a number of younger key contributors such as Jamaar Taylor, Tim Carter, David Diehl, Chris Snee, Osi Umenyiora, William Joseph, Kenderick Allen, Reggie Torbor, Frank Walker, Gibril Wilson, and Curtis Deloatch. But the Giants still lack play-makers on both offense and defense to seriously contend with the best teams in the NFL. The team still is not very physical either. There is a lot of work that needs to be done.

Quarterback: Continued, steady improvement by Eli Manning (18-of-27 for 144 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception). Manning did a good job of managing the game and making some plays despite being handicapped by his receivers. Ike Hilliard started, but hasn’t played well all year. David Tyree started for the injured Amani Toomer. The third receiver, Jamaar Taylor, is a rookie who had not played in weeks and was playing hurt (quad). Most importantly, Manning was missing his favorite target: TE Jeremy Shockey, who was out with a back injury.

The Giants’ first two drives of the game went nowhere. Manning badly overthrew Tyree on 1st-and-5 on the first drive and the Giants were forced to punt when two Barber runs did not pick up the 1st down. Manning did hit TE Marcellus Rivers for 6 yards coming off of the goal line on the second drive, but he never had a chance on 3rd-and-3 when he was sacked and the Giants were forced to punt again. On the third drive, the Giants put together a 14-play, 77-yard marathon. On the first play, Manning threw a very accurate deep pass (despite pressure in his face) to Tyree that was just tipped away by the defender. Manning then helped to methodically move the Giants downfield with short, but accurate passes to Tyree for gains of 6, 11 (with a defender right in his face), 9, and 9 yards. The last pass was an exceptionally accurate throw despite tight coverage. On 1st-and-goal from the 3-yard line, after a beautiful play-action fake, Manning missed a wide-open Tyree in the back of the endzone as he threw the ball both too hard and too high. But on 3rd-and-goal, Manning fired a very accurate ball to TE Visanthe Shiancoe for the touchdown despite good coverage.

The Giants were unable to move the football on their final two drives of the half. And Manning almost threw a pick on the last drive. So of the five Giants’ offensive possessions in the first half, four of them only picked up one 1st down. Some of this had to do with good Dallas defense and some mistakes by the Giants.

It was a different story in the second half. The Giants also had the ball for five possessions, but they scored touchdowns on three of the five drives (and one of the failed drives was a lengthy affair that ended with a fluke turnover). On the Giants’ first possession of the second half, the team moved the ball from their own 27-yard line to the Dallas 40-yard line. Manning fired a bullet to Rivers for 13 yards on 2nd-and-7. Two plays later on 2nd-and-2, he hit Hilliard for 7 yards on a rollout pass to the right. A holding penalty wiped out a 16-yard completion to Taylor on the next play. Manning then found Hilliard for 7 yards again on 1st-and-20. On 3rd-and-8, the drive ended when Barber never turned around for pass from Manning. The ball bounced off of Barber’s head and was intercepted.

The next time the Giants had the ball, there was only 40 seconds left in the 3rd quarter and the Giants were trailing 16-7. With pressure right in his face, Manning threw a perfect deep ball to Taylor, who was interfered with on the play, causing a 43-yard penalty. Two plays later, Manning made a great pump fake on a fake WR screen to Barber. The entire Dallas secondary bit on the play, leaving Tyree wide open for an easy 15-yard touchdown. After a Cowboys’ turnover, the Giants immediately got the ball back on the Dallas 20-yard line. Despite getting hit while he threw, Manning delivered a high pass to Tyree for 12 yards on 3rd-and-11. On 3rd-and-goal from the 3-yard line, Manning instinctively side-armed the ball around a Dallas defender on a quick toss Barber who ran the ball into the end zone (by the way, the Giants are lucky that a flag was not thrown on OC Shaun O’Hara for being illegally down field on this play). At this point in the game, the Giants took the lead 21-16.

The Giants’ fourth drive was a 3-and-out. Manning threw a 9-yard pass to Tyree, but Barber was stuffed on 3rd-and-1 and the Giants were forced to punt.

When Manning and the Giants got the ball again, New York was trailing again (24-21) and there was only 1:41 left on the clock. Manning only threw two passes on the game-winning drive, but he maintained his poise like a veteran throughout and made two big plays. The first was the first play of the drive, a short throw to Barber over the middle that ended up picking up 38 yards (a 23-yard catch-and-run by Barber plus a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty). On this play, Manning once again delivered the ball on target despite getting hit while he was throwing. The play moved the ball to the Dallas 28-yard line with 1:29 left in the game. Three Barber runs and a 5-yard pass to Rivers put the ball on the 3-yard line with 16 seconds left. With no timeouts left, Manning audibled out of the called pass play (the audible was built into the play by the coaching staff) and changed the play to a draw for Tiki. It was a risky play because if Tiki does not score, the Giants would have had to have quickly spiked the ball and settled for a game-tying field goal. But Manning correctly read the defense and that the safeties were playing back in coverage. Tiki did score and Manning walked off the field with his first win as the starting Giants’ quarterback.

Wide Receivers: Dallas’ weakest corner was on David Tyree and Tyree responded catching 7 passes for 71 yards and a touchdown. Indeed, Tyree was the go-to guy on the Giants’ first touchdown drive, catching four balls for a total of 35 yards. The Giants also sent Tyree deep in the first half, and Manning’s pass was just tipped away at the last second or a huge completion may have resulted. In the second half, Tyree got wide open for a 15-yard touchdown on a beautiful play called by the coaching staff (a fake WR screen). And Tyree made one of the biggest plays in the game by leaping for Manning’s high pass on 3rd-and-11 that kept the third touchdown drive alive.

Ike Hilliard finished off a horrible 2004 season with another disappointing effort: 3 catches for 22 yards.

Jamaar Taylor officially did not have a catch, but he made two good plays. The first was a 16-yard catch reception on the first drive that was wiped out due to a holding penalty. What was nice about the play was that, unlike Toomer, Taylor tried to do something with the football after the catch. Though the gain was minimal, I applaud the effort to try to break a big play. One of the biggest plays of the game was the 43-yard pass interference penalty on the deep pass to Taylor. Taylor most likely would have caught the ball if not interfered with.

Running Backs: Tiki Barber (24 carries for 94 yards, a 4.0 yards-per-carry average, 1 touchdown) became the Giants’ all-time leading rusher and single-season rushing record holder in the same game. Amazing! And he achieved the last mark on the game-winning touchdown carry with 11 seconds left. You can’t draw up a storybook finish any better than that. Congratulations Tiki! Lost in all of this news is the fact that Barber (3 receptions for 21 yards and 1 touchdown against Dallas) is currently the Giants’ all-time reception leader.

With a rookie quarterback in the lineup, a sub-par receiving corps, and Tiki Barber so close to two franchise records, the Cowboys’ defense loaded up against the run and made every yard a battle for Barber and the Giants. Barber really couldn’t get untracked early in the first half. His first carries went for gains of 1, 3, 0, and 1 (the third carry he was stuffed on a 3rd-and-1). Barber found a little bit of running room on the touchdown drive in the first half as his carries picked up 4 (plus a 15-yard face mask penalty), 6, 0, 11, 3, and 1. The 11-yard gain came on a 3rd-and-1 burst around left end. The last two drives of the first half only picked up one first down, but not because of the ground game – Barber picked up 9 and 7 yards on his last two carries of the 2nd quarter. However, Barber did get run over by Roy Williams on a safety blitz, causing Manning to rush his throw on a 3rd-and-3 deep pass to Rivers.

In the second half, the Giants began to wear down the Dallas defense some. On the first drive, Barber carried the ball for gains of 3, 8, and 5 yards. But on 3rd-and-8, Barber never turned around for Manning’s pass over the middle and the ball bounced off his head and was intercepted. This was really a bad mistake by Barber as the Giants were driving.

The Giants’ next possession was a three-play scoring drive with only one Barber run. But personally for Tiki, it was a monumental 4-yarder as it made Tiki the Giants all-time leading rusher

On the Giants’ next possession, it was Barber’s 3-yard reception on 3rd-and-goal that gave the Giants a 21-16 lead. However, after a Cowboys’ 3-and-out, Barber was stuffed on 1st-and-10. After a 9-yard pass play, Barber again stopped for no gain as Dallas safety Roy Williams blew the play up in the backfield. Had Barber cut outside of FB Jim Finn on this play, instead of inside, Tiki may have broken off a big run.

Barber was the star of the game on the final, game-winning drive. He turned a short pass over the middle into a 23-yard gain (with another 15 tacked on for the roughing the passer penalty). Barber then picked up 10 yards on a draw play out of the shotgun. He was tripped up on the same play for a minimal gain of 2 yards two plays later. But Barber ran with great authority and power on his absolutely huge 8-yard run to the right on 3rd-and-3, powering down to the 3-yard line. On 1st-and-goal from the 3, he scored on a draw play with 11 seconds remaining on the clock. The 3-yard run not only won the game, but gave Barber the franchise’s single-season rushing record. All told, Barber was responsible for 46 of the 66 yards on the drive.

How ironic was it that Ron Dayne’s last carry as a Giant was an effective 3-yard power run up the gut for 3 yards and a first down?

Jim Finn made a few nice blocks, including on the 11-yard gain on 3rd-and-1. However, he also did get stood up in the hole by a linebacker on one other carry by Barber.

Tight Ends: Marcellus Rivers (3 catches for 24 yards) started for Jeremy Shockey, splitting time at tight end with Visanthe Shiancoe (2 catches for 6 yards, 1 touchdown), though occasionally the two were on the field together. I thought this was one of Rivers’ better run blocking games at the down tight end position as he was often called upon to block the defensive end. He helped to spring Tiki on runs of 3, 6, and 9 yards in the first half. However, he did miss his pass block on a 3rd-and-13 rollout in his direction that caused Manning to unload the football sooner than desired. Rivers’ strong run blocking continued in the second half as he got good run blocks of Barber runs of 8, 5, and 10 yards. He also made a huge block on the 3-yard game-winning touchdown run. Only once did I see him getting handled and shoved back into the backfield, causing Barber to be stopped for no gain.

Shiancoe caught the 2-yard touchdown pass in the first half on 3rd-and-goal. I saw the defensive end he was attempting to block slip away from him on the play where Tiki’s facemask was pulled. But Shiancoe got a key block at the point-of-attack from the down position on Barber’s 11-yard gain on 3rd-and-1 on the first touchdown drive. He also got a good lead block from the H-Back position on the same drive.

Offensive Line: Special mention goes out to LG Jason Whittle who was playing with two broken ribs and a shoulder injury. Also, OC Shaun O’Hara has been playing on a terribly sore ankle for weeks. Also, LT Luke Petitgout’s back was giving him problems again down the stretch. This was a banged up group up front, but they gutted it out. This is where Coughlin’s message of toughness has started to seep in.

As mentioned above, the Giants were having a hard time on the ground as the Cowboys wisely were playing a lot of guys in the box to stop the run. It didn’t help matters on the first drive when Petitgout couldn’t take out the defensive end to his side on a play that only picked up 1 yard. Then on 3rd-and-1, the entire left side of the line (and pulling RG Wayne Lucier) got stood up on 3rd-and-1 and the Giants were forced to punt. The run blocking improved as Lucier made a couple of nice blocks on pulling efforts, including a 9-yard gain by Barber. Barber’s productivity increased in the second half with runs of 8 (good block by a pulling Whittle), 5 (Petitgout and Whittle), 4 (Petitgout and Whittle), 4 (Petitgout and Whittle), 10 (O’Hara and Lucier), 8 (RT David Diehl, Lucier, and Whittle), and 3 yards for a touchdown (O’Hara). Lucier did miss a block on a draw play on the last drive.

Pass protection was a little shaky, but pretty solid. Whittle gave up the lone sack near the Giants’ goal line on 3rd-and-3 in the first half, forcing the Giants to punt out of their own end zone. On the touchdown drive in the first half, Whittle was run over on the first play of the drive on the deep pass attempt to Tyree. Later on the same drive, O’Hara was bull-rushed right back into Manning’s face on an 11-yard completion to Tyree. In the second half, Whittle was flagged for holding, wiping out a 16-yard completion. On the 43-yard pass interference penalty, Greg Ellis beat a double team block by Diehl and Lucier to hit Manning as he threw. For some reason, Whittle tried to cut-block the defensive tackle in pass protection on the 3rd-and-11 completion to Tyree where Manning was hit again. On the game-winning drive, Manning was hit as he threw the 23-yarder to Barber with Lucier getting beat on the play.

Diehl played an excellent game against a quality opponent in DE Greg Ellis. Petitgout once again was called with a false start in a key situation on the final, game-winning touchdown drive. Fortunately, the Giants were able to overcome the penalty.

Defensive Line: It’s absolutely astounding to me that the Giants won this game with what was the most makeshift defensive line that I’ve ever seen ANY team play with. With Michael Strahan, Keith Washington, Lance Legree, William Joseph, Norman Hand, Kenderick Allen, Chuck Wiley, Lorenzo Bromell, and Regan Upshaw out, the Giants were left with only Fred Robbins (who was playing with a knee injury), Osi Umenyiora, Damane Duckett, Davern Williams, and Raheem Orr. The Giants played virtually the entire game with Robbins out of position at left defensive end, Duckett and Williams at defensive tackle, and Umenyiora at his normal right end spot (though he sometimes rushed from the left side). How bad was the depth situation? On the goal line, reserve offensive tackle Morgan Pears was forced to play on defense!!!

Dallas HB Julius Jones ran for 149 yards on 29 carries (a 5.1 yards-per-carry average). This productivity gives the impression that the Giants were regularly blown off the line of scrimmage up front. That is not true. The problem for the Giants was that Jones kept making defenders miss at the line of scrimmage. The Giants were actually pretty stout up front, they just couldn’t finish the play. Jones played an excellent game and he deserves much of the credit for the yardage that he gained.

As scary as it sounds, the heart of the defense on Sunday night was Davern Williams and Damane Duckett. Williams was drafted in the 7th round of the 2003 NFL Draft by the Dolphins but later cut. Duckett is undrafted rookie free agent who the Panthers waived. Not only did both have to start, but they both had to play virtually the entire game (Williams sometimes came off the field, but Duckett played every snap). Any you know what? These guys did pretty good. Keep in mind that Duckett (5 tackles, 1 sack) was playing over future Hall of Famer Larry Allen. Granted Allen is nearing the end of the line, but there were plays where Duckett simply whipped his butt. On the first offensive series of the game, Duckett overpowered the Cowboys’ center to sack QB Vinny Testerverde on 3rd-and-7, forcing a punt. On the next series, Duckett got easily knocked to the ground on a screen pass, but he hustled to his feet and tackled HB Julius Jones for no gain (along with Curtis Deloatch). Duckett then flashed ability by defeating his blocker on a few plays, but was not able to finish the play as he missed tackles on Jones. For example, Duckett missed Jones in the backfield on Dallas’ third offensive possession and Jones turned a loss into a 6-yard gain. Later in the 2nd quarter, Duckett made a great play by standing up Allen, tossing the big guard aside, but he then missed the tackle on Jones in the hole and a 20-yard gain resulted. Duckett missed another tackle on Jones on Dallas’ last drive of the half. But the ability to stand his ground and/or beat the block was impressive. The Giants may have something in Duckett. In the second half, Duckett combined with LB Nick Greisen to stuff a draw and then got a good pass rush on the following play. On the Dallas drive that regained the lead late in the 4th quarter, he and Williams tackled Jones for a 1-yard loss. But then he and Williams got effectively blocked on a 13-yard run up the gut (one of the few times both got exploited at the point-of-attack). Duckett also got blocked on the 4-yard run the moved the ball down to the 1-yard line, but Duckett had to be sucking wind at this point.

Williams (6 tackles, 0.5 sacks) combined with FS Brent Alexander to penetrate into the backfield to nail Jones on a 2-yard loss in the 2nd quarter. Williams did a nice job in the second half of not only playing pretty tough at the point-of-attack, but he also flowed down the line of scrimmage to gum up some of Jones’ runs. He combined with Duckett on a 1-yard loss. A couple of plays later, he shared a sack with LB Reggie Torbor as Williams overpowered the right guard.

Osi Umenyiora (9 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble) was active. On the second Dallas series, he beat LT Flozell Adams to the inside and tackled Jones forcefully for a 3-yard loss. The Cowboys were able to run at Umenyiora on one 7-yard run to his side in the 2nd quarter. But on the next series, Osi again penetrated into the backfield to cause a 2-yard loss by Jones. In the second half, Umenyiora had some problems with runs in his direction he was blocked on runs of 5, 5, and 7 yards. But he also made a nice play against Jones from the backside in pursuit. Osi’s biggest play of the game was beating Adams to the outside on a speed rush right after the Giants had cut the score to 16-14. Umenyiora slapped the ball out of Testaverde’s hands and the Giants recovered the fumble. It was a huge play in the football game. On Dallas’ drive that regained the lead, Umenyiora was very stout on HB Eddie George’s sole carry of the game and then stuffed Jones on 3rd-and-goal from the 1-yard line (along with Greisen). On Dallas’ last offensive play of the game, an attempted Hail Mary, Umenyiora got good heat on Testaverde despite being part of only a 3-man rush. It also looked like he got a piece of the football as Testaverde released it.

Fred Robbins (2 tackles) toughed it out at a strange position for him, left defensive end. (Robbins started games at all four defensive line positions in 2004). Robbins penetrated into the backfield on Dallas’ third possession of the game, but he could not bring down Jones with one arm and a loss turned into a 9-yard gain. In the 2nd quarter, Jones picked up 13 yards to Robbins’ side as Fred got caught too far inside. On Dallas’ last possession of the half, Robbins got some heat on Testaverde on one pass play that fell incomplete. Then on the next play, playing nose tackle in a 3-4 set, he did a great job of defeating the double-team block to tackle Jones for no gain on 3rd-and-1. In the second half, Robbins caused the right tackle to hold him on a running play in his direction, leading to a 10-yard penalty. But a few plays later, Robbins got blocked on an 11-yard carry to his side. Then on the next play, he stuffed Jones for a 1-yard gain. Robbins got a good pass rush on Testaverde to help cause an incompletion on a later drive.

Linebackers: Not a real strong performance. And if the Giants’ defense wants to reach another level, the personnel department needs to find some impact linebackers for this team, preferably with some speed.

Carlos Emmons (5 tackles) probably played the strongest game of the trio, but by no means stood out. Still, he is a guy who can play the run and cover. His experience and leadership are assets too. However, I did spot him missing a tackle on one 7-yard run by Jones on 3rd-and-1. Emmons also got blocked on the 13-yard run by Jones in the 2nd quarter.

It was another non-descript game for Kevin Lewis (5 tackles, 1 pass defense). Lewis took the wrong angle on Jones on the aforementioned 13-yard run. Lewis’ best play of the game was his coverage on TE Jason Witten on a 3rd-and-5 pass that fell incomplete largely due to his tight coverage. On Dallas’ last touchdown drive, Lewis not only misread a draw play by Jones that picked up 13 yards, but he also missed a tackle. Lewis did help to stuff Eddie George on his goal line carry, but he was then effectively blocked on the 4th-and-goal touchdown run by Jones.

Nick Greisen (8 tackles, 1 pass defense) did not play well. He got burned badly on Jones 37-yard reception out of the backfield in the 1st quarter (Greisen’s lack of athleticism really showed up on this play). Then on the next series, Jones out-ran Greisen to the corner on the 9-yard run where Robbins penetrated into the backfield. Later, there was a 7-yard run by Jones to the left on a play where Greisen took himself out of the play by gambling on an inside run. Late in the 2nd quarter, Nick missed a tackle on Jones on a 6-yard gain. In the second half, Greisen made a nice play on Jones by reading the cutback and making a sure tackle on a 2-yard gain. But a few plays later, he missed a tackle in the open field on Jones on a screen play, turning what should have been a loss into a 7-yard gain (this was an important play on Dallas’ first touchdown drive). A few plays after that, Greisen combined with Davern Williams to stuff a draw, but he then got burned on a cutback run that picked up 7 yards and misread a Jones run that picked up another 11 yards. In the 4th quarter, Nick had good coverage on WR Quincy Morgan on a sideline pass, causing an incompletion. On Dallas’ last touchdown drive, Greisen fell down in coverage on Witten and a 23-yard completion resulted. Greisen did make a nice play on 3rd-and-goal from the 1-yard line as he hurdled over a blocker to stuff Jones (along with Umenyiora).

Reggie Torbor (3 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 fumble recovery) played quite a bit again. He once again saw time both at right defensive end and linebacker (though he seemed to be at linebacker a bit more this week than had been the case). I was really impressed with the way he hustled and out-fought a Cowboy for the loose ball on the fumble that Umenyiora caused. This recovery set the Giants up on the Dallas 20-yard line, leading to a go-ahead score. On Dallas’ last scoring drive where they regained the lead, Tobor rushed from the linebacker position, threw Jones aside, and got in on a sack of Testaverde. However, Torbor got faked out of his shoes by Jones on a subsequent run that picked up 23 yards and which should have been stuffed at the line of scrimmage (Torbor was unblocked on the play). On the very next play, Torbor, Umenyiora, and Lewis stuffed George on the goal line, but Torbor got effectively blocked on the the following 4-yard run by Jones and then the 1-yard touchdown run on 4th-and-goal. To be fair to Torbor, the last run was a tough assignment as the undermanned defensive line and coaching staff guessed wrong as the defense chose to put their beef in the middle and to the strongside of the formation. When the Cowboys ran left, there was little out there to stop them (especially when Fred Robbins penetrated away from the play).

Defensive Backs: A somewhat frustrating game for this group. Much of Testaverde’s success (23-of-30 for 231 yards and at touchdown) had to do with weak linebacker coverage. Plus, Testaverde was simply extremely sharp. However, while the Giants’ defensive backs did not give up the big pass play (Greisen did that), Testaverde and the Cowboys were able to nickel-and-dime the Giants almost to death. And while the defensive backs usually had good coverage on the play, they were unable to make a play on the football. Very frustrating!

This week, Curtis Deloatch saw more playing time than Frank Walker (the Giants flip-flop between these two depending upon the opponent). And Curry Burns started his second game at strong safety.

CB Will Allen’s frustrating year continued. Allen (6 tackles, 2 pass defenses) did a real nice job of slapping at TE Jason Witten’s arm as a perfectly-thrown deep ball from Testerverde arrived, causing the pass to fall incomplete. Two plays later, Allen played a 3rd-and-4 slant pass to Keyshawn Johnson well, but dropped yet another interception (the Cowboys kicked a field goal immediately after this). Obviously, the drops have become a mental thing for him now. If he had held onto all of the passes that hit him in the hands this year (including a couple that may have been returned for touchdowns), fan perception of his ability would have drastically changed. In the 2nd quarter, Allen was playing too far off his man and then missed the tackle on a short completion that turned into a 12-yard gain. In the second half, on Dallas’ first touchdown drive, Allen was beaten despite tight coverage on a perfectly thrown sideline pass by Testaverde for 9 yards. Three plays later, Allen was beat again on a 9-yard completion where he also missed the tackle. Then, once again, despite tight coverage, Allen was out-positioned and out-fought for the football by Witten for a 7-yard reception and the touchdown. On Dallas’ last touchdown drive, Allen misread the play and ran right by Jones on a 23-yard run.

CB Will Peterson (7 tackles) regained his starting spot and played decently. He did give up an 11-yard out in the 2nd quarter. Later, he made a nice tackle on Witten holding the big tight end to a 3-yard gain on 2nd-and-4. However, two plays later Witten stiff-armed Peterson en route to a 9-yard gain. On the very next play, Peterson knocked away a deep pass intended for WR Quincy Morgan. Peterson also gave up a huge 9-yard completion on a 3rd-and-4 slant despite tight coverage on Dallas’ first touchdown drive of the second half.

Deloatch (4 tackles) made a nice play on a screen pass early in the game, stuffing Jones for no gain. He did give up a 9-yard reception on 2nd-and-12 in the 2nd quarter and later missed a tackle on Witten on another 9-yard completion. Deloatch had tight coverage on Witten in the end zone on the 2-point conversion attempt, but the ball got by him and Witten scored the two points all the same.

SS Curry Burns (9 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception, and 1 pass defense) played well. His sack was of the gimme variety as Testaverde fell down on the play. And Burns was fooled on the 18-yard flea flicker to Johnson. However, on the very next play, he was not fooled at all on the trick wide receiver pass. He stayed with Witten all the way and only broke off from him when he saw the ball was underthrown. An easy interception was the result and Cowboys’ scoring threat ended. Burns did get beat on a big 8-yard completion to Witten on 3rd-and-7 on Dallas’ first touchdown drive of the second half. A few plays later, he made an excellent play in the flat by tackling Jones for a 2-yard loss on a swing pass.

CB/S Terry Cousin got beat for 19 yards on a key 4th-and-1 completion right before halftime. This allowed the Cowboys to kick a field goal as time expired at the end of the first half and take a 9-7 lead.

FS Brent Alexander (5 tackles) got faked out of his shoes by Jones on a blitz where he should have tackled Jones in the backfield for a loss, but a 4-yard gain resulted instead (as you can see, the Giants missed a lot of tackles on the very elusive Jones). But Alexander later combined with Davern Williams to tackle Jones in the backfield for a 3-yard loss. On Dallas’ first touchdown drive in the second half, Alexander got blocked at the point-of-attack on an 11-yard gain. But give Alexander credit, he played hurt most of the game.

Special Teams: Willie Ponder deserves a lot of credit for playing hurt, but the Cowboys did a good job at shutting both him and Derrick Ward down on kickoff returns. Ponder returned the ball twice for only 9 and 26 yards. Ward’s two returns went for 20 and 17 yards. Marcellus Rivers almost cost the Giants the game by fumbling the ball on Dallas’ kickoff after their last score with less than two minutes in the game.

Ike Hilliard, filling in for the injured Mark Jones, returned two punts: one for 15 yards and the other for 8 yards.

Kickoff coverage was good, but a big problem continues to be Steve Christie’s poor kickoffs. His five kickoffs were fielded at the 7, 17, 17, 8, and 33 (the last being a squib kick). Dallas returns went for 19 (Mike Cloud on the tackle), 21 (Curtis Deloatch), 2 (muffed catch), 21 (Derrick Ward), and 4 yards (David Tyree).

Jeff Feagles punted five times for a 43.6 yards-per-punt average. Dallas returned three of those punts for 11 (Reggie Torbor and Jack Brewer), 5 (Ward), and 5 yards (Torbor).

David Tyree gets a lot of press, but some of the most consistent coverage men all year were Torbor, Ward, and Brewer. Torbor was flagged for holding, however, on an extra point attempt.

(Box Score – Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, January 2, 2005)