The Dallas Cowboys held on 36-31 to defeat the New York Giants on Opening Night. 73-year old defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s debut featured his unit forcing three fumbles, three interceptions, and two defensive touchdowns. The “old man” and his defensive genius helped the Cowboys earn their first victory over the New York Giants in AT&T Stadium since its 2009 inception, a feat that Cowboys tight end Jason Witten described in postgame comments as, “getting the monkey off our back.”
Tony Romo and the Dallas offense were no slouches on this evening. The $108-million dollar quarterback went 36/49 for 263, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception. DeMarco Murray rushed the ball 20 times for 86 yards and no scores. While many predicted Dez Bryant would set the league on far starting in Week 1, it was Miles Austin, from his slot position, that led the offense in 72 yards on 10 catches. Jason Witten also had 8 catches for 70 yards, though he was the only receiving option responsible for Romo’s two touchdowns. Even DeMarco Murray’s 8 receptions for 39 yards was better than Dez Bryant’s 4 catches for 22 yards.
Is this because Dez Bryant is a fraud? No, it’s because he’s that good. The Giants kept double coverage on the fourth-year wide out all night. Consequently, it was all about finding the open receiver, a luxury Romo had since the offensive line only surrendered one sack out of his 51 dropbacks. As experts had foreseen, the coverage of Dez Bryant would create opportunities for a healthy Miles Austin.
The Cowboys defense gave its offense six free opportunities. The first one came on the Giants’ opening play when Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Ware dropped back into coverage on a screen and picked off Eli Manning.
From the New York 15, Murray for rushed for 3 yards. A false start on left tackle Tyron Smith backed up the Cowboys to the New York 17, and then Murray gained 4 yards on a halfback flair to the left side. After a third down incompletion, Dan Bailey nailed a 30-yard field goal to give the Cowboys the first points of the season.
On the Giants’ ensuing drive, Hakeem Nicks caught a crossing route ball for 59 yards. Eli Manning hit Reuben Randle down the middle for 15 yards on 3rd and 10 to take the Giants to the Dallas 8 yard line. On the next play, safety Barry Church stripped Giants runningback David Wilson before his knee could count him down and the play over. In the scrum George Selvie recovered the football and prevented 7 points.
The Cowboys couldn’t do anything to advance the football for a score of any kind, so they punted it back to the Giants. Within four plays, off-season safety acquisition Will Allen picked off Eli Manning, the quarterback’s second pick of the game. On the Cowboys’ immediate possession, Dallas’ first, second, and third round picks from the 2013 draft stalled the drive. Center Travis Frederick and Tony Romo had a bad snap exchange, but Romo fell on it quickly to save the possession. Tony Romo threw a ball to no one in the end zone, though someone should have been there. That someone was second round tight end Gavin Escobar, who lost his shoe on the fade route. On 3rd and 11, third round rookie wide receiver Terrance Williams ran the wrong route that caused an interception, and would have been a picksix if not for DeMarco Murray’s hustle to save it at the 1 yard line and the Cowboys defense’s valiant stop to only make it a field goal.
It wasn’t until the Cowboys’ fifth drive in the second quarter that they were able to run their ballyhooed hurry-up offense. The Cowboys were quickly moving the ball down the field and preventing the Giants from subbing their defensive line personnel. It was so furious that Giants defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins dropped to the ground holding his ankle. The gamesmanship prompted Jason Witten to run screaming at the official that Jenkins was, “faking it.” Nothing could stop the Cowboys offense, not even the Giants’ alleged fakery. The Cowboys scored a touchdown on a Jason Witten 15-yard catch to go up 13-3.
Victor Cruz yet again proved how dangerous he is on the NFL scene, that he is more than a salsa dancer. His three touchdown passes were the only ones Eli Manning threw the entire night, and also the scores that kept the game close for the Giants. The largest lead the Cowboys had on the evening was 27-10. Cruz’s touchdowns brought the Giants’ deficit to 6 points at 30-24 with 2:41 left in the final quarter. The Giants were driving down the field purposefully, just as Eli Manning had done 24 times in his career to comeback. However, after the two-minute warning, Brandon Carr showed why Jerry Jones “paid retail” on him during the 2012 free agency. The sixth-year cornerback picked off Eli Manning for a 49-yard touchdown to ice the game 36-24 upon a failed two-point conversion. A Giants touchdown would close the gap to five points, but an unsuccessful onside kick would grant Dallas their first victory against the Giants in AT&T Stadium.
The Cowboys did suffer some injuries to key players. On Dallas’ penultimate play in the first half, two Giants defenders crushed Romo. He lied on the turf, face down, and in pain. Though walking off on his own power and grimacing on the bench, the Cowboys medical staff ruled he had the wind knocked out. Then, Dez Bryant had his ankle rolled on by Giants cornerback Aaron Ross. Bryant returned to the game to nearly catch a two-point conversion. Similarly, Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne collided with Giants tight end Brandon Myers and had to leave the game but eventually returned.
George Selvie made plays that will help Anthony Spencer heal quicker. The fifth-year journeyman sacked Eli Manning once and recovered a fumble. Linebacker Bruce Carter also made plays that behooved the defense, chiefly his own sack on Eli Manning.
Referee Tony Corrente once again favored the home team. The Dallas Cowboys had 5 penalties for 40 yards, while the New York Giants had 6 penalties for 52 yards.
At 1-0, the Dallas Cowboys will now travel to Kansas City next Sunday to face the 1-0 Chiefs, who defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road 28-2. The noon Central Time game gives the Cowboys a chance to start off 2-0, something they have not done since 2008.