Dallas’ stunning victory over the New York Giants in the teams’ first meeting of the season helped send the Cowboys on a run for the playoffs.
It was also the first of several nightmarish Giants defeats that eventually cost coach Jim Fassel his job.
The Cowboys go for a sweep of their NFC East rivals and look to clinch a postseason spot when they take on the Giants four days after Fassel was fired.
Despite the hiring of Bill Parcells as coach, few expected Dallas to get things turned around so quickly after three consecutive 5-11 seasons. But the Cowboys’ amazing victory over the Giants in Week 2 started a five-game winning streak, and Dallas is now a victory away from clinching a spot in the playoffs.
The Cowboys looked to be headed to their second straight loss to start Parcells’ tenure on Sept. 15, as Dallas blew a 15-point fourth-quarter lead and trailed by three. But Billy Cundiff kicked a 52-yard field goal on the final play of regulation after the Giants’ Matt Bryant put his kickoff out of bounds following his go-ahead field goal with 11 seconds remaining.
Bryant’s botched squib kick had given the ball to the Cowboys on their own 40-yard line, and Cundiff sent the game to overtime with his long kick two plays later. He then booted a 25-yard field goal with 5:56 left in the extra period to give the Cowboys a shocking 35-32 victory in the Monday night contest.
Fifteen weeks later, Parcells’ Cowboys can earn a trip to the postseason with a win over the Giants. Dallas can also make it into the playoffs this week if it ties New York and one of several complicated scenarios comes to pass in the NFC race.
The Cowboys moved to the brink of a playoff spot last week by defeating Washington 27-0 to break a two-game losing streak.
“I kind of put their backs against the wall a little bit,” said Parcells, whose team came in after losing to Miami and Philadelphia by a combined 45 points. “And they responded well.”
Dallas, looking to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 1999, is still alive in the race for the NFC East title, but needs to win its last two games and have the Eagles lose their last two in order to capture the division crown.
“I’m happy about (Sunday’s victory), but my standards are a little higher than nine wins,” Parcells said. “I would like to try to get above that.”
He has a good chance to do so against a Giants team that has shown little life during a six-game losing streak, and only slightly resembles the club that faced Dallas in Week 2 because of a rash of injuries.
While New York bounced back after the loss to the Cowboys with an overtime victory over the Redskins the following week, the Giants dropped their next three and no longer looked like a team that was expected to compete for a Super Bowl berth.
Last week’s 45-7 blowout at New Orleans was the low point of New York’s season, and Fassel’s dismissal, all but a certainty, finally happened Wednesday. He will coach the final two games of the season.
“It’s time. They need a change, I need a change. It’s the right thing to do,” said Fassel, who took over as Giants coach before the 1997 season.
New York, in the midst of its longest losing streak in 10 years, will likely be without starting quarterback Kerry Collins and tight end Jeremy Shockey again this week. Jesse Palmer made his first NFL start against the Saints and went 15-of-26 for 140 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.