The New York Giants will try to get their offense going early and keep the Dallas Cowboys from establishing their running game as the NFC East rivals meet with first place on the line at Giants Stadium.
New York and Dallas are locked in a tie for first place in the NFC East with identical 7-4 records. The Cowboys hold the tiebreaker after beating the Giants in overtime, 16-13, in a mistake-filled game back on Oct. 16.
“This is a huge game,” said New York tight end Jeremy Shockey. “This is the ‘Game of the Year’ for the Giants. Dallas is prepared and I promise that we’ll be ready.”
Late comebacks and narrow defeats are becoming trademarks for the Giants, who have lost two of their last three games by a combined six points.
Quarterback Eli Manning has shown a knack for guiding New York into scoring position late in games, but the Giants’ offense has not played with the same sense of urgency during the first three quarters.
“If we’d start the same way, we wouldn’t be in the same situations we are in,” New York running back Tiki Barber said Wednesday. “We should be able to play with offensive urgency and consistency that allows these games to not have to come down to the last two minutes.”
In their first meeting with Dallas, the Giants tied the game in the final seconds only to have the Cowboys get the ball first in overtime and win on a 45-yard field goal by the since-released Jose Cortez.
The Dallas loss is part of a pattern in which the Giants have moved the ball effectively when they have had no choice: in late fourth-quarter touchdown drives that tied games against Dallas, Minnesota and Seattle and won a game against Denver. The first three games were all losses.
“That’s been our M.O.,” said Barber. “When we have to score, we do it. But it should never come to that.”
Giants kicker Jay Feely missed three field goals, including two in overtime, as New York fell to the Seattle Seahawks 24-21 last Sunday. The Giants committed 11 false-start penalties, squandering a chance to take sole possession of first place.
“You look at the numbers we put up, offensively and defensively, and you say, `How do we lose the football game?”’ said wide receiver Plaxico Burress. “It’s mistakes. That’s how it happens in this business. Going into the last part of the season, those things have to be eliminated.”
The Giants are the third-most penalized team in the NFL this season.
Dallas must get its struggling ground game going against the Giants to take pressure off quarterback Drew Bledsoe against New York’s improved pass rush.
“The run game isn’t exactly what I’d like it to be, but I think the potential to have a good running game is here,” Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said Wednesday. “Although our numbers are not good, the running game has contributed significantly to our record.”
Giants defensive end Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora have been relentless on quarterbacks this season. Strahan has 7.5 sacks and Umenyiora leads the team with 10 after beating Seahawks All-Pro tackle Walter Jones for two last weekend.
“I understand the way we’re trying to play here, I really do,” Bledsoe said. “Do I want to drop back and throw it a bunch? Yeah, that’s fun … At the same time, you do that, you bring a lot of risk into the game that you don’t want to have.”
The Cowboys, who average 34 rushing plays per game, lead the NFL in time of possession at 33 1/2 minutes. Dallas will continue to be stubborn about running the ball, even if the yards aren’t overwhelming (116.9 yards per game).
“You choose to do things for reasons other than what appears to be,” Parcells said. “You choose to do things strategically not only to combat your opponents but to attempt to assist your own people.”
The Cowboys have their two lowest rushing totals of the season in the three games since Julius Jones returned from an ankle injury.
The Cowboys had a season-low 58 rushing yards against Philadelphia, then after 149 yards against a Detroit team missing several defensive starters, had 85 in a 24-21 overtime loss to the Denver Broncos on Thanksgiving.