Dallas looks to bounce back from a devastating loss Sunday night when it hosts a Giants team trying to clinch a first-round bye.
Last Sunday, New York (11-2) had its seven-game winning streak snapped with a 20-14 home loss to Philadelphia. Later in the day, Dallas (8-5) visited Pittsburgh with a chance to cut the Giants’ lead in the division to two games heading into this matchup.
The Cowboys had a 10-point advantage over the Steelers heading into the fourth quarter, but Pittsburgh scored two touchdowns in the last 2:04 to come away with a 20-13 victory and hand the Giants their first NFC East title since 2005.
“The way that game ended, it’s almost like a blur,” Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears said. “What happened?”
What happened is all too familiar to Dallas fans.
The Cowboys are 18-32 in regular-season games played in December or January since their last playoff victory back in 1996, and their remaining schedule is difficult.
Following this game against the defending Super Bowl champions, Dallas hosts Baltimore (9-4) and then visits division-rival Philadelphia (7-5-1) to end the regular season.
“Nobody wants to hear about the terrible Decembers we keep having, year in and year out,” cornerback Terence Newman said. “So we definitely have something to prove.”
Tony Romo may feel like he has something to prove after last week. Romo threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown only 24 seconds after Pittsburgh tied the game in the waning minutes.
“When the season is over and if we don’t make the playoffs, it’s obviously going to be very damaging,” said Romo, who threw three interceptions last week.
Dallas also had a chance to take control in the wild-card race with a win last Sunday, but is now tied with Atlanta for the last playoff spot. The Cowboys hold the tiebreaker over the Falcons, so if they can win out, a spot in the postseason is theirs.
“You say that’s what you want to do, you preach that’s what you’re going to try to get done, well, here’s the opportunity,” coach Wade Phillips said. “At least we have that opportunity.”
New York had an opportunity to clinch a first-round bye last week, but struggled against the Eagles. The Giants, though, refused to blame their poor showing on the situation involving suspended wide receiver Plaxico Burress.
“We have some cleaning up to do,” linebacker Danny Clark said Monday. “For all intents and purposes, it’s good that we got a little chip. We don’t feel good about the performance we had yesterday. At the end of the day, we took a shot under our chin. We are going to lick our wounds and bounce back.”
New York’s offense will be looking to get back on track. The Giants were held to their fewest points since their last loss, 35-14 at Cleveland on Oct. 13, and set season lows with 211 total yards and a time of possession of 25:06.
“Obviously guys are disappointed, but we are not hanging our heads, we are not moping around here,” quarterback Eli Manning said. “We know we have some big games ahead of us and right now we are playing to try to get better. Our goal is to get better and get back to playing our style of football.”
That style is running the ball, something New York has not done well the past few weeks. The Giants, who lead the NFL with 154.6 rushing yards per game, ran for 88 last Sunday and are averaging 94.3 over the last three contests.
Leading rusher Brandon Jacobs went over 1,000 yards for the season last week, but left the game after re-aggravating a left knee injury and will be unable to play Sunday.
Dallas is also dealing with an injury to its featured back, as Marion Barber missed last Sunday’s game because of a dislocated pinkie toe on his right foot. Owner Jerry Jones, though, said “he surprised me that he’s not here playing.”
Phillips said the team determined Barber couldn’t play, as opposed to Barber saying he couldn’t.
“He’s going to try and practice this week,” Phillips said. “I know he’s feeling better. I think he will be out there or try to be out there certainly. … He can play without practicing, and he may have to do that this week.”
Dallas won’t have cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones this week, and he could miss the rest of the season because of a neck injury.
“I think we’ve got enough guys healthy that we can make our run here,” Phillips said.
New York is expecting Dallas to do just that, especially after beating the Cowboys 35-14 on Nov. 2, when Romo was sidelined with a broken pinkie finger on his throwing hand.
“They are coming off a frustrating loss so we know they are in a must-win situation,” Manning said. “We have that philosophy also, they are fighting for a playoff berth and we’re fighting for home field and a first-round bye.”
New York lost 45-35 at Texas Stadium last regular season before winning 21-17 there in the divisional round of the playoffs.
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