IRVING, Texas (AP)—Drew Bledsoe stood grim-faced on the sideline, his fingers locked inside the collar of his jersey, a visor pulled over his eyes. The New York Giants already had their way with him—and now they were doing the same to his backup.
After Bledsoe’s sack-filled first half performance ended in an interception, Tony Romo trotted in to start the second, when he was greeted by a standing ovation and chants of his last name.
Then, on his first snap, Romo threw an interception.
While Romo sparked the offense at times with more mobility than Bledsoe’s ever had, the mistakes he made with his arm overshadowed anything he did with his feet.
Michael Strahan and the Giants finished with six sacks, four interceptions and a 36-22 victory Monday night that leaves them firmly in control of the supposedly tough NFC East.
“I thought after the last few weeks, and the way we rushed the passer, they would’ve protected a little bit more than they did in the first half. I’m glad they didn’t,” said Strahan, who had only one sack coming in.
Eli Manning got New York (4-2) rolling with a 50-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress on just the fifth play and rookie Kevin Dockery sealed the victory by returning the final of four interceptions 96 yards for a touchdown with 2:38 left. In between, the Giants made plenty of other big plays while avoiding the mistakes that doomed Dallas (3-3).
Among the highlights were two sacks by Strahan, tying Lawrence Taylor’s club career record; a safety by LaVar Arrington; 114 yards rushing by Tiki Barber and a 3-yard touchdown run by his backup, Brandon Jacobs, which he celebrated with a T.O.-like dance on the Cowboys’ star logo in the end zone.
“I’m ashamed to put a team out there playing like that,” Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said. “They out-everything-ed us. It was a very poor performance.”
Parcells also made sure the Bledsoe-Romo debate lingers for at least a few more days, saying he doesn’t know what he’s going to do, noting that he doesn’t have to decide until Sunday.
“I have to think that over,” Parcells said.
Tension is already thick between the quarterbacks. Romo said he never heard a word from Bledsoe, and the 14-year veteran was the first one off the field, then left the locker room quickly.
It fits his career-long pattern: He wasn’t exactly chummy with Tom Brady after losing his job to him in New England. Then Buffalo traded Bledsoe to Dallas because he believed he should still be a starter, and wasn’t interested in grooming J.P. Losman.
“Whoever is back there, we have to ride with it,” Terrell Owens said.
The Cowboys should’ve known what was coming. New York sacked Michael Vick seven times the previous week.
Bledsoe’s undoing actually was his only turnover, when Sam Madison picked off a potential go-ahead pass into the end zone late in the second quarter.
While Romo avoided pressure and threw some pretty passes, his miscues were too much to overcome. He started with Dallas down only five and rallied them back to within 11, but couldn’t get the job done. He threw a 53-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Crayton after his third pickoff, but it was too little, too late.
“I don’t feel very good about the situation right now,” Romo said. “I definitely would have liked to have performed better. Hopefully next week that will change.”
New York should be happy now that it has beaten each division foe—Dallas (3-3), Washington and Philadelphia—and gets to play its next three game at home.
However, the Giants also come away facing two serious injuries: Arrington tore his left Achilles tendon and is likely out for the season, and defensive end Osi Umenyiora missed most of the second half with a strained hip.
Manning was 12-of-26 for 189 yards and two touchdowns, with an interception. Tiki Barber retained his NFL rushing lead by gaining 114 yards on 27 carries, but also had a fumble in the second quarter.
Bledsoe was 7-of-12 for 111 yards. Romo, whose only experience in four NFL season was going 2-for-2 at the end of last week’s lopsided win over Houston, was 14-of-25 for 227 yards with two touchdowns.
New York jumped ahead 12-0 behind the deep pass to Burress, Arrington’s safety and a field goal after a 44-yarder to Burress. Dallas made it 12-7 on a drive that featured several big plays by Terrell Owens, and a tough 1-yard TD run by Bledsoe to finish it off.
Barber’s fumble followed and the Cowboys were driving for the go-ahead score when Bledsoe threw a terrible pass aimed at Terry Glenn that Madison read the entire way and easily picked off.
Romo flashed his mobility in his first play to open the second half, rolling out to his right. But Strahan followed close enough to swat the pass high into the air and linebacker Antonio Pierce caught it at the Dallas 14. Three plays later, Manning hit Jeremy Shockey for a touchdown.
Romo’s next drive was better—and might’ve led to points—if Owens hadn’t dropped a pass on fourth-and-2 at the New York 32. T.O. was so wide open that he probably was thinking more about the run than making sure he had the catch.
Manning answered with a drive that soaked up half the quarter, ending with Jacobs’ TD run.
Romo threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Owens on the next drive, capping it with a keeper to run in the 2-point conversion. Then the Dallas defense forced a quick punt and things got interesting again.
But after moving the Cowboys to the Giants’ 30, Romo was sacked, then double-clutched an ugly short pass that was easily intercepted by lineman Fred Robbins on the next play. Jay Feely followed with a 32-yard field goal, his second of the game, and New York was up by 14 with 3:58 left.
Romo’s attempt at a Brett Favre-like scrambling rally fizzled when Dockery, a rookie playing his fourth game, caught a pass intended for Crayton and ran it all the way back, with Romo the last one he beat. ^Notes: The Giants also played the second half without cornerback Frank Walker, who strained a hamstring. … Bledsoe has two rushing TDs this season, 10 in his career. … Before the game, Hank Williams Jr. got out of an oversized pickup truck and hollered his signature line, “Are you ready for some football?” He then went to the Dallas sideline and shook hands with Parcells, Bledsoe and Owens.