IRVING, Texas (AP)—The juiced-up defense that Wade Phillips supposedly is bringing to the Dallas Cowboys isn’t here yet.
Barber got things rolling with an 18-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-1, Owens added two highlight-reel touchdown catches and Tony Romo made up for a late interception with a 51-yard touchdown pass to Sam Hurd to seal a 45-35 victory over the injury-depleted New York Giants on Sunday night.
Romo threw for a career-high 345 yards and four touchdowns, plus ran for another score, as the Cowboys opened by the Phillips era by matching the most points they ever scored the last four years under Bill Parcells.
Dallas needed them all, though, because the Phillips 3-4 defense gave up 438 yards and lots of big plays, turning a potential blowout into a nail-biter. The Cowboys were up by only a field goal when Hurd took a slant and turned it into the game-breaking score with 3:03 left.
“How about my offense, huh?” Phillips said with a laugh at the start of his postgame news conference.
Dallas was among the league’s top offenses last year, with Barber running for the most TDs in the NFC and T.O. catching the most scoring passes in the NFL. New offensive coordinator Jason Garrett proved he hasn’t messed with a good thing by calling plays that led to touchdowns on five of six drives—from Barber’s dazzling dash in the second quarter to a 47-yarder by Owens early in the fourth quarter.
Considering that left the Cowboys up by 16 and the Giants had lost both sack leader Osi Umenyiora and new starting running back Brandon Jacobs to knee injuries, it would’ve been understandable if national TV viewers headed for bed.
Manning drove 80 yards in nine plays, capping it with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Ward that got New York to 38-28 with 7:20 left. After botching a 2-point try—and bruising his throwing shoulder on the play—the Giants got the ball back on an interception, then Manning threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress. It was their third TD connection of the night and it pulled New York to 38-35 with 4:09 left.
But Romo came back with a quick score of his own, the long, blitz-beating touchdown to Hurd, a second-year receiver in because of an injury to Terry Glenn.
The Giants were out of comebacks because Manning’s bruised shoulder kept him on the sideline.
“It feels a little tight, a little sore right now,” Manning said. “As time went on, it got a little more sore.”
Manning said he “didn’t want to go in there and make anything worse, land on it or get hit on it and make something where I miss next week.”
Manning was 28-of-41 for 312 yards and four touchdowns with an interception. Burress caught eight passes for 144 yards.
Michael Strahan did not start, but played plenty only a few days after ending his long preseason holdout. He had five tackles and no sacks.
“No matter how you lose it, it’s a loss,” coach Tom Coughlin said. “It hurts.”
Romo was 15-of-24. Tight end Jason Witten had six catches for 116 yards and a touchdown. Owens caught only three passes, but scored on two of them.
“It was good to see we were able to put up so many points and keep attacking,” Romo said.
The Cowboys might need to keep scoring to prop up their defense.
Cornerback Terence Newman missed the game with a foot problem that could linger and linebacker Greg Ellis isn’t back from an Achilles’ tear from last year. Then, in the first quarter, Dallas lost nose tackle Jason Ferguson for the season because of a torn bicep. The team initially called it an elbow problem.
“We would definitely love to cut some of those yards down,” linebacker Bradie James said. “We have some things we have to correct, (but) we came out with a win.”
New York started strong, silencing a sellout crowd swishing “Wade’s Warriors” towels when Manning threw a 60-yard touchdown pass to Burress on the third snap. But the Giants flubbed the extra point.
Dallas was down 6-3 and facing fourth-and-1 from the New York 18 when Phillips made his first big decision as coach of the Cowboys—opting to go for a first down instead of a short, tying field goal.
The ball went to Barber and all he did was shake a defender at the line, bounce outside, shove away a second defender, then dive headfirst toward the end zone from around the 5. A third defender hit Barber, flipping him over the goal line for the go-ahead score.
Cameras caught Phillips’ smiling widely and throwing a soft uppercut. The reaction would be seen several more times, like after the touchdown pass to Witten that stretched the lead to 17-6, Owens’ first touchdown—a diving one-hander—to open the second half, and Romo dancing in from 9 yards for the first TD rushing of his career.
“This is going to be the nature of our team,” T.O. said. “It’s a good starting point to where we need to go.”
This game produced the most points in the 90-game history of this series. Dallas also scored its most points in an opener since putting up 49 in 1971—the year the Cowboys won their first Super Bowl. … Phillips improved 2-1 in debuts. He won in Denver in 1993, lost in Buffalo in 1998. … New York’s Amani Toomer caught a 35-yard pass in the back of the end zone, but couldn’t get the toes of his right foot inbounds to stretch an early 6-3 lead. The Giants did not challenge as replays clearly showed he was out—barely.