Cowboys up

Jason Cole
Yahoo! Sports

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The T-shirt Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has worn all season under his uniform is frayed and tattered from 10 years of washing and drying.

The shirt, which Romo got in high school back in Wisconsin after meeting a weightlifting goal, has deteriorated to the point where scientists may have to be called in to preserve it pretty soon. One slight tear could be the end of it.

"I think I'm going to have to wash it myself from now on," Romo said. "Every time it comes out of the dryer, it feels a little thinner."

What Romo, who completed 20 of 28 passes for 247 yards and four touchdown passes, and the Cowboys really are wearing out are opposing defenses. The latest example is the New York Giants, who were dispatched 31-20 on Sunday night. It was the sixth time the 8-1 Cowboys have topped the 30-point mark this season, their first under offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. At no point have they finished under 24.

And while they aren't exactly putting up points the way the Patriots, who score faster than leaves fall in New England, are right now, the Cowboys are a pretty fearsome unit. The lesson from Sunday was that in the NFC, where every team has some fatal flaw, Dallas may be able to hide its blemishes better than the rest of the conference.

Or as Cowboys safety Ken Hamlin said: "We're happy to play second fiddle to the offense."

That's because the job of second chair can be a lot easier when there's so much sweet music being played around you. In the case of the Cowboys, a hearty offense is hiding what could be described as a suspect secondary. With the exception of New England, which put up 48 on Dallas earlier this season, opponents seemed to have forgotten that Cowboys safety Roy Williams and cornerback Anthony Henry are, at best, suspect in coverage. Hamlin himself has been known to give up a big play or two because of his aggressive style.

But as the Cowboys took control of the game by the second half, their pass rush became a bigger and bigger factor. Dallas sacked Giants quarterback Eli Manning five times and harassed him into mediocre play after intermission. After going 13 of 15 for 115 yards and a touchdown pass in the first half, Manning was only 10 of 19 for 121 yards in the final 30 minutes.

Even worse, Manning and the Giants weren't able to respond on three of four critical drives of the second half. They went three-and-out to open the half despite starting at their own 47. Dallas responded with an 86-yard drive to take a 24-17 lead and followed up with another touchdown on its next possession.

"The best thing we did was come back in the second half after the Giants had tied it there at the end of the first half and we made something happen right away," said Dallas owner Jerry Jones, whose team has the equivalent of a three-game lead in the NFC East over the 6-3 Giants because it has swept New York.

While that score did turn the momentum, the bigger picture for the Cowboys is that the "offensive portfolio," as Jones puts it, is pretty diverse. Aside from Romo, who is proving last year's breakout season was no fluke, there are wide receivers Terrell Owens and Patrick Crayton, tight end Jason Witten and running backs Marion Barber and Julius Jones.

"I think any team is looking to take advantage of its strengths and we're really doing that right now. The offense is really doing a nice job of scoring and it's been in every game," said Dallas coach Wade Phillips, who was able to add defensive tackle Tank Johnson to the mix after Johnson was reinstated by the league for this game. "Now we're starting to get some really good play up front with our pass rush."

The Giants, who came into this game having won six straight and were well-rested from a bye week, understand that as well. Before Sunday, the Giants had parlayed a strong offensive performance early in games to become pass-rushing demons with the combination of Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Mathias Kiwanuka and Justin Tuck.

That pass rush helped cover for some rather startling deficiencies New York has in the secondary as well. Specifically, veteran cornerback Sam Madison can't really turn and run anymore, and safety Gibril Wilson is just a guy, as evidenced by the 25-yard touchdown pass Owens scored over Madison and the 50-yarder Owens torched Wilson on.

Romo was asked if he felt like he was stealing when he saw Owens get single covered by Madison on the 25-yarder. Romo smiled broadly (as opposed to his constant grin) and nodded before answering.

"I like our chances when T.O. is getting single covered," Romo said.

Or as Hamlin put it when asked about how the Giants defended Owens, "T.O. … I don't know if they knew who that is they should be covering."

But this is not just the Romo-to-Owens Show. Crayton did his job in the first half when the Giants were trying to take away Owens. Crayton, who finished with five catches for 66 yards, had a 20-yard touchdown catch in the first half. He celebrated it by stopping just short of the end zone and reaching the ball over the end line to taunt the Giants for talking a little too much during the week and the game.

Or as Crayton explained: "It's kind of about coming into somebody else's house and trying to be the big dog … You urinate a little bit and mark your territory."

That comment is sure to get some folks in New York riled up a bit, but what can they do about it at this point? Not much.

What remains to be seen is if anybody can really stop the Cowboys offense. Crayton came up with one candidate.

"We can," he said. "That's it. We can stop ourselves and that's what happens when we're not focused. When we play our way, no one can stop us."

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