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Mickey SpagnolaMonday, January 2, 2012

Playoffs? Not With This Cowboys Defense

By Mickey Spagnola

EAST RUTHERFORD, N. J. – The secondary was primary.
When it comes to tangible reasons for Giants 31, Cowboys 14, in Sunday night’s win or go home game here at MetLife Stadium. The Cowboys couldn’t cover. Not short, not deep and certainly not all day when pressure wasn’t applied to the pocket.

So hence, they were going home – for good – after the clock struck midnight following the final NFL game of the regular season, humbly an 8-8 team and in third place once again in the NFC East while the Giants will stay home for a first-round game against the Atlanta Falcons at noon (CT) Sunday.

That’s what happens when you lose four of your final five games, and exactly what happens when you get swept by the eventual division champs, the New York Giants (9-7) who became the first team since the 1970 merger to claim the crown with less than 10 wins, and also swept by the second place Philadelphia Eagles (8-8).

That’s what happens when you allow Giants quarterback Eli Manning to throw for 346 yards and three touchdowns, which brings his two-game total against the Cowboys this year to 746 yards passing and five touchdowns while getting sacked just twice in 80 attempts.

That’s what happens when you give up pass plays of 74 yards, 44, 36, 22 and 20, the 74-yarder a touchdown on a ball thrown no more than five yards down the field to Victor Cruz, who turned on the jets down the left sideline to jumpstart the Giants scoring.

And yes, that’s what happens when you give up 31 points, the fifth time this year the Cowboys have given up at least 27 points in a game, two of those totaling 68 by the Giants.

All week long everyone seemed worried about the hand of Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, and well they should have since the back of his right hand was so sore from breaking a couple of blood vessels on Christmas Eve that he couldn’t even stand to take snaps from center during the team’s practices on Wednesday and Thursday.

But it was the Cowboys pass defense that needed a helping hand.

“I just know I thought this core group could go pretty far into the playoffs,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said, putting a sad obit to this season. “I thought we could win this ball game. Not until near the end of the fourth quarter did I realize we wouldn’t be in the playoffs.

“Very disappointed. I thought we could win with what we brought to the table. They played better than I thought they would and we didn’t play as well as I thought we would.”

Or maybe the Giants were simply better than the Cowboys were. And they definitely were on defense, giving up just 96 total yards in the first half, nearly half of those (42 yards) coming on the final possession that resulted in a Dan Bailey missed 52-yard field goal.

Sometimes in games like this, sort of like that NFC East winner-take-all game against the Giants right here in the Meadowlands in 1993, you just have to win ‘em 16-13, as the Cowboys did that season to claim the title over the Giants in the final game of the regular season in overtime.

Sometimes you just got to win without scoring Thirtysomething.

But nope, not the Cowboys, who did in the season finale as they did nearly all season long. They teased us. You know, remember the early-season syndrome of winning some, and losing some then winning four straight but following that by losing four of the final five to finish with this mediocre record.

And they did so again here Sunday night, and once again on national television where their Sunday Night Football losing streak has now reached seven consecutive games. Sure they fell behind 21-0 at halftime, but wouldn’t you know it, with 10:15 left in the fourth quarter the Cowboys had scratched their way back into the game, trailing just 21-14.

Even more frustrating than that in a game they lost by 17, with 9:22 left in the game, the inconsistent Cowboys were a third-and-seven stop away from getting the ball back into the hands of the offense trailing by just 7.

But noooo, they allow Manning all the time in the world to roam around in the pocket before heaving one down the field, high and deep to Cruz, who out-jumped Cowboys corner Orlando Scandrick to pull in the 44-yard reception. That, which was followed by a Lawrence Tynes 28-yard field goal about three minutes later, ended up being the punched that knocked out the Cowboys.
In the game and for the season.

And here is what must really hurt. In the Giants’ past two games, a win and a loss, Manning was, well, rather atrocious. He completed just 23 of 40 passes and was picked three times (257 passing yards) in the loss to the Redskins. And while the Giants beat their stadium-sharing neighbors in Game 15 the next week, Manning was just nine of 27, with one interception, for 225 yards. His passer ratings came to 45.5 vs. Washington and 61.5 against the Jets.

But against the Cowboys now officially porous pass defense, Manning completes 73 percent of his passes and finished with a 136.7 QB rating, his second highest of the season. This also was only the fourth time all season the Giants scored at least 30 points – and now two of those offensive performances have come against the Cowboys.

Certainly not a defense made for the playoffs, and the primary reason why it will be the Giants playing the Atlanta Falcons this coming Sunday afternoon in the first round of the NFL playoffs and not the Cowboys .

“I think anytime you are in this position and you don’t come out and win it’s hard to take as a quarterback,” said Romo, who played remarkably well with a painfully swollen right hand. “It’s very disappointing, frustrating. I have a lot of emotions going right now, just disappointed we didn’t win.”

No One Gets You Closer to the Cowboys!

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