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Cowboys turn turmoil into triumph

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

IRVING, Texas -- For one night, the Dallas Cowboys were not a house divided. After a week of secret meetings and alleged jealousy between star players, the Cowboys went out and overwhelmed the New York Giants with a 20-8 win that puts them in prime position for one of the wild-card playoff spots.

Quarterback Tony Romo, who was reportedly holing up with close friend and road roommate Jason Witten behind T.O.'s back, threw touchdowns to Patrick Crayton and fullback Deon Anderson in Sunday night's win. After the game, T.O. once again shot down reports that he was jealous of the Witten-Romo relationship and was helpful enough to provide names of reporters he was upset with (thanks for the shout-out).

The postgame news conference took on a surreal feeling when one of T.O.'s friends stood in the back and kept repeating the phrase "reveal your sources." And as the receiver left Texas Stadium with NBA guard Damon Jones, he called a reporter a "chump."

Asked about a key third-down completion to tight end Witten late in the fourth quarter, Romo joked that the two had met secretly Saturday night to draw up the play. Romo said that all the locker-room strife that led coach Wade Phillips to call a team meeting Friday didn't matter once the players took the field.

"I think people think that stuff that gets talked about decides football games," Romo said. "What decides football games is the execution of the individuals on the field and the preparation and time you put in, and this team did that this week."

Phillips joked that Witten and T.O. "kissed on Friday" and he once again stressed that the controversy at Valley Ranch was overblown. But just for grins, he'd addressed it once more Saturday night at the team hotel.

"Last night I said, 'Hey, let's go out and play,' " Phillips said. "All the words and stuff is gone. Just go out and play. That's the only thing I did anything about it ... Teammates have to play. It is a family. I'm not saying what happened or what didn't happen, but brothers get in fights. But then they come back to their family and they fight for each other. I think that's what our guys did."

At this point, it's fair to say the Giants (11-3) suddenly look like a vulnerable team. The Cowboys had effectively made the Plaxico Burress controversy yesterday's news with reports of a near-altercation between Witten and T.O. on Friday, but now the Burress story line is back in play.

The Giants still haven't nailed down home-field advantage throughout the playoffs as they prepare for a showdown with the Panthers (11-3) next Sunday night. In the wake of their loss to the Cowboys, it's no longer safe to pencil them in for a trip to Tampa. The Cowboys have used the 2007 edition of the Giants as motivation for a late-season playoff run -- and now that seems like a viable goal.

The offense may have stolen the TMZ-type headlines, but it was the defense that won the game Sunday. From the first quarter on, the Cowboys manhandled the Giants' offensive line. Linebacker DeMarcus Ware treated left tackle David Diehl like a turnstile with three sacks and a forced fumble. The Cowboys sacked Eli Manning eight times. Coming into the game, Manning had only been sacked 15 times this season. And the Cowboys now own 12 of the 23 sacks allowed.

Defensive coordinator Brian Stewart told ESPN.com after the game that the absence of Burress made it easier to defend the Giants. No matter where Burress' replacement, Domenik Hixon, lined up, he was covered by cornerback Terence Newman. And the Cowboys asked rookie Orlando Scandrick to cover Steve Smith one-on-one in the slot. The tight coverage made Manning hold the ball longer than he wanted to, allowing Cowboys defenders to sack him time after time.

"The main difference is that they don't have a 6-5, 6-6 guy that's way taller than everybody we have," Stewart said. "It's hard to pressure [Manning] when he can just throw up a jump ball and have Burress go get it."

Trailing 7-3, the Giants had a first-and-10 on the Cowboys' 48-yard-line early in the third quarter. Manning tried to force the ball to Hixon on a hook route and Newman jumped in front of him to make the interception. In another subplot this week, Newman went on ESPN's "First Take" and called out his coaches for not accepting responsibility for mistakes.

"Our saying is one play, one game," Stewart said. "And that's all we were worried about tonight."

Now, the Cowboys need wins against the Ravens at home next Saturday and the Eagles on the road to clinch a wild-card spot. In the aftermath of Sunday's game, it's something that could definitely happen. And as the Giants proved last season, all bets are off once the tournament begins.

Jones offers an anatomy lesson: As you might expect, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was in good spirits following Sunday's win. He said that he couldn't recall a time when off-the-field issues affected what took place in an actual game. And he thinks the concept of team chemistry is highly overrated.

"Think of the anatomy," Jones said. "Brains, eyes, ears, nose. You know there's got to be some [rears] over here to have the whole anatomy. My point is this team is made up of that. By golly, when you start picking that part out and saying, 'They don't have a team,' you're missing the point." When a reporter asked Jones to identify the "rears" on his team, he said, "I might be one of them."

Witten and T.O. by the numbers: Not that we're paying attention, but T.O. had five passes thrown his way while Jason Witten had nine. T.O. caught three of the passes and dropped another one. Witten caught five balls for 44 yards.

Losing streak has the Giants worried: The Giants have lost back-to-back games for the first time since beginning the 2007 season 0-2. Coach Tom Coughlin admitted that he was concerned, but he's refusing to blame the Giants' shoddy play on Burress' absence and the injury that knocked Brandon Jacobs out of the game. Middle linebacker Antonio Pierce was more defiant than Coughlin.

"Something has got to change," Pierce said. "The way we are playing right now is not good enough obviously because we are losing games. You don't panic. I don't want anybody to say that word around us. We've got to play better ball."

Cowboys made the right Choice: With starting running back Marion Barber still being bothered by a right toe injury, rookie Tashard Choice had another big game. Phillips joked that the Cowboys didn't take Choice high enough in the draft (the fourth round).

Choice finished with 91 yards rushing while the rest of the team had nine. He accounted for 93 yards in the fourth quarter and the rest of the offense had 27. He's shown the ability to run through tackles, but it's his speed in the open field that's been the most impressive.

The Cowboys' offensive line doesn't have to stay with their blocks as long because Choice hits the hole so quickly. It looks like the Cowboys could have their own version of the Giants' Earth, Wind and Fire once Felix Jones returns from injury next season.

Tough night for Eli: Manning finished 18-of-35 for 191 yards and two interceptions. Of his incompletions, four were overthrown, three underthrown, three dropped, six were deflected and one was thrown away on purpose, according the ESPN Stats & Analysis.

Update on Romo's back: Romo suffered a bruised back when he was sacked three consecutive times late in the first quarter. He winced in pain and the Cowboys' spine specialist, Dr. Drew Dossett, took a long look at him on the sideline. But he came out on the next series and threw a perfect touchdown pass to Patrick Crayton.

After his session with the media, Romo appeared to be in pain as he stepped down from the podium. But winning has its healing powers, because he seemed to be enjoying his time with the media immensely. Romo left the room quickly after his interview so that he and Witten could get home and create some new plays.

Ware chasing Martin's record: With 19 sacks this season, DeMarcus Ware is now tied with Mark Gastineau (1983), Clyde Simmons (1992) and Bruce Smith (1990) for the eighth-most in a season.

Former Giants defensive end Michael Strahan holds the league record with 22 1/2 in 2001. Ware would love to break that record as well as Harvey Martin's unofficial club record of 23. The Cowboys' eight sacks were their most since a nine-sack outburst Nov. 9, 1997 against the Cardinals.