ARLINGTON, Texas -- As he ran off the field following the extra point that put the Cowboys up 20-7, New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck was actually laughing. The Giants had already turned the ball over three times and allowed a 93-yard punt return for a touchdown and Tuck wondered what else could go wrong.
"Honest to God, I was laughing like crazy," Tuck told me following the Giants' 41-35 win over the Cowboys on Monday night. "I knew if we could survive that start, [the Cowboys] would have no shot. I mean, what else could happen to us at that point?"
The Giants absorbed the Cowboys' best blow and then ran off 31 unanswered points to put the Cowboys out of their misery -- at least for the 2010 season. The biggest blow came with 12:20 left in the second quarter. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo delivered a pass to Miles Austin just before being blasted by Giants linebacker Michael Boley. Replays showed Cowboys fullback Chris Gronkowski abandoning his post in favor of a short pass route, allowing Boley a clear path to the quarterback.
The Cowboys were winning 10-7 at the time, but the sound of silence from 90,000-plus fans told the story. Romo has a broken left clavicle and owner Jerry Jones said he's likely out 6-8 weeks, which is long enough to rule out any late-season heroics for this team. It was a clean hit by Boley, and Romo became the fifth quarterback the Giants have knocked out of a game this season.
"When he hit the ground, I heard a little scream," Boley said of Romo. "So I knew something was up. But I didn't think he was going to lay down. I thought it was just a normal hit. After I got up and started running, I looked back after the play was over and he was still down."
The only team to make the playoffs after a 1-5 start was the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals. And with Jon Kitna now at the helm in Dallas, something tells me those Bengals can break out the champagne -- if they're into that sort of thing.
We'll never know whether the Giants (5-2) would've won with Romo in the lineup for four quarters, but they're not interested in looking back. They'll enter the bye with a four-game winning streak and a one-game lead in the NFC East over both the Redskins and Eagles. In the watered-down NFC, this is what passes for an elite team. Even coach Tom Coughlin took a moment to crow about his team's performance.
"As I said to our team, tonight there were times where we were as good as there is in the NFL, in both phases," said Coughlin.
Asked if he recalled winning a game in which his team had five turnovers and allowed a 93-yard return, Coughlin deadpanned, "I don't think so. I can't remember. Thank God I don't remember many 93-yard returns."
Quarterback Eli Manning had two of his first three passes intercepted by a Cowboys team that entered the game with only two on the season. Both of the interceptions were tipped by Giants receivers, so it's not like the quarterback was awful. After Dez Bryant's punt return put the Cowboys up 20-7, Manning went to work.
Cowboys cornerbacks Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins were both nicked up in the first half, so Orlando Scandrick was forced to play more than usual. Manning showed him no mercy on short touchdown passes to Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith. On Smith's 14-yard touchdown in the second quarter, he simply exploded off the line and raced past Scandrick for an easy touchdown. Both Smith and Nicks surpassed 100 yards receiving in the game, combining for three touchdowns.
"We certainly were aware of it," said Coughlin when asked about the injured Cowboys corners. "When we're running the ball, we can get a guy blocking the safety, the corner has to make the play. Brandon Jacobs on a corner is a matchup in our favor."
The Cowboys' defense has a way of reviving careers, and that's what it did for Jacobs in allowing him to bounce outside for a 30-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to stake the Giants to an insurmountable 38-20 lead. Don't be fooled by the final outcome of the game, because those Cowboys points in the fourth quarter were nothing more than window dressing.
Despite their shaky start, the Giants were the best team on the field. It's a credit to their players that a 20-7 deficit never appeared to faze them. And though it's still early, at least one player was daydreaming about a return to Cowboys Stadium.
"I'd like to play here again in February," Tuck told me.
And that would be a reference to Super Bowl XLV. Let's just call it the Jerry Jones doomsday scenario.