Cowboys' hopes left hanging from sling

ARLINGTON, Texas -- As Eli Manning talked about all the mistakes the Giants needed to clean up and how far they are from playing a complete game, Tony Romo was holding his postgame press conference somewhere in the gigantic Cowboys Stadium at the same time.

And all anyone needed to know about the opposite directions in which the Giants and Cowboys are quickly heading was just a quick glance at Romo's newest fashion accessory -- a blue arm sling.

The New York Giants KO'd their fifth quarterback of the season when Romo broke his left clavicle in the second quarter. That serious injury along with their 41-35 victory pretty much helped the Giants all but seal Dallas' fate.

This loss was more than just a single defeat for the Cowboys. At 1-5, Dallas is now 0-2 in the NFC East, and Jerry Jones' underachieving team is staring at playing most of its season without Romo.

The Giants had a chance to start shoveling dirt onto the Cowboys' season on Monday night since this was the first of two games between the rivals in a month.

But now Dallas can call the coroner. The Cowboys' season and certainly their Super Bowl dreams of playing in their home stadium is pretty much dead without their star quarterback.

"That [the quarterback] is the head of the snake," said defensive end Justin Tuck, whose team has knocked out Carolina's Matt Moore, Chicago's Jay Cutler and Todd Collins, Detroit's Shaun Hill and now Romo -- all on legal hits. "When you take the head out, it makes [for] a lot of trouble. I have never seen a team be very successful without good quarterback play."

This loss might as well be the equivalent of two or three losses for Dallas, which still has to face the Giants on Nov. 14 at the New Meadowlands Stadium, where New York can likely bury the Cowboys for good.

Dallas' fragile season shattered into pieces when linebacker Michael Boley, storming through the line untouched, crushed Romo, who fell on his left shoulder. With 11:55 left in the second quarter, Romo was on the turf writhing in pain.

"When he hit the ground, I heard him let out a little scream," said Boley, who didn't learn of Romo's injury until reporters told him afterward.

The Giants (5-2) would actually fall behind 20-7 a few minutes later after rookie Dez Bryant took a 69-yard punt from Matt Dodge and returned it 93 yards for a touchdown. The 91,375 on hand were cheering to keep their team's season alive, but it was subdued with Romo out.

Perhaps the Cowboys crowd had seen this ending too many times this season and several times before in this rivalry.

The sloppy Giants had done pretty much everything they could to gift-wrap a win for Dallas and resuscitate the Cowboys' season. The Giants had five turnovers and allowed a 93-yard punt return for a touchdown. Manning had two of his first four pass attempts picked off inside the Giants' 35 in less than three minutes and the Cowboys were up 10-0 before Manning recorded his first completion.

But the Giants' defense was playing well, holding Dallas to just 75 yards of total offense in the first half. And Manning began to shred the Cowboys' awful secondary as receivers Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith were almost unstoppable at times.

Nicks continued his rapid ascension into an elite receiver with nine catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns. And Smith, who torched the Cowboys in Texas last season for 10 catches, had nine receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown. Mario Manningham also skated past the Dallas secondary for a touchdown as Manning and the Giants scored 31 straight points after falling behind 20-7 with 8:53 to go in the first half.

By the 5:25 mark in the third, after Brandon Jacobs scored on a 30-yard run, the Giants were up 38-20.

Dallas would make a late rally and force the Giants to recover an onside kick with 40 seconds left to preserve the win. Now the Cowboys must push forward with veteran backup Jon Kitna at QB.

Meanwhile, the Giants' season continues to soar like a G6 airplane. It wasn't long ago when the Giants were surrounded by uncertainty, with questions about their leadership and whether Coughlin had control of the team.

Now, the Giants are riding a four-game winning streak into their bye week and share the best record in the NFC with Atlanta. The rest of the NFC picture is hazy. The Saints are struggling, Brett Favre is limping on a bad ankle and the Packers are banged up.

The Giants certainly have plenty to work on and have yet to play a complete game this season, but they are thrilled with where they are and where they could be heading.

"You want it to finish perfect," coach Tom Coughlin complained about the Giants' messy finish in Dallas.

In many ways, though, this was the perfect win. The Giants beat their hated rival on the road and may have stuck a stake through Dallas' heart. And they are on top of the NFC East, which now appears to be a three-team race between them, the Eagles and Redskins.

And the Cowboys' season is now being held up by an arm sling.

"Very sweet," Boley said of winning in Dallas. "It ain't no secret. We don't like the Cowboys."

Ohm Youngmisuk covers the Giants for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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