Giants-Cowboys: A final look back

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

It was another epic Cowboys-Giants game in what is becoming one of the best rivalries in the game. Before I start focusing on the Skins and Eagles (promise), here are my final thoughts on what took place Sunday night at Cowboys Stadium:

  • Mario Manningham and Steve Smith were the two best players on the field. It's one thing to make plays in the first half, but Manningham and Smith were making big catches on the game's final drive. Eli Manning has complete trust in both players and that showed up on the game-deciding drive. Honestly, is there anyone else in the NFC you'd want behind center with three minutes left at your own 15-yard line? I guess some folks would say Drew Brees, but give me Manning every time. After the game, Manning credited Manningham for coming to him in the offseason and asking which parts of his game he needed to improve. This is the type of win that could springboard the Giants to an 8-0 start.

  • I don't want to lose sight of the play Giants linebacker Bryan Kehl made late in the first quarter. On the official stat sheet, Kehl was given credit for a forced fumble, but replays appeared to show him poking the ball away from Felix Jones during a kickoff return. Kehl then recovered the fumble, which set the Giants for a field goal. Kehl's got all the ability in the world, but he's never been the most aggressive player on the team. It's a good sign that he's making big plays on special teams and the fumble recovery certainly qualified.

  • It's not like you can work fullback Madison Hedgecock's name into a column following a 33-31 outcome, but let's mention him here. I happened to watch Hedgecock a few times in the second half and he absolutely pancaked Cowboys inside linebacker Bradie James. The Cowboys did a really nice job against the run in the first half, but the Giants had some success in the second half. Hedgecock is a valuable player who doesn't receive a lot of attention.

  • As I've said several times, safety Kenny Phillips has the ability to become an All-Pro type player. The ball seems to find certain players, and Phillips fits in that category. His second interception came on an awful throw from Romo, but the first one was a heads up play on a ball that caromed off Jason Witten's foot. No one in the stadium knew what had happened -- except for Phillips of course. And the massive HD scoreboard revealed that Phillips had indeed made the interception before someone in production abruptly ended the replay. Coughlin joked about how the replay came to an abrupt halt after the game.

  • Several Giants players joked that their necks were hurting from looking up at the scoreboard. Mathias Kiwanuka said he might need a massage after craning his neck to see the 60-yard-long scoreboard hanging from the top of Cowboys Stadium. Kiwanuka said he's always been fascinated with seeing different venues on TV and that he was very impressed with the Cowboys' new home. He had no comment on the Miller Lite dancers who were stationed on platforms in one end zone.

  • The Giants will have to shore up their run defense in the coming weeks. The Cowboys dominated the line of scrimmage in the running game from the start. Linebacker Danny Clark told me after the game that the Giants didn't "maintain their gap responsibilities." It looked like the defensive ends were getting sealed by left tackle Flozell Adams and right tackle Marc Colombo quite a bit. And inside the 10-yard line, the Giants were stunting, which left gaping holes up the middle. On Tony Romo's touchdown run, Barry Cofield took himself right out of the play.

  • Here's where I thought everything changed: When Romo threw the interception to Phillips late in the third quarter, the Giants took over at their own 27-yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, Eli Manning found Mario Manningham streaking down the middle of the field for a 49-yard completion. The Giants picked on both Terence Newman and Orlando Scandrick all evening. On that play, Manningham beat Scandrick one-on-one. I'm still not sure whether Scandrick was supposed to have help over the top from Ken Hamlin, who appeared to bite on Manning's play fake. One of the things the Manning brothers have in common (other than a ring) is the ability to really sell play fakes. Seems like a fairly simple thing, but they've both spent a lot of time on it. It's a very exaggerated move -- and it tends to work on safeties who are trying to peek in the backfield.