Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- If it's sympathy the injury-ravaged Dallas Cowboys were in search of, they came to the wrong place. NFL officials were meeting late Sunday night to consider a mercy rule for games in which Brad Johnson and Brooks Bollinger receive significant playing time.
In position to name the final score, the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants settled on a 35-14 victory over the same Cowboys that beat them twice in the 2007 regular season. New York players had expressed regret that they wouldn't be able to host starting quarterback Tony Romo (pinkie), but they made the best of their time with Johnson, whose strength was supposed to be mistake-free football.
Giants cornerback Corey Webster intercepted two of Johnson's passes in the first half -- one on a quick slant intended for Terrell Owens and the other on a "deep" out that Webster made a fair catch of along the sideline.
Giants players said coach Tom Coughlin, master of the motivational T-shirt, didn't feel the need to send any messages this week. Even without Romo on the field, the Giants still spotted some familiar faces. They seemed almost offended at the suggestion that the score might've been closer with Romo in the lineup.
"I'm not a doctor. I'm not a psychiatrist," revealed linebacker Antonio Pierce. "I'm not out to help the Cowboys. This team didn't feel bad for us last year when we had injuries, so we didn't feel bad for them."
Pierce pointed out the fact that the Cowboys lost two games before Romo went down with an injury.
"I think if Romo was there we would've played the same way," Pierce said. "Everybody puts the blame on Brad Johnson, but this team lost a game before Brad Johnson. It could've been Romo, Brad Johnson, Bollinger, Troy Aikman. It didn't really matter. It's about the New York Giants."
The Giants took control of the game from the first drive. Facing a second-and-10 from the Cowboys' 13-yard line, tight end Kevin Boss ran what he called a "wide bow" play on which he sold a seam route and then rounded it into a flag route. Linebacker Greg Ellis backpedaled in vain as Boss raced past him to catch the pass.
It speaks to the Cowboys' futility that the Giants blew them out on a night when Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning threw an interception and lost two fumbles. He did manage three touchdown passes, including the first of wide receiver Steve Smith's career on a slant near the goal line.
The Cowboys (5-4) are now fourth in the NFC East, three games behind the 7-1 Giants in the loss column. Dallas appeared poised to clinch the world title in training camp, but now finds itself in a desperate struggle for a wild-card spot.
The Giants, winners of five straight at home, have stacked up enough wins to have some wiggle room during a second half of the season that will include four more division games.
"This was a huge win," Manning said. "It was our second divisional game. We still have a bunch left, a long season, and a lot of great things ahead of us. We have to keep that same fight and hunger and improve on a lot of things."
On Sunday, the Cowboys didn't belong on the same field as the Giants. It's hard to believe that only a little more than two months ago, some of us thought the Osi Umenyiora injury might derail the Giants' hopes for a repeat. Now, it simply feels like an interesting footnote.
Holding court in front of his locker for 20 minutes, Justin Tuck tried his best not to smirk about the Cowboys' misfortune.
"We're not poppin' champagne in here," he said.
And why would they? They just beat the fourth-place team in the division.
Some other insights:
LB Clark has big game: Giants linebacker Danny Clark usually comes off the field in passing situations, but he took advantage of some extra snaps Sunday. He led the team with nine tackles, two of which came behind the line of scrimmage. Clark, who has played for five teams after beginning his career with Coughlin in Jacksonville, played a big role in limiting Marion Barber to only 54 yards on 19 carries.
"It's an attitude we have in the front seven," he said. "I told the guys we needed to be playing in their backfield. We wanted to establish a new line of scrimmage."
Barber is at his best when he's able to get a head of steam and then punish defenders. Other than one long run, Barber never got going Sunday.
"We'd seen him knocking four and five guys down and stiff-arming everyone," Clark said. "We couldn't let him do that to us."
Giants TE says he learned from Witten: Giants tight end Kevin Boss said he watches tapes of Cowboys tight end Jason Witten when he has free time.
"I love watching Witten," Boss said. "He runs real crisp routes. He's great at selling one thing and then going a different direction."
After a slow start to the season, Boss continues to take on a larger role in the offense. He finished with three catches for 30 yards and he did a nice job of blocking at the point of the attack. The Giants gashed the Cowboys for 200 rushing yards, something that probably discourages Cowboys coach Wade Phillips more than anything. In Phillips' 3-4 scheme, it's incumbent on defensive linemen and linebackers to maintain gap integrity. The Giants' offensive line and fullback Madison Hedgecock basically had their way with the Cowboys, and Brandon Jacobs finished with 17 carries for 117 yards and a touchdown.
"We didn't tackle well," Phillips said. "We had a couple of series where we were thinking about the last turnover or something. I was disappointed against the run. We played well against the pass except in the red zone, and obviously we had some missed tackles."
It's sort of easy to put up decent numbers against the pass, though, when a team's content to run the ball down your throat. The Cowboys are a team in search of an identity. The Giants know exactly who they are.
Baffling Jerry Jones quote of the week: When asked about his problems at backup quarterback, Cowboys owner Jones said, "It's something that we absolutely worked on in the offseason. The backup quarterback has always been a high priority for this team."
Oh really? On the surface, it appears to be a much higher priority for Philadelphia, Washington and New York. This team buried its head in the sand and prayed that Romo wouldn't get hurt. And the fact that Jones has refused to draft and develop quarterbacks over the years has put this organization in a precarious spot.