- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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OXNARD, Calif. -- Moments after the skydivers landed and the cheerleaders performed, an only-with-Jerry sort of scene at the pep rally to kick off training camp, the Dallas Cowboys' owner stepped on stage and delivered a sweet sound bite and gift to the New York tabloids.
"Y'all should come to that stadium and watch us beat the Giants' ass," Jerry Jones boasted to the crowd.
In a twisted type of way, that was the ultimate tribute to the NFC East rival that has won two of the past five Super Bowls, ending the Cowboys' season en route to the title both times.
The Cowboys definitely have a New York state of mind these days. They can't stop thinking about the Giants.
"What I heard was a little bit of respect, if you will, about what we think of the Giants," Jerry said, providing a pretty gentle explanation for his trash talk. "We do think a lot of them."
"Every day," tight end Jason Witten said.
That's only natural, considering that the Cowboys' 2011 season ended in a de facto division title game on New Year's Day in MetLife Stadium, and they'll be back to the Meadowlands on Sept. 5 to kick off the NFL season against the defending champions.
But this is an obsession that goes far beyond the schedule. The Giants give the Cowboys motivation and a measuring stick.
"I will say this: I don't need any motivation when I think of how they took care of us at the end of last year, won the world championship and are the world [champions]," Jones said. "There's no motivation for me needed -- and I don't think this team -- to be ready to go and do what's needed to win up there."
The Cowboys did need a lot of new pieces to be ready to give the Giants a run for their money. It's not difficult to see the Giants' influence on the Cowboys' free-agency shopping spree.
Wonder why the Cowboys made such major investments in cornerbacks this offseason? Just watch the film of New York's Eli Manning shredding an overmatched secondary for 746 yards and five touchdowns in two wins over the Cowboys late last season. Those were the most critical losses in Dallas' slide from the driver's seat of the division at the beginning of December to the couch for the playoffs.
The Cowboys can't beat the Giants -- and, for that matter, the Philadelphia Eagles -- without quality cornerbacks. And they can't accomplish any of their goals if they can't knock the Giants (and Eagles) out of the way.
Want to know why the Cowboys almost completely remodeled their offensive line, signing a couple of guards to eight-figure contracts and having tackles Tyron Smith and Doug Free flip sides? Just watch the film of the Giants' sacking Tony Romo nine times in those two games.
"They present challenges all over their football team," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, who spends training camp off days working on a game plan for the opener against the Giants. "They have a great defensive front. They have playmakers all over their offense.
"They just do a great job throughout their football team, so you look at them and say, 'We've got to get better in this area and we've got to get better in this area to keep up with them and give us a chance to beat them.'"
These Cowboys can talk about how close they've been to tasting the same success as the Giants until they're blue in the face.
They can wonder, what if Patrick Crayton hadn't had a critical drop and had finished his route in the end zone late in the last playoff game at Texas Stadium?
The Cowboys had the NFC's top seed but ended up being nothing more than stepping-stone for a team they'd swept in the 2007 regular season.
They can wonder, what if Miles Austin hadn't lost Romo's pass in the lights -- or whatever the heck happened -- on the shoulda-been-dagger deep ball at Cowboys Stadium last December to keep the door cracked for the Giants to come back from a dozen points down midway through the fourth quarter?
The "what ifs" are a waste of time.
The facts are plain, simple and painful for Jerry's gang: The Giants have finished games, finished seasons and finished off the Cowboys.
"Even when we had a chance to put them out of it, they fought through it," Witten said. "They're a mentally tough football team. You've got to get every edge you can. They've kind of been the blueprint for that. I think our football team has learned a lot through that. I believe we can be that type of team."
The Cowboys sweat every day with the goal of tasting the success savored by the Giants.
"Ultimately, we have to get to their level," Garrett said. "That's what we're working to do."
Just imagine what Jerry might have to say if the Cowboys actually catch up to the Giants.
22hEric D. Williams
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