The first time the Cowboys and Giants played a prime-time game at Cowboys Stadium, things didn’t go so well for Tony Romo. It was the opener of the $1.2 billion palace and Romo disappointed an NFL-record crowd by throwing three interceptions in a last-second loss.
The second time the Cowboys and Giants played in a prime-time game at Cowboys Stadium, things didn’t work out so well for Romo, either. He broke a collarbone and was done for the year; that loss dropped Dallas to 1-5 and pretty much ended the team’s season, too.
Here they go again.
The Giants are coming to Cowboys Stadium on Sunday night and, of course, it’ll be in prime time. And, one way or another, Romo will be among the main attractions.
Will he be the cool, efficient guy who guided Dallas to four straight wins and a solid grip on the lead in the NFC East going into December?
Or will be he the guy who opened the month by struggling against Arizona, then flubbing Clock Management 101 at the end of regulation, putting that first-place standing in serious jeopardy?
See, if the Cowboys had beaten the Cardinals, they would’ve gone into this game knowing a win would wrap up the division. Plain and simple. A victory would’ve guaranteed them a playoff spot and at least one postseason game at home, all with three games left.
Instead, a win would only guarantee Dallas (7-5) of still being in first place when these teams meet again in two weeks in New York. And a loss would vault the Giants (6-6) to the top of the division. Simply having the chance to reclaim the NFC East lead after their last four games should help bring out New York’s best.
“The mindset is looking ahead,” said Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who has flourished in these marquee matchups against the Cowboys, throwing six touchdowns and no interceptions over two games at Jerry Jones’ shrine. He also memorably broke in the visitors’ locker room by autographing a wall.
“It doesn’t matter what you’ve done last week or what your record is,” Manning continued. “It’s what you’re playing for, who you have this week. And you have Dallas, Sunday Night Football, that’s a big one. I think everybody is excited about the opportunity that we’re in right now.”
It’s worth noting that three of New York’s losses were to division leaders. And in the last game, the Giants gave the unbeaten Packers their toughest challenge yet.
Maybe that’s why the Cowboys have insisted all week that when they watch film of New York, they don’t see a team that is struggling. The Giants are also expected to have running back Ahmad Bradshaw back from a foot injury, and could have receiver Mario Manningham back from a knee problem.
“I know they’ve been hurt with some injuries at different times this year, but they look to be playing great football right now,” Romo said. “We are going to have a great challenge. They are going to be ready to go.”
Dallas should be ready, too.
Romo will be surrounded by the preferred starters for the first time since October, with receiver Miles Austin expected to be back from a hamstring injury and fullback Tony Fiammetta back from an undisclosed illness.
Rookie DeMarco Murray has been at his best when running behind Fiammetta, averaging more than 150 yards in those games compared to 66 without him. Having Austin back should help give Murray room to roam, too.
Dallas also is 5-1 at home this season.
However, Romo is coming off a season-worst five sacks against the Cardinals. If Arizona truly exploited something that the return of Austin and Fiammetta can’t solve, then it could be another forgettable night for Romo. The Giants have 33 sacks, which is tied for fifth-best in the league.
A big question around the Cowboys has been what kind of carryover that loss in Arizona might have. There’s also been talk about how to manage the high stakes of this matchup.
Some folks, like Romo and Garrett, have downplayed it. They both insist that it’s just one of 16, and all 16 are super-important.
“I think you short change yourself if you put more effort in one game than another,” Romo said. “You work as hard as you can to prepare to give yourself the best chance to win on Sunday.”
Then there are those, like tight end Jason Witten and cornerback Mike Jenkins, who say it’s impossible to ignore the ramifications.
“Everybody in here knows what’s at stake,” Jenkins said. “If you can’t get up for this game, then whatever Jason has to say, if you’re using that as motivation, then I don’t know where you’re at as a person.”
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.