Eli Manning was steaming. A simple screen pass was tipped, bounced off the shoulder of a linebacker and was intercepted, setting up a touchdown that could’ve buried the New York Giants in this game, and this season.
Only, he wouldn’t allow it.
Manning channeled his anger into energy, leading the Giants to two touchdowns in the final 3:14 and Jason Pierre-Paul blocked a field goal in the closing seconds, giving New York a 37-34 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night.
“He was really upset over the interception, but he comes right back and takes the field and away we go,” New York coach Tom Coughlin said. “Sometimes I wish I was in that huddle so I could hear what’s being said. He obviously made some great plays down the stretch.”
Just like that, the Giants’ four-game losing streak was done. And the NFC East race is cracked open, with New York reclaiming the inside track.
“It’s been awhile since we’ve had that winning feeling,” said Manning, who pulled off his sixth fourth-quarter win this season. “It’s good to have excited guys with a lot of smiles in the locker room.”
New York’s recent skid was filled mostly with narrow losses to division leaders. The Giants (7-6) appeared headed to another setback trailing 34-22 with 5:41 left, but a series of clutch plays on their part and meltdowns by Dallas changed everything. The teams are tied, with the Cowboys headed to the Meadowlands for a season-ending rematch on New Year’s Day.
“We knew what was on the line,” Cowboys linebacker Bradie James said. “But those guys made one more play than we did.”
Dallas has gone from winning four straight to losing two in a row, both in dramatic, frustrating fashion that involved missed kicks by rookie Dan Bailey, who’d been so good for so long this season. The Cowboys also lost running back DeMarco Murray to a broken right ankle, ending his record-setting rookie season.
“We certainly know we’ve got our work cut out for us,” team owner Jerry Jones said in a brief statement.
Neither team led by more than five points for most of this back-and-forth game until Tony Romo threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant with no one else around. He strutted into the end zone, putting Dallas up 34-22 with 5:41 left.
Yet instead of that ending the excitement, the fun was just beginning.
Manning mounted an eight-play, 80-yard drive capped by an 8-yard touchdown pass to Jake Ballard. The play had to withstand a video review to make sure he really got the ball past the front of the goal line before his knee landed inches shy of the stripe.
New York’s defense followed with a three-and-out, and the Giants got another break when Dallas’ usually reliable punter, Mat McBriar, had a 33-yarder, letting Manning take over at his 42 with 2:12 left.
Two penalties on the Cowboys’ defense helped, as did completions of 21 and 18 yards to Ballard. Brandon Jacobs scored on a 1-yard run with 51 seconds left and D.J. Ware followed with the 2-point conversion.
Romo still had 46 seconds left. He hit Miles Austin for gains of 22 and 23 yards to set up Bailey for a 47-yard field goal that would force overtime. The rookie who’d made four winning kicks, but was coming off a game-losing debacle the previous week, split the uprights — only it didn’t count because Coughlin called a timeout.
On the do-over, Bailey’s kick was clipped by the outstretched arms of Pierre-Paul. He’d been a disruption all night, sacking Romo for a safety early in the game and forcing a fumble in the second quarter.
“I rushed the center, put my hands up and got the block,” Pierre-Paul said.
Manning was 27 of 47 for 400 yards and two touchdowns. It was his third 400-yard outing this season, and the club racked up 510 yards, its most since having 512 in December 2009.
Jacobs ran for 101 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. Hakeem Nicks had seven catches for 154 yards, including an early 64-yarder. Mario Manningham had two catches for 62 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown reception.
“Guys stepped up and made some big plays,” Manning said. “It won’t mean anything unless we finish the season strong. That’s the mindset. We can’t relax now or feel great about ourselves.”
Romo was 21 of 31 for 321 yards with four touchdowns, two in the fourth quarter.
Laurent Robinson caught four passes for 137 yards and a touchdown, with a 74-yarder. Austin, who’d missed the previous six weeks with a hamstring injury, caught four passes for 63 yards with a touchdown.
Felix Jones ran for 106 yards, and caught six passes for 31 yards. He started the season as Dallas’ featured running back, and will end it that way, too, now that Murray is gone. The rookie got his foot twisted awkwardly at the end of an 8-yard run in the first quarter. He finished his season with 897 yards, with a franchise-record 253 coming in one game.
“This one’s going to hurt, it’s going to sting, but we’ve got to figure out how to do things a little better and play our best game of the season next week,” Romo said. “We need to get a win next week and get back going.”
The Cowboys have lost six straight Sunday night games. They are 0-3 against the Giants at Cowboys Stadium. Romo also continued his trend of winning in November, then slumping in December.