2005-12-09 / Sports

Giants Look To Grab Division Crown From Rival Cowboys

By Michael Avallone Sports Columnist

By Michael Avallone
Sports Columnist

It was cold. It was icy. It was windy. It was the first weekend in December at the Meadowlands.

Last Sunday’s Giants-Cowboys game was reminiscent of so many past NFC East battles between these longtime rivals, Bill Parcells roaming the sidelines – albeit with Dallas – low on offense and finesse, high on defense.

Battling for first place in the division, the two teams combined for just 27 points and 483 yards, so it was no surprise that a defensive touchdown turned out to be the winning points for the G-men in their 17-10 victory.

Looking to rebound after blowing three different chances to steal a win from the Seattle Seahawks the week before, New York came out strong, particularly on the defensive side. Thankfully for Big Blue, there was no fourth quarter magic needed as Giant quarterback Eli Manning reminded everyone that he is still just a baby with a performance befitting a 24-year-old.

The young QB suffered through his worst game of the season, completing only 12-of-31 passes for 115 yards. He also continued an alarming trend of throwing interceptions in the red-zone, getting picked off by Dallas CB Aaron Glenn twice, one a badly under thrown ball to Plaxico Burress in the endzone.

While Manning’s performance was forgettable, Dallas QB Drew Bledsoe’s act was almost unwatchable. The veteran endured a miserable afternoon, completing just 15-of-39 pass attempts for 146 yards. Although he did throw a TD pass to WR Terry Glenn to bring Dallas to within a touchdown, he was intercepted twice and lost two fumbles. The second of which was picked up and ran into the endzone by LB Antonio Pierce on the first play of the second half to put the Giants up 17-0.

New York’s defense did the rest, holding the ‘Boys to a field goal and a turnover-induced TD in the third period. Led by veteran DE Michael Strahan (two sacks) and quickly rising DE Osi Umenyiora (one sack); the Giants “D” pressured Bledsoe into his worst performance of the year.

So now what? At 8-4, New York is in the driver’s seat as they head towards their first NFC East title since in five years. But four weeks is a long time in the NFL, so before Big Blue can start printing playoff tickets, they have four tough games remaining.

Starting this weekend in Philadelphia and ending Dec. 31 in Oakland, Big Blue faces the Kansas City Chiefs at home and the Washington Redskins on the road. Conversely, the Cowboys will face the Chiefs at home, Washington and the Carolina Panthers on the road before finishing up against the St. Louis Rams in Big D.

With Dallas only a game behind and even the ‘Skins hanging around at two games back, nothing is certain. That’s why an early December win over the Cowboys won’t necessarily determine who takes the divisional crown.

Did the Giants put themselves in good position with the win? Yes. New York’s four remaining opponents sport just a 23-25 combined record, but three of those games are on the road, including what will surely be a mean and excitable crowd in Oakland on New Year’s Eve.

Then again, Dallas’ remaining opponents are playing at a .542 clip (26-22) and that includes a Christmas Eve matchup with the Panthers in Charlotte, a team many believe is the best overall squad in the NFC. New York holds their division title dreams in their own hands. With that in mind, here’s a quick breakdown of Big Blue’s remaining four regular season games:

Sunday at Philadelphia (5-7): This game looked a lot tougher before the Seattle Seahawks ran roughshod all over the Eagles on Monday night. They may be mathematically alive, but without Donovan McNabb, Terrell Owens and now Brian Westbrook (sprained foot) there’s not much to worry about offensively.

Dec. 17 vs. Kansas City (8-4): Easily the toughest team on the schedule, but the Chiefs are just 3-3 on the road, including a loss at Buffalo and a near loss at Oakland. Still, Trent Green is a reliable QB and Larry Johnson looks like the heir apparent to Priest Holmes at RB, so expect a close game as K.C. hopes to sneak into the playoffs in coach Dick Vermeil’s final season.

Dec. 24 at Washington (6-6): Other than their 36-0 loss to the Giants on Oct. 30, the Redskins’ other five losses have been by a combined 19 points. That 3-0 start seems like a long time ago, but don’t underestimate Joe Gibbs in another NFC East rivalry. Depending on what happens in the games leading up to this one, this matchup could very well determine who wins the division.

Dec. 31 at Oakland (4-8): From the looks of it, the Giants won’t get the opportunity to face old friend Kerry Collins. Raiders coach Norv Turner has handed over the starting QB reins to Marques Tuiasosopo…at least for now. New York better hope that they’ve already clinched a playoff spot by the time 2005 is set to expire, because this will not be a fun game for Big Blue, win or lose.

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