EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Maybe if the circumstances were different the New York Giants might have felt sorry for the overmatched, injury-riddled and quarterback-deficient Dallas Cowboys Sunday.
Yes, it got that embarrassing.
But remember this was the same Cowboys team that diminished a Giants victory in the divisional playoffs last season by saying the best team didn’t win.
Of course, it didn’t help that the Cowboys opened the season as Super Bowl favorites even though the Giants were the defending Super Bowl champions.
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What was that line in the movie Remember the Titans?
Well, the Giants “left no doubt” in routing the Cowboys 35-14 at Giants Stadium.
For the Cowboys, it was the worst possible outcome.
With Pro Bowl quarterback Tony Romo still sidelined with a broken right pinkie and the vertically-challenged Brad Johnson at the controls, the Cowboys entered the game as big underdogs.
Playing without cornerbacks Terence Newman and Adam “Pacman” Jones, rookie running back Felix Jones, guard Kyle Kosier and safety Roy Williams, the Cowboys figured it would take a perfect mix of a shutdown defense and mistake-free offense to beat the Giants.
Instead, they ended up looking to journeyman third-string quarterback Brooks Bollinger as a savior.
What they got was run off the field and embarrassed while making a meteoric fall from last season’s division champion to last place in the NFC East complete.
Trailing 21-7 following two interceptions off Johnson and a lost fumble by receiver Terrell Owens in the first half, the Cowboys finally made the much-talked about move of inserting Bollinger for struggling Johnson at the start of the third quarter.
Two plays later, Bollinger’s first pass was intercepted by safety James Butler. The despair on the Cowboys sidelined showed on defense when running back Brandon Jacobs ran through at least four tackles en route to the end zone for a 28-7 lead.
How bad was it?
Consider that at that point, the Cowboys had five completions for the game and three interceptions.
"We knew it was going to be a tough one and we didn’t play well overall," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. "We had a tough time moving the ball and we knew we would. But we didn’t think we would turn it over like we did."
The Cowboys (5-4) trail the Giants (7-1), the Washington Redskins (6-2) and the Philadelphia Eagles (5-3) and would be sitting at home if the playoffs started today.
With a bye next week, the Cowboys have two weeks to before they resume action at the Redskins Nov. 16. That’s two weeks to stew over a shocking start to the season and Sunday’s blowout. The Cowboys have lost four of their past six games and seven of their past 13 dating back to last season.
"The bye couldn’t have come at a better time," Owens said. "It gives us time to reflect and clear your minds. When we come back after the bye, we better be ready to play. It’s a test of character. But no one is giving up hope. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
The good news is the Cowboys should have Romo and the rest of the injured players back for a possible second-half run. Even then it won’t be easy, as they would have to go 5-2 over the final seven games against a schedule that includes road trips to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in addition to Washington to reach the 10-6 mark. A division title is all but out of reach and considering all of their losses are conference losses, the Cowboys will be hard-pressed to make a wild-card run.
"We know where we are and it’s not where we planned to be at all at this point in the season," owner Jerry Jones said.” It’s very disappointing. We don’t look like anything we hoped. Give me the playoffs and I will take it. We will be challenged. But I’m encouraged by the potential that Romo gives us. He has inspired me before. It will be good to have him back."
But at least they have hope, which is more than they had Sunday at the Meadowlands when the Giants dominated from the outset.
Romo’s return won’t cure all their ills, especially on defense which gave up 200 yards rushing on 34 carries to the Giants.
Running back Brandon Jacobs rushed for 117 yards and a touchdown on seven carries while Derrick Ward gained 63 and a touchdown on 12 carries. Quarterback Eli Manning passed for a modest 147 yards and three touchdowns.
The Giants simply capitalized on a mistake-prone and unproductive Cowboys offense, which mustered just 183 yards. It’s the second consecutive week the Cowboys gained less than 200 yards total offense. Johnson completed five of 11 passes for 71 yards. Phillips said he went with Bollinger in the second half just to try another quarterback. Bollinger’s 63 yards on nine of 16 passes wasn’t much better.
"It was a poor decision," Bollinger said of his third quarter interception. "I just wanted to go in and get rolling."
Said Johnson: "It’s very frustrating. I didn’t do my part. Turnovers are a huge part of the game."
A Cowboys offense that averaged nearly 30 points and 400 yards a game in six games with Romo, managed just 13.6 and roughly 232 yards in the past three games.
"Man, it’s kind of sickening," receiver Patrick Crayton said. "We can’t move the ball (without Romo). I don’t know what’s going on man. It’s a serious regroup this off week. It’s a serious regroup. That’s going to definitely help to get Romo back. That’s definitely going to help."
But will it be enough.