The wind was swirling. The chilled audience was loud and unruly.
The team that Giants fans love to hate, the Dallas Cowboys, having surrendered a 15-point lead, stood 80 yards and four minutes away from deciding whether their day in the New Jersey chill was for triumph or for naught.
“But our guys stayed focused, focused, focused,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said, forming his hands into a thin tunnel.
There have been Sundays along the NFL road — anxious Sundays like this one — when Garrett and his team couldn’t close the deal.
Never miss a local story.
Days when the clock was frittered away. Or the quarterback threw a late interception. Or the defense couldn’t make a last critical stop.
“We call it, ‘nut-cutting time,’” Garrett said.
“We stepped up today. We made the plays we needed to make.”
Garrett didn’t say it, but I will. Sometimes the Cowboys have handled those “nut-cutting” moments like, well, squirrels. But Sunday’s final-second, 24-21 win over the New York Giants, considering the stakes and the weather conditions, resembled a team that is ready for the challenging month ahead.
At kickoff Sunday, when the sun was still shining, the temperature at MetLife Stadium was officially recorded at 25 degrees with a wind chill of 18.
Not exactly Tony Romo weather. Instead of the Cowboys’ usual aerial circus, the evening seemed destined to look more like Disney on Ice.
Thus, with their new play-calling relay squad in place — Wade Wilson in the press box, Garrett whispering in Romo’s ear — the Cowboys set about figuring out what would work against the streaking Giants and what wouldn’t.
“It wasn’t so much the wind,” Garrett said, “but rather that the thing was so slippery.”
With passes to the deep sidelines and into the flat looking risky, the Cowboys had to make more use of the run. DeMarco Murray, with 86 yards on 14 carries, and Lance Dunbar (20 yards on three carries) made that part of the strategy work.
The rest fell to Romo and, in the end, Dez Bryant.
“I thought Tony did a really good job in this ballgame,” Garrett said. “We seemed to be one score away — a few times — from putting the game away, and we didn’t.
“I thought Tony did a real good job there of not getting frustrated. We were saying, ‘Keep playing the drive, keep playing the situation.’”
It took Romo 14 plays to move the Cowboys 64 yards to the game-winning field goal. With the clock winding down, he didn’t try to get all 64 in one play.
Special drives call for special players, and Romo was wise to go to his difference-maker, Bryant. But he also had vital completions during the game-winning drive to Miles Austin and Cole Beasley.
It was Romo at his experienced best. He didn’t try this time to pull any rabbits — or squirrels — out of a hat.
“They stayed focused,” Garrett said of his offense. “Especially No. 9.”
Maybe it took the thrashing in New Orleans to slap the Cowboys back to reality. Maybe it was just the rest and the healing that came during their off week.
“We practiced really well coming out of the bye,” Garrett said. “I think we reaffirmed a lot of the things we believe in.”
While the Giants freely chatted up the importance of the game last week, the Cowboys followed their coach’s lead and stayed focused on the game.
“We must have used the word ‘challenge’ 500 times since Wednesday morning,” Garrett said.
They shivered, but they delivered.
Finally, the Cowboys looked like a team focused on the five-game grind that lies ahead.
Better now, they know, than never.