IRVING -- After a week of controversy, infighting and talk of snitches the Dallas Cowboys finally found something they could all agree on Sunday night: beating the New York Giants and salvaging their playoff hopes.
With their backs against the wall, the Cowboys had no choice but to band together or watch the inner turmoil implode their season as well as the locker room in a 20-8 victory at Texas Stadium.
Credit the defense, which has played as well as any in the league during the recent hot streak which has seen the Cowboy win four of their past five games. The Cowboys recorded a season-high eight sacks and held the Giants to 212 total yards and no touchdowns.
“We’re starting to hit our stride defensively,” coach Wade Phillips said.
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Linebacker DeMarcus Ware had three sacks. Quarterback Eli Manning was intercepted twice by cornerback Terrence Newman.
“Terence Newman is a versatile guy. I thought he did a real good job,” coach Wade Phillips said.
And also credit gritty quarterback Tony Romo for showing leadership through a toughness.
Romo was silent during the week when he was accused of throwing the ball too much to tight end and good friend Jason Witten and not throwing to the open receivers such as Terrell Owens, Roy Williams and Patrick Crayton. Then there was an ESPN report that Owens was jealous of Witten and tearing up the locker room. By the end of the week, Witten and Owens exchanged heated words in the locker room.
Romo spoke loudest Sunday when he overcame a back injury on consecutive sacks to return to the field and toss a 34-yard touchdowns pass to Crayton in the second quarter. He capped a 72-yard drive in fourth quarter with a 1-yard touchdown pass to fullback Deon Anderson.
After the Giants cut the lead to 14-8 late in the fourth quarter, rookie running back Tashard Choice put them away for good with a 38-yard touchdown run.
Romo completed 20 of 30 passes with no turnovers to put the week of turmoil behind him as well as the talk of him not being able to come through on the month of December or in the clutch.
Fittingly Romo, Owens and Witten shared a laugh on the sideline late in the fourth quarter
The Cowboys (9-5) are tied with the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the race for the final two playoff spots with two games to go. Philadelphia is 7-5-1. They host Cleveland tonight.
Dallas hosts the Baltimore Ravens in the final regular-season game in the history of Texas Stadium next Saturday before finishing the season at the Eagles. Most importantly, the Cowboys control their own destiny if they win out.
If the Cowboys continue to play defense as well as they have of late, they have a chance to still make something of a season that began with talk of a Super Bowl run before bordering on the most disappointing season in franchise history.
The Giants rushed for just 72 yards after gaining 200 in the 35-14 victory six games ago. This was the fifth consecutive game the Cowboys have allowed less than 100 yards rushing and the third straight game they have had five or more sacks.
To do so, they must build on Sunday’s victory and put the offensive infighting behind them.
Although they didn’t put up big numbers offensively _ which isn’t expected against the sixth-ranked defense _ the Cowboys did enough to get the victory.
Things certainly looked bleak in the first quarter when Romo was sacked on back-to-back plays, wrenching his back. Backup quarterback Brad Johnson warmed up on the sideline as team trainers checked on a wincing Romo.
However, when the offense returned to the field, Romo went back out there with them. Eyebrows were raised when he was sacked on the first play. But Romo refused to give in, throwing a screen pass to running back Tashard Choice for 22 yards and a 6-yard pass to Owens. He then escaped the rush to toss a 34-yard touchdown to Crayton before crossing the line of scrimmage.
The Giants got their only score on the next series with a 34-yard field goal.
Romo and the offense seemingly erased any concerns of a late-game meltdown as they did in last week’s 20-13 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers with the fourth-quarter touchdown drive.
But this is the Cowboys and it’s never that easy.
Romo was sacked for a safety, moving the Giants closer at 14-5.
They then turned that into a 47-yard field goal to make it 14-8 with 5 minutes, 48 seconds left.
But this time the Cowboys would make it count. And ironically, it was a pass from Romo to Witten for a key third-down conversion that set up Choice’s final jaunt.
Choice, who led the team with 91 yards rushing, had four catches for 52 yards receiving in the game. Crayton had two receptions for 49. Witten had five for 44 yards. Owens had three for 38.