The Dallas Cowboys defense has been insistent that sacks and takeaways were only a matter of time.
Well, they finally arrived at MetLife Stadium on Sunday night.
The Cowboys defense had multiple sacks and takeaways for the first time this season — accomplishing that feat in the opening half — of what became a 10-7 loss against the Giants. They also pitched an opening-half shutout for only the second time (Week 5 vs. Cincinnati).
Those guys played a hell of a game tonight. They’re the only reason that kept us in the game.
Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott
The defense appeared to revert back to its old self at times in the second half, notably giving up a 61-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Odell Beckham Jr. that proved to be the game-winner.
“It’s the National Football League. Elite receiver,” said cornerback Brandon Carr, who shadowed Beckham. “He’ll get some plays on you. You’ve just got to battle, tackle. It is what it is.”
And, just when it seemed like the Giants might be driving to put the game away early in the fourth quarter, rookie cornerback Anthony Brown came through with an interception of Manning. It was Brown’s first career pick.
But the offense couldn’t take advantage of that opportunity in what snapped an 11-game winning streak.
“Those guys played a hell of a game tonight,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said. “They’re the only reason that kept us in the game. Getting three takeaways is always big. Just stopping them when we weren’t able to produce anything. It was good to see those guys go out there and battle.”
Still, the defense making the type of impact is a good sign for a team trying to find their peak form for a postseason run down the stretch.
“I thought our defense played as well as I’ve seen them play this year,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “That’s encouraging as we go into these last three games. If we can get that kind of defense, I think we’ve got the talent and now the experience that Dak [Prescott] and company — Zeke and Dez [Bryant] — that we can make some of those plays and get on the right track offensively.”
The Giants had to punt on their opening drive, and then linebacker Sean Lee sniffed out the first two plays of the second drive. Defensive end Tyrone Crawford came through on third down with an 8-yard sack of Giants quarterback Eli Manning, forcing another punt.
Crawford extended his team lead in sacks to 4.5.
On the Giants’ next drive, they went all the way down to the Cowboys’ 24. But Manning dropped the ball and Cowboys defensive tackle Cedric Thornton jumped on it. Lee was generously credited with a forced fumble on the play.
Regardless, it marked the first takeaway for the defensive unit since Oct. 30 against Philadelphia. The special teams unit forced a takeaway earlier this month at Minnesota.
The defense didn’t let up there, either.
Midway through the second quarter, Benson Mayowa had a strip-sack of Manning and Lee recovered the loose ball. It was the second time in as many games that Mayowa has a sack.
Mayowa started the game, too, with DeMarcus Lawrence limited with a back injury. Mayowa had been benched three weeks earlier this season in favor of Ryan Davis, but is now making the type of plays the Cowboys hoped for when they signed him as a restricted free agent in March.
And to think the Cowboys’ defense could have even had more takeaways.
Safety Barry Church, who is playing with a cast on his right forearm, had two possible interceptions fall through his hands late in the first half and early in the second half. Then linebacker Justin Durant had a possible interception slip through his hands late in the fourth quarter.
In the end, though, the Cowboys will take the type of performance the defense delivered on Sunday. More times than not, it will translate into a win holding a team to only 10 points, 260 total yards and limiting them to 2-for-13 on third down.
“There were a couple of more [takeaways] that I think we could have made and that would have been big for us,” Lee said. “There were a lot of good things defensively for us, but there’s still room to improve. We have to keep on the gas pedal down the stretch, moving into the playoffs.”