Last season, the Dallsa Cowboys’ best defense was an offense that played keep-away with the best teams in the league, finishing sixth in the NFL in time of possession (32:17).
In Sunday’s 19-3 win over the New York Giants, who handed the Cowboys two of the team’s three losses last year, that script was flipped.
The Cowboys’ offense was effective, no doubt, but the unit fed off the defense in a way fans didn’t see in 2016. The Giants only manufactured one sustained drive all night, a 16-play saga that accounted for more than a third (9:44) of the team’s time of possession, but netted just a field goal.
With a 34-26 advantage in time of possession against the Giants, the Cowboys exceeded last year’s team yardage average (376 per game), outgaining the Giants 392-233 on the night.
Ezekiel Elliott ran 24 times for 104 yards. Terrence Williams caught six of the seven balls that came his way for a team-high 68 receiving yards.
“He ran hard. It was great to have him back there,” right guard La’el Collins said of Elliott’s night. “That was just Zeke being Zeke.”
Williams battled through an ankle injury sustained on the game’s first play and was wearing a protective boot on his left foot in the locker room after the game.
Jason Witten, who became the Cowboys’ all-time receiving leader and tied Ed Jones for most games played in a Cowboy uniform on Sunday, caught Dak Prescott’s only touchdown pass.
“It’s special. Its really special,” Witten said. “Over the course of my career there have been some special moments. For this organization and to be able to set that record and pass Michael [Irvin] ... I just have so much respect for the great players who have played for this organization.”
Dez Bryant caught just two balls for 43 yards, but also made his presence felt. On the Cowboys’ lone drive that ended in a touchdown, late in the second quarter, Bryant drew a pass interference penalty against Janoris Jenkins that set up the touchdown pass to Witten.
Blanketing Bryant has continued to be a focal point for the Giants’ defense when playing the Cowboys, as the star wideout has caught just four balls in the past three Cowboys-Giants match-ups.
On a night when the defense led the way to a win, the Cowboys’ offense wasn’t sparkling, but it produced enough. Prescott went 24-of-39 through the air for 268 yards.
It wasn’t the best game fans have seen him play, but it was more efficient than last year’s season opener, when he went 25 of 45 for 227 yards in a 20-19 loss to the Giants.
Third downs were also key. The Cowboys were eight for 15 on third down, while the Giants went just four of 12, again, thanks to a Cowboys defense that was a little saltier than anyone anticipated.
“To hold Eli [Manning] and company to three points like that, that’s huge,” Witten said. “The entire game, I think they set the tone for us.”
While that didn’t get the ball in the end zone, it kept the ball out of New York’s hands.