When Jason Garrett took over as Dallas Cowboys coach midway through the 2010 season, the first core principle he implemented was the process.
The Cowboys were 1-7 and going nowhere.
Garrett said don’t worry about the past, focus on today. One play at a time. One practice at a time. One game at a time.
It was boring. It was mundane. But it was the perfect tonic for a team that had quit on former coach Wade Phillips.
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Fittingly, it was the process and a culture of mental toughness that carried the Cowboys to victory in Garrett’s first game, a 33-20 victory at the New York Giants a little more than four years ago.
And that’s what they fell back on Sunday night in a 31-28 victory before a crowd of 80,520 at MetLife Stadium.
The Cowboys fell behind 21-10 at halftime, rallied to take a 24-21 lead and then trailed 28-21 with 3 minutes to go after a 1-yard touchdown run by Andre Williams.
But quarterback Tony Romo led the Cowboys 80 yards in seven plays. His 13-yard touchdown pass to receiver Dez Bryant with 1:01 proved to be the game winner.
“They came back and responded twice,” owner Jerry Jones said. “I think our defense came back in that second half. The main thing is this bunch trusted their coaching and they trusted their work. There’s no question that hard work in football will get you a result. This bunch had a great week and had a great couple of weeks. They deserved that. …It was a big win for us.”
It was Romo’s franchise-record 23rd fourth-quarter comeback victory and the 50th touchdown catch of Bryant’s career.
Romo, who has the highest fourth-quarter passer rating in NFL history, completed 18 of 26 passes for 275 yards and four touchdowns. He was 6-for-6 for 69 yards on the final drive.
Bryant had seven catches for 86 yards and two touchdowns, and running back DeMarco Murray had 24 carries for 121 yards. It was his 10th 100-yard game of the season.
Also credit a resilient defense, which seemingly couldn’t stop the Giants in the first half, for only giving up one score in the final two quarters and stuffed them after Bryant’s score on the final drive.
“You’ve got to give them all the credit in the world,” vice president Stephen Jones said. “I don’t think they ever blinked. They kept playing. At some point they knew things would go our way.”
The Cowboys didn’t waver when no one gave them a chance to be a contender at the start of the season, a narrative that was given even more life thanks to a 28-17 season-opening loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
But the Cowboys have reeled off five straight wins and seven in their past nine to up their record to 8-3 and remain in a tie with the Philadelphia Eagles atop the NFC East. The Cowboys are 8-3 for the first time since 2009 when they won the NFC East with a 11-5 record and got their only playoff win since 1996.
The win against the Giants was also important because it was the first of a whirlwind three games in 12 days. They host the Eagles Thursday then play at the Chicago Bears Dec. 4. They are also now 5-0 on the road this season and have a six-game road winning streak dating to 2013.
They completed a two-game sweep of the Giants (3-8) for the second straight season. It also extended the Giants losing streak to six games.
The Cowboys have matched their win total of the past three 8-8 seasons.
"It started at halftime," Bryant said. "I knew nobody gave up or faded. I could tell by everybody’s attitude. We don’t believe in pressure. We didn’t feel like we were under pressure. We knew what we had to do coming out in the second half and whenever we get the ball we need to make something happen and we need to make it count. I think that’s what we did."
The Giants led 21-10 halftime after scoring on their first three drives and being perfect on their first seven third-down conversions.
Receiver Odell Beckham was simply unstoppable and unfathomable with eight catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.
But it was a 43-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter that left every one dumbfounded. He made a jumping one-hand snag while falling back into the end zone. Never mind that he was interfered with by Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr and had to avoid going out of bounds in the process.
The amazing catch put the Giants up 14-3.
The Cowboys answered with a nine-play, 77-yard touchdown drive. Romo got the Giants surprise with a 4-yard shovel pass to tight end Jason Witten for the score.
But the defense could do nothing to stop the Giants early, giving up 11 plays of 12 yards or more in the first half.
Quarterback Eli Manning took the Giants 80 yards on 11 plays.
The Cowboys’ defense stopped the Giants on two drives right before the half and then had stops on the first three drives of the second half.
Romo tossed a 45-yard touchdown pass Cole Beasley to make it 21-17 before connecting with a wide-open Bryant for a 31-yard score to make it 24-21 after three quarters.
The Giants appeared to take control of the game with 14-play, 93-yard scoring drive late in the fourth quarter that took 6:12.
But these Cowboys would not waver and refused to blink.
The offensive line gave Romo all the time he needed on the game-winning drive.
The defense stepped up as Beckham caught just two passes in the second half to finish with 10 catches for 146 yards in the game.
“You have to give the Giants a lot of credit,” Stephen Jones said. “The first three drives were flawless. They have a special player in Beckham. But our players stepped up. This was a good win. We had to get this one.”
Now it’s on to the Eagles.