The chatter on TV from the New York Giants locker room this week has all been about the Dallas Cowboys’ sensational rookies, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.
The Giants, more or less, have been impressed. They have tipped their Santa hats to the Cowboys’ league-leading 11-1 record.
The one thing that has mostly escaped mention, however, is what happened in Week 1.
The clock ran out with Prescott and the Cowboys driving, and New York prevailed 20-19.
If that season opener has provided motivation for the Cowboys for Sunday’s rematch in the Meadowlands, it’s otherwise been dismissed as minor history by the Giants. Quarterback Eli Manning and his team are in a taut playoff hunt, and last Sunday’s 24-14 defeat in Pittsburgh didn’t help things.
“We didn’t play our best football,” Manning told the media last week. “That’s where our focus has to be. We have to get back to work.”
In coach Ben McAdoo’s thinking, that meant the Giants’ putting on the pads for part of Thursday’s practice and revving up the intensity — an uncommon shift in today’s NFL.
“This team is hungry,” receiver Victor Cruz told Steve Serby of the New York Post. “This team understands exactly where we want to go, and that’s to compete for a championship and compete for a Super Bowl.
“We understand exactly how to combat this team.”
Cruz didn’t elaborate, but this is typical Giants bravado whenever the Cowboys come to town. A physical Thursday practice foretells an expected physical Sunday game, leaving the impression that the Giants don’t think the soft Cowboys can handle it.
Those “soft” Cowboys, it should be noted, went into Pittsburgh last month and beat the same Steelers that the Giants just lost to.
Why would somebody think that a team that loves to run the football behind the NFL’s best offensive line doesn’t want to get its fingernails dirty?
It’s a rivalry thing, I suppose. The Giants have long entertained every chance to tweak the Cowboys’ noses.
Remember the first game ever played at AT&T Stadium? The Giants won on a last-second field goal, and afterward Manning scrawled his signature on a wall inside the locker room with the note, “First win in new stadium, 33-31.”
Manning also once took a thinly veiled shot at the 2007 Cowboys’ infamous playoff week trip to Cabo San Lucas.
When the Giants had a similar off-week the next season, Manning was asked how he planned to spend it.
“No plans,” Manning said. “My plans to Cabo fell through.
“That’s a joke, by the way.”
Yet, one quarterback is considered a likely Hall of Famer, and Romo, currently benched, is not.
The difference: Manning has a personal 8-3 career record in the playoffs, including two Super Bowl victories. Romo is 2-4 and has never advanced beyond the division round.
Even though the Cowboys have won five of the last seven meetings between the teams, the Giants have always relished the opportunity to give their division rivals their comeuppance.
Sure, the Cowboys have improved since Week 1, the Giants said on TV all week. But so have the Giants, they assured.
Michael Eisen on the Giants’ website asked linebacker Jonathan Casillas about the team’s Sunday visitors.
“They do have one loss — let’s not forget that,” Casillas said. “Everyone talks about how good Dallas is and they’re the best team in the league.
“You have to give them credit, but they have one loss. Just in case anyone forgot about that.”
The Cowboys haven’t forgotten. But they rightly feel they are a better football team than they were in the first week of the season.
How much better should be sharply defined Sunday night.