One stat sums up the game for the Dallas Cowboys as they fell 10-7 to the New York Giants for only their second loss of the season: Chris Jones had nine punts for 384 yards. The Cowboys were unable to convert third downs as the magic finally deserted Dak Prescott, and Ezekiel Elliott getting over 100 yards was not enough. The game slowed down the drive to get home field advantage throughout the playoffs for Dallas, and gave the Giants a sweep for the season, which could be trouble if the Cowboys continue to sputter. But the Cowboys still control their own destiny, to coin a phrase. Two wins in the last three games will still give them the best record in the league, no matter what else happens.
Still, it is galling to have let a golden opportunity to lock up the NFC East slip away in the cold in New York. The Cowboys had a chance to drive the field late and at least tie it up, but on his first and only reception of the game, Dez Bryant was stripped of the ball and the Giants recovered. It was just one of many offensive misfires for the Cowboys, who only converted one third down all game, including their futile final attempt to move the ball from their own two yard line as the seconds ticked away.
The Cowboys and the Giants both had three turnovers in the game, including Anthony Brown’s first career pick with 9:40 left in game. But Dallas got exactly zero points off turnovers, while New York converted one into their only touchdown of the game. That was the big difference. Both defenses had very good games, but in the end, the one drive by New York ended the record Dallas win streak.
The first half was a struggle for both teams offensively, but the Cowboys had the only successful drive before intermission, capped off by a beautifully executed play action pass by Prescott that saw Terrance Williams as wide open as he may have ever been in his career for a 30 yard touchdown. And against a rather feeble Giants offensive line, the Cowboys found a pass rush. Tyrone Crawford got the first sack and Benson Mayowa added a second, knocking the ball lose for Sean Lee to recover. Lee also got in Eli Manning’s face, leading to a fumble. But the Cowboys did not capitalize on either takeaway, and Prescott had only his third interception of the season. Dez Bryant did not catch a pass. Elliott was definitely the bright spot for the Dallas offense, gaining 86 yards in the first half. Prescott was generally ineffective in the first half, under heavy pressure. And the Cowboys failed to capitalize on their last drive before halftime as Dan Bailey had a 55 yard field goal bounce off the crossbar as time ran out. Despite their own struggles, the Cowboys still had over twice as many yards offensively as the Giants, leading to the 7-0 score to open the second half. The Giants had opportunities, but Odell Beckham Jr. dropped what might have been a touchdown and Manning had a wide open receiver headed for the end zone when the ball slipped out of his hand on the first fumble.
Lee was the defensive star for Dallas in the first half, and he continued that in the second, stopping the Giants for a three-and-out on their first possession of that half. He repeatedly blew up running plays, cutting behind blocks and leveling the ball carrier. Barry Church had his chances, but twice Manning threw the ball right too him, only to have Church, who is playing with a cast on his broken arm, unable to hang onto the ball. In this, he had something in common with Beckham, who dropped at least two passes he normally catches. Once again, the cold weather may have played a role, although there also seemed to be a lack of concentration on the miscues.
This was probably the worst game of the season for Prescott, as he had his first multi-interception game of his career. His second came on a really bad throw deep on third and 15, and a good return by Leon Hall gave the Giants the ball on their own 39. That set up the first big play of the night for Beckham, who got the pass on a crossing pattern and went the distance to give the Giants their first lead of the night with 1:07 left in the third quarter. And Prescott’s struggles continued into the fourth quarter, as he badly missed Dez Bryant on a third and five.
The Giants also found their running game in the second half, which had been completely absent before that. They began gashing the defense. And in a game where points were few and far between, that bit of ball control, coupled with the almost complete ineptitude of the offense for Dallas just killed the game for the visitors.