Sunday will mark the 27th, and perhaps final, time the Dallas Cowboys will face an Eli Manning quarterbacked New York Giants squad. The teams have thus far split the 26 contests (13 wins each) so whoever emerges victorious Sunday will likely claim victory in the Eli vs. Cowboys series. The last time Dallas faced a Giants team not led by Manning was October 24th of 2004 at Texas Stadium. The Giants won that game, 26-10 behind Kurt Warner. Vinny Testaverde was the Cowboys’ quarterback that day, Eddie George the team’s leading rusher and Bill Parcells the team’s coach. That was a long time ago folks. Let’s look at the most memorable games since Eli first took over late in the 2004 season:
2004 - Cowboys first game against Eli
Dallas followed up a surprise playoff run in 2003 with a disappointing 2004 season that concluded with this loss to the Giants. Not much to remember from this game other than it being Eli’s first against the Cowboys. Tiki Barber ran three yards for a game-winning touchdown with 11 seconds remaining to cap a 66-yard drive in the last 1:41. Just another sad chapter in a sad season.
Tony Romo’s first game
The 2006 season started like pretty much each of the Parcells-era teams, with Dallas alternating between wins and losses. They entered this week six contest against the Giants with a 3-2 record. Dallas trailed 12-7 with 1:38 remaining in the first half when Drew Bledsoe threw a brutal interception near the Giants endzone to derail a promising Cowboys drive. It was the last pass he would throw in the NFL.
Parcells made the decision to replace Bledsoe with Romo and changed the course of Cowboys’ history. Romo’s first pass was intercepted and he added two more interceptions (including a 96-yard pick six) en route to a 36-22 Cowboys defeat. But Romo added two touchdowns and threw for 227 yards in a single half, providing Parcells enough reason to start him the following week against Carolina. The Cowboys never looked back.
2007 - Cowboys prove it’s hard to defeat a team three times in one season
The 2007 Cowboys were a bit of a surprise. Yeah, they had won 10 games the prior season but they were grouped with many teams who hoped to make the playoffs. The season started off against the Giants on Sunday night in a wild shoot-out. Romo would throw for four touchdowns and 345 yards on only 24 attempts (129 rating). Manning also threw four touchdowns and 312 yards but needed 41 attempts and ultimately yielded to the Cowboys and Romo.
Season-opening Sunday Night Football games would routinely feature the Giants and Cowboys and often featured high-scoring shootouts such as this. The Cowboys came out on top this time but it wasn’t always that way.
The two teams would meet again on November 11th but by then the Cowboys enjoyed a 7-1 record and a road win over the division rival would add yet another impressive skin on the wall in their already impressive season. Romo would again have a big game, throwing for four touchdowns and 247 yards on 28 attempts (123 rating). Dallas won 31-20.
But most don’t remember those two Cowboys-Giants games from 2007; they instead remember the team’s divisional round playoff matchup. Romo wouldn’t play nearly as well, throwing for only one touchdown and 201 yards on 38 attempts. Yet Dallas would out-gain the Giants by nearly 100 yards and controlled the ball for over 36 minutes.
They looked to be in good position late in the first half, capping a monumental 20-play, 90-yard touchdown drive for a 14-7 lead with 0:53 seconds left in the half. Manning, however, quickly responded with a 5-play, 80-yard drive to tie the score before the half.
Most are familiar with Patrick Crayton dropping what looked like a sure, long touchdown pass. It occurred late in the third quarter with Dallas nursing a 17-14 lead. What’s most disappointing about this play is it’s Romo at his absolute best (go to 5:47 mark of video). Facing a 3rd-and-17 from his own 16 and under heavy pressure he moves up in the pocket, then rolls left and throwing against the grain hits a streaking Crayton in stride for what should have been an 84-yard touchdown pass. It would have been a devastating strike that would have gone down in Cowboys annals but instead was another sad chapter where the fates (and Romo’s teammates) let him down.
Yet Romo, the Cowboys and Crayton had an opportunity for redemption. Trailing 21-17 at the Giants 23-yard line the Cowboys had 11 seconds and two plays to salvage a win and advance to the NFC Championship for the first time in 12 years. And Romo came through tossing a perfectly placed deep sideline ball. Except, it landed harmlessly, having been “overthrown”. However, film shows that Crayton briefly (and inexplicably) quit on the route, thinking the pass wasn’t coming to him. Had he not quit the ball would have hit him in stride. A catch would have won the game, eliminated the Giants from the playoffs and become a signature moment in Dallas Cowboys history.
I don’t hold many grudges against players; I generally believe they’re all trying their best to win. But I’ve never quite been able to forgive Crayton for these two plays. Dallas was the better team that season and the better team that day. Romo’s numbers look mediocre but if you were to add an 84-yard touchdown or a game-winning 23-yard touchdown pass on in the final seconds... everyone would say he had a great game. He did. He was betrayed by Patrick Crayton. Note that without Crayton’s miscues the Giants never move on to face the Patriots in Super Bowl XLI and Manning is denied his first Super Bowl victory.
2009 - Opening night at JerryWorld
The Cowboys and Giants didn’t open the 2009 season on Sunday Night Football. Instead they played on SNF in week 2, in the first regular season NFL game played at what was then called Cowboys Stadium.
Unfortunately Eli and the Giants ruined the party, winning 33-31 in yet another big shootout. Eli threw for 330 yards and two touchdowns and led the Giants on a 56-yard field goal drive to win on the game’s last play.
Romo had a poor night, throwing three interceptions and only 127 yards on 29 attempts. The Cowboys used 58 ground yards from Marion Barber and Felix Jones to score a go-ahead touchdown with just over three minutes remaining but that just set Manning and the Giants up for the final margin. A disappointing Cowboys Stadium opener.
2010 - Romo breaks collarbone
The Cowboys finally broke through in 2009 to win their first playoff game in 13 years only to stumble badly in 2010. A team expected to compete for a Super Bowl instead found itself facing Manning and the Giants on Monday Night Football with an ugly 1-4 record. A win would be needed to salvage the season and things initially looked good as the Cowboys raced out to a 10-7 lead. But then the Giants Michael Boley plowed Romo into the turf, breaking his collarbone and plunging #CowboysNation in darkness.
Despite running up a 20-7 lead the Cowboys then surrendered 31 consecutive points in an eventual 41-35 loss. Dallas would then lose their next two games, including an embarrassing 45-7 defeat to the Packers on Sunday Night Football. That would be the end of the Wade Phillips era as it was obvious to anyone watching he had completely lost the faith of his players.
2010 - Jason Garrett’s first game
Three weeks following Romo’s injury Dallas traveled to the Meadowlands to face a 6-2 Giants squad. After weeks of bumbling, inept performances the Cowboys came out with new life. Despite allowing 480 yards and another big game from Manning (373 yards, two touchdowns) Dallas provided Garrett a win in his inauguration game. The key play was a 101-yard interception return by Bryan McCann late in the first half.
Jon Kitna threw for three touchdowns and 327 yards (124 rating), including a clutch 71-yard screen to Felix Jones to close out the scoring.
2011 - Miles Austin loses ball in light
This is another one of those games where fate (and Romo’s teammates) again conspired against him at the worst possible moment. The Cowboys and Giants were both fighting for an NFC East division crown and their playoff lives. Dallas owned a 7-5 record while the Giants were a game back at 6-6. A Cowboys victory would effectively end the Giants season and put Dallas in the driver’s seat for their second division crown in three years.
Typically, the SNF game was a high-scoring, see-saw affair. Manning would throw for 400 yards and two touchdowns while Romo tossed four touchdowns and 324 yards. But it was one incompletion that still haunts Dallas fans to this day.
Dallas had gone ahead 36-22 with 5:41 remaining on a 50-yard touchdown pass from Romo to Dez Bryant. Manning then led the Giants on an 8-play, 80-yard drive, culminating in a 8-yard touchdown pass to Jake Ballard. The Cowboys took over with 3:41 remaining; a couple first downs would ice the game, give the Cowboys a clutch victory and end the Giants 2011 hopes.
Two run plays gained five yards. Facing 3rd and 5 at their own 25 the Cowboys put the game in Romo’s hands and he played it perfectly. First he baited the Giants defense into revealing the blitz. Then, he literally points at Miles Austin to let him know he’s coming to him. Austin beats his man cleanly and is in position for what should be a relatively easy catch and run for a game-clinching 75-yard touchdown dagger.
Instead Austin loses the ball in the lights and it falls for a harmless incompletion. You can see in the video below Austin actually takes the route wide while the ball is in the air when all he had to do was angle slightly inwards to catch the perfectly placed ball in stride.
It is, yet again, another sad chapter where fate (and Romo’s teammates) let him down. Matt McBriar, a good punter, then made things worse by shanking a punt for only 33 yards, setting the Giants up at their own 42. Manning needed only seven plays to go 58 yards to take a 36-34 lead with 0:51 seconds remaining.
Still, the game wasn’t over. With no time outs and needing a field goal to win the game Romo drove Dallas from their own 20 to the Giants 29 to set up a very makeable 47-yard field goal. Instead, Jason Pierre Paul blocked the 47-yard Dan Bailey attempt, the Giants lived on and eventually won Super Bowl XLVI over the Patriots.
For those paying attention, pretty much every part of the team other than Romo failed in the last five minutes of the game:
- The defense surrendered two touchdowns covering 138 yards in 15 plays.
- The special teams contributed a shanked punt and a blocked field goal.
- Romo’s own receiver again betrayed him at the worst possible moment.
I’m still bitter about this game. Dallas had a chance to make amends three weeks later in a winner-take-all season finale at the Meadowlands. But Romo and the rest of the team didn’t play nearly as well as the Giants easily won 31-14. This was Eli’s best game against the Cowboys as he threw for 346 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions (157 rating).
2012 - The (near) Dez miracle
Dallas entered week 7 of 2012 season in desperation mode. They stood at 3-3 when they faced a 5-2 Giants squad at JerryWorld. Things went bad fast. Less than two minutes into the second quarter the Cowboys trailed 23-0 following a Jason Pierre-Paul return of a Tony Romo interception. I can remember thinking the team was pathetic in that instance as getting blown out at home was unthinkable.
But Dallas responded with vigor. In fact, with just under four minutes remaining in the third quarter the Cowboys took a 24-23 lead behind 1-yard Tony Romo touchdown pass to John Phillips. The Giants would regain the lead with two field goals, the final one with 3:31 remaining. The team exchanged punts and Dallas took over on their own 30 with only 44 seconds remaining, no timeouts and needing a touchdown to win.
Romo drove the Cowboys to the Giants 37 with 16 seconds remaining. On 2nd-and-6 he then threw deep to the end zone where Dez Bryant leapt over two defenders for an apparent game-winning touchdown. The on-field referees ruled it a legal catch. But we live in an age of instant replay and the replay clearly showed Bryant’s hand landing inches out of bounds.
Watching the replay is heart-breaking as you can hear the entire stadium erupt in joy and Dez’s teammates surround him in child-like joy. Had Dez simply held the ball and not thrown his arm out, his hip clearly lands in-bounds and the catch would have counted. Instead... well, just another sad chapter.
2013 - Brandon Carr pick-six for the win
The NFL powers-that-be decided yet again to match the Cowboys and Giants up in 2013’s Sunday Night Football season opener. And yet again the Cowboys and Giants delivered with another high-scoring, see-saw affair decided in the game’s final minutes.
Manning threw for 450 yards and four touchdowns but also three three interceptions. The Cowboys led 30-24 with 2:41 remaining when Chris Jones punted to the Giants’ 17-yard line. I’m sure I wasn’t the only Cowboys fan dreading seeing Manning yet again lead the Giants to a last-minute win. But this time was different.
A 26-yard Manning completion to Da’Rel Scott (really, Da’Rel Scott?) set the Giants up near midfield. But on first down Manning threw behind his intended receiver, the ball was deflected and Brandon Carr snatched the ball and returned it 49 yards for a game-clinching touchdown.
The play was doubly sweet because it also gave us one of the all-time great Eli Manning sad face gifs.
2013 - Dan Bailey last play game-winner
The 2013 rematch saw a 5-5 Cowboys team head into MetLife Stadium to face a 4-6 Giants team. Eli Manning had a mediocre game, throwing for only 174 yards but he did toss two touchdown passes. Romo wasn’t much better, throwing two touchdowns and 234 yards but also an interception. In these usually high-powered match-ups, those are pedestrian numbers for both quarterbacks.
Jeff Heath started the scoring, picking up a Victor Cruz fumble and returning it 50 yards for a touchdown. It was the team’s third defensive touchdown against the Giants in 2013 (Barry Church also returned a fumble to go with the Brandon Carr interception return in the week 1).
The Cowboys actually led 21-6 midway through the third quarter. But Manning led two touchdown drives and the Giants converted a 2-point conversion and bad memories were creeping into #CowboysNation.
Like week 1, however, the Cowboys responded. This time it was Romo and the offense. Taking over with 4:45 remaining Romo led the team on a 14-play, 64-yard drive that culminated with Dan Bailey kicking 35 yards for the game winner as time expired. It was pure brilliance. Romo converted three third downs on the drive:
- Dez Bryant on 3rd and 7
- Dez Bryant on 3rd and 5
- Cole Beasley on 3rd and 10
After numerous heartaches from 2007 to 2012 the Cowboys had won back-to-back last-minute games against their NFC East nemesis. I can tell you they were both delicious.
2014 - Romo last minute TD to Dez for game-winner
The Cowboys entered MetLife Stadium on week 12 of the 2014 season at a crossroads. While Dallas sported a 6-3 record the team had lost two of its last three games following a 6-1 start. They needed a road division win to maintain their lead in the NFC East.
The Sunday Night Football affair again provided big plays, lots of points and high drama. Odell Beckham, Jr. provided a highlight play that we’re going to ignore here because I’m sick of seeing it. And the Giants managed a 21-10 lead midway through the third quarter. With a chance to really put the game away Eli Manning missed badly on a pass intercepted by Barry Church at the Dallas 3-yard line. That led to a 31-yard Romo-to-Bryant touchdown pass for a 28-24 Cowboys lead with one minute remaining in the third quarter.
The teams then traded punts before Manning led the Giants on a 6-minute, 93-yard touchdown drive. The score came on a 1-yard pass to Adrien Robinson with 3:06 remaining.
Romo needed only seven plays to respond, marching the Cowboys 80 yards for a 13-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant. This was the famous play when Romo had like 10 seconds to scan the field and eventually find an open receiver.
2015 - Romo’s final comeback
Following 2014’s surprise 12-4 record and NFC East division title the 2015 Cowboys had high expectations. Again, the team started the season against Eli Manning and Giants on Sunday Night Football. Little did Cowboys fans know this would be Tony Romo’s last truly great moment as a Dallas Cowboy.
Frankly, the game was pretty ugly. Dallas trailed 16-6 midway through the third quarter and 23-13 with eight minutes remaining. But from there Romo would perform his magic, Eli Manning would make a monumentally stupid mistake and the Cowboys would eke out a dramatic 27-26 victory.
After Romo brought the Cowboys to within three (23-20) on a toss to Jason Witten the Giants marched from their own 20 to the Dallas four-yard line. With 1:54 remaining and the Cowboys with only two timeouts the Giants, at worst, should have been able run the clock down to about a minute.
But Manning botched the series badly. Two runs gained three yards leaving the Giants with 3rd-and-goal from the one. They decided to pass and Manning found himself under immediate pressure but rather than taking the sack and keeping the clock running he threw the ball away stopping the clock. The Giants then converted the field goal but left Romo and the Cowboys with a full 90 seconds to work with.
Romo made them pay. He engineered a brilliant drive, converting five of six passes to travel 72 yards in six plays. The touchdown came on a typical Romo play where he bobbled the snap, calmly picked up, knew where to go with the ball and delivered to Jason Witten for the game-winner with 13 seconds on the clock. It was vintage Tony Romo and I doubt many fans believed it would be the last time he squared off against Eli Manning.
But it was and now 27 months later it’s very possible this is the last time the Cowboys face Eli Manning as a New York Giant.
I was amazed going through these games how much history was compiled by these teams over the last 13 years. The sheer number of high-stakes games featuring big plays and comebacks and high drama is breathtaking. Eli Manning is overrated, in my opinion. He’s not remotely close to a Hall of Famer yet I hear some clamoring for his induction. But he’s always been a gamer and he’s played with class and dignity for 13 years. I’ll always remember his games against the Cowboys, some more fondly than others.