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Ranking the Cowboys vs. Giants season-openers

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We take a look back before looking forward for the Cowboys.

NFL: SEP 13 Giants at Cowboys Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants have played many times, 116 times to be exact. Many of those match-ups, especially recently, have taken place on the season’s opening weekend. Let’s take a look at those opening week games, which, to put it mildly, have been very kind to our Cowboys.

Dallas has flat out dominated these season-opening tilts against the G-men, winning nine of ten by an average score of 32-17. Ouch. While some of these games took place more than 50 years ago, five occurred in the last eight years. In addition, most of these games have taken place in Texas. Regardless of where or when, however, fortune has smiled on the Cowboys in these match-ups. Let’s rank each of them.

10. 2016 - Terrence Williams fails to get out of bounds (Loss 20-19)

The Cowboys took the field in this 2016 game with rookies at quarterback and running-back, the first game of the 214 era. The box-score shows Dak Prescott threw the ball 45 times(!) for a modest 227 yards while Elliott netted only 51 yards (and a touchdown) on 20 carries.

Dallas, trailing by a point, took the ball over at their own 20 with 1:05 left, needing a field goal to win. Most remember what happened. Dak had maneuvered the offense to the Dallas 46 with 12 seconds remaining. With no timeouts the team needed another 15 yards - and to get out of bounds - to at least get a shot at a game-winning field goal.

Prescott was able to complete a pass near the sidelines to Terrance Williams. Inexplicably, rather than getting out of bounds, Williams turned inside, fighting for more yards. He was easily tackled and the clock ran out, handing the Giants their only win in these season-openers.

Many believe Williams decision cost the Cowboys that game. However, it seems highly unlikely that had Williams gone out of bounds that the Cowboys would have won. Here’s an image of the play:

Williams, at best, gets to the Giants’ 45-yard line. That would have left Dan Bailey with a 62-yard field goal. Bailey’s career-long is a 56-yarder and he was never considered capable of kicking 60+ yard field goals. We’ll chalk this one to just coming up short, losing 20-19.

9. 2017 - Ho-hum victory (Win 19-3)

This was a grinding, workman-like effort. The Dallas defense stifled the Giants all game long as they sacked Eli Manning three times, grabbed an interception, and held New York to 233 yards of total offense while also holding the ball for nearly 35 minutes.

The Dallas offense moved the ball (392 yards) but managed only a single touchdown, settling for four field goals. Not a particularly memorable game.

8. 1965 - Meredith-era Cowboys roll (Win 31-2)

The record books show the Cowboys won this in a cakewalk, by a 31-2 score. Based on the box-score this doesn’t sound like the most exciting game ever. Three Cowboys touchdowns came from two yards or less. Dallas recorded only 270 yards of offense; the Giants only 139. There were 254 passing yards - combined - in the game. Dallas did sack Giants quarterbacks five times and forced four turnovers, so there’s that.

Honestly, from this point forward we could rank most of the remaining games in any order as they were all fun and entertaining in one way or another, but rank we must.

7. 2013 - A roller coaster of exhilaration (Win 36-31)

This was a wildly entertaining game that had everything a fan could ask for in a season-opener (at least for Cowboys fans) as the teams combined for 67 points and 800 yards of offense. Dallas held the ball for 37 minutes and forced six turnovers.

Yet, with 2:41 remaining, the Giants took over at their own 20 needing a touchdown to take the lead. Now, the Giants had staged several late comebacks against the Cowboys teams from this era so there was much consternation among fans that history was going to repeat itself.

No worries, as Brandon Carr picked off a deflected Manning pass and returned it for a touchdown. That effectively ended the game and gave us one of the all-time great Eli-face gifs:

6. 2012 - The Kevin Ogletree game (Win 24-17)

This game is generally remembered for Kevin Ogletree’s two touchdown catches in the game’s first 20 minutes (he would record exactly one more in his NFL career). More importantly, it was a redemption game for the Cowboys.

This game was played on a Wednesday night (the only NFL game ever played on a Wednesday, to my knowledge) and was the “kickoff” game for the league. That’s because the Giants were defending Super Bowl champions and the Cowboys were... well, the Cowboys. The previous year, Dallas had an opportunity to finish the Giants season in week 14 but surrendered a 13-point lead in the game’s final five minutes. The Giants would ride that momentum to a Super Bowl championship.

Thus, again, the Dallas faithful had bad memories when the Giants cut a 14-point lead in half with 2:36 remaining. Another double-digit collapse seemed possible. Again, no worries as DeMarco Murray carried the ball three times to gain a first down and end the game. This would cap a huge second half for the Dallas offense, as they weren’t ever really stopped. Their final five games of the game:

  • 7 plays, 73 yards, touchdown
  • 9 plays, 80 yards, touchdown
  • 8 plays, 65 yards, field goal
  • 8 plays, 82 yards, touchdown
  • 7 plays, 8 yards, end of game

5. 2015 - Romo’s final magic act (Win 27-2)

This is undoubtedly the most unlikely Cowboys victory on this list. Why? Consider this situation:

  • Giants leading 23-20
  • 1:54 remaining
  • Giants 1st-down at the Cowboys 4-yard line
  • Cowboys with two time-outs

If the Giants score a touchdown the game is over. If they simply run the ball three times and then kick a field goal, they’ll leave the Cowboys needing a touchdown with no time-outs and less than 50 seconds remaining.

Instead, we got to experience both a classic Eli Manning brainfart and Tony Romo’s final late-game wizardry. First, after two runs netted three yards the Giants opted to attempt a pass on third down. That’s fine. If the play is there Manning makes the pass and a TD ends the game. If the pass isn’t there you take the sack, let the clock run and kick the field goal.

But oh, somehow this simple logic eluded the 12-year veteran and rather than taking the sack, Manning disastrously chose to throw the ball away, stopping the clock. Rather than giving the Cowboys less than 50 seconds to work with, Manning’s mistake allowed the Cowboys to take over with 1:34 left. Suddenly there was hope in the building.

And Romo did what he did so many times, coolly engineering a methodical 80-yard, game-winning touchdown march that culminated in classic Romo. With only 0:13 seconds remaining Romo first drops the shotgun snap, then recovers, sets his feet and calmly delivers a TD strike to BFF Jason Witten.

You can relive the final sequence (and groove to some hot 70’s rhythms) below. It’s a cool reminder of just how great Romo could be. Little did we know that #9 would start - and finish - only one more game in his career.

4. 1966 - Cowboys demolish Giants (Win 52-7)

I’m just going to list some Cowboys’ numbers from this game:

  • 52 points scored
  • 518 yards of offense
  • four turnovers recorded
  • five sacks recorded
  • 31 first-half points
  • Don Meredith: 358 passing yards and five touchdowns on only 24 attempts (a mouth-watering 14.9 yards per attempt)
  • Bob Hayes: 195 receiving yards on six catches, including touchdowns of 39 and 74 yards
  • Cornell Green with a 41-yard interception return for a touchdown

Okay, the Giants would win only one game that season and Dallas would go 10-3-1 before losing in the NFL Championship game to Green Bay Packers. Nevertheless, this was the kind of season-opener that would excite even the most cynical fan.

3. 2007 - Romo, Owens, Cowboys win a shoot-out (Win 45-35)

This was another Cowboys-Giants game that had it all. Ninety combined points and over 900 yards. Tony Romo, playing in his first season-opener, throws for 345 yards and four touchdowns on 25 attempts; Manning nearly matches with 312 yards and four TDs of his own.

Terrell Owens, playing his first game in a Cowboys’ uniform, adds three catches for 87 yards and two touchdowns (including a spectacular one-handed grab that can be seen at the 1:45 mark of this linked video).

This was a game where the Romo-led offense simply refused to surrender the lead. Four different times the Giants cut a two-score lead to single-digits and Romo would respond, restoring the two-score lead. The final time came with 1:06 remaining when Romo hit Sam Hurd (seriously, Sam Hurd?) for a 51-yard touchdown, turning a 38-35 lead into an insurmountable 45-35 victory.

2. 1986 - Herschel Walker helps upend eventual Super Bowl champions (Win 31-28)

The 1986 Cowboys opened the season still seeming like the unstoppable juggernaut they had been for 20+ years under Tom Landry. They faced off against Giants in Herschel Walker’s NFL debut. Dallas would jump out to a 14-0 lead but struggled offensively most of the rest of the night.

The team was still struggling to figure out how to make both Tony Dorsett and Herschel Walker work together in the backfield. But trailing 28-24 late in the game, Danny White led the team on a 71-yard game-winning touchdown drive. Walker started the drive with a 23-yard catch. Then White hit Tony “Thrill” Hill for a long gain. Finally, Walker capped the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run to win the game. It was his second in the game on a night that saw him run for 64 yards (on 10 carries), catch six passes for 32 yards and generally look like the All World player he’d been hyped to be.

The Giants would lose only one more game on their way to the franchise’s first Super Bowl trophy.

10. 1995 - Step one to a fifth Super Bowl (Win 35-0)

The 1995 Dallas Cowboys started the season with doubts about the team for the first time in years. The previous season had ended in controversy and heartbreak on a muddy field in San Francisco. There were whispers the team’s dominance was over and they were vulnerable. It took less than three minutes for Dallas to disabuse those with such crazy notions.

First, the defense forced a quick three-and-out. Then, on the team’s third offensive play from scrimmage, Emmitt Smith ran untouched through the middle of the Giants’ defense for a 60-yard touchdown. This is the hole Smith had to run through:

Smith would finish with 163 yards and four touchdown en route to a then-NFL record 25 scores. Dallas would out-gain the Giants by more than 2-to-1 (461 to 211). The score was 21-0 after two quarters, 28-0 after three and 35-0 after the final whistle.

This was quintessential destruction by the Triplets-era Cowboys and was a glorious way to start the 1995 season.

Let’s hope the 2019 season gives us another enjoyable chapter in this season-opening series against the Giants.