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Breaking Away

Behind their go-for-broke quarterback and two high-profile reclamation projects, the Cowboys overpowered the Giants to gain separation in the NFC East. Looming ahead: a showdown with the Packers for conference supremacy

Posted: Tuesday November 13, 2007 12:58PM; Updated: Tuesday November 13, 2007 12:58PM
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The scarlet-clad Giants had planned to put relentless pressure on Romo, but it was the Cowboys' quarterback who kept New York off-balance on this first-quarter touchdown pass.
The scarlet-clad Giants had planned to put relentless pressure on Romo, but it was the Cowboys' quarterback who kept New York off-balance on this first-quarter touchdown pass.
Al Tielemans/SI
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With a diamond star pinned to the left lapel of his blue suit, Jerry Jones was waiting in the breezeway of Giants Stadium on Sunday afternoon when the door to the visitors' locker room swung open. In small clusters the Dallas Cowboys filed past him toward the field -- Terrell Owens, the mercurial receiver on his third NFL marriage; Wade Phillips, the quiet coach from the league's recycling bin; Tony Romo, the newly minted $67 million quarterback of obscure origin. When the team's new nosetackle, Tank Johnson, appeared in the door, Jones approached his latest reclamation project and offered some perspective on the set-to he was about to face. "Well, here we are," the owner told Johnson. "New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys. We're a little distance from four or five weeks ago." That's when the Cowboys were reeling from a painful loss to the Patriots and Johnson, who signed with Dallas on Sept. 18, had just begun practicing with the team.

Three hours later, after Romo had tossed four touchdown passes, Owens had caught two and Johnson had stuffed Eli Manning for a fourth-quarter sack in a 31-20 victory, the Cowboys showed just how far ahead they are in the NFC East and, maybe, in the entire conference. The victory raised their record to 8-1, gave them a two-game lead (plus the tiebreaker) over the Giants, kept Dallas undefeated on the road and set up a potential showdown for home field advantage against the 8-1 Packers in Dallas on Nov. 29.

The win also signaled that the Cowboys have recovered from their 48-27 loss to New England -- and that they might offer a stiffer test should the two meet again in Arizona in February. "This is why I felt Jerry brought me here," said Owens, who finished with six catches for 125 yards, his third consecutive game with at least 100 yards receiving. "I want to be the playmaker for this team."

Amid pushing, shoving and plenty of jawing, the Cowboys handled a team that was eager for a rematch after a 45-35 loss in Dallas in Week 1. If it's an NFL axiom that all division games are created equal, the Giants seemed to understand that this second meeting was more equal than others. At stake was a share of first place and the lengthening of a six-game winning streak, which began when New York made a goal line stand against the Redskins in Week 3 to avoid falling to 0-3. The Giants' first-year defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, had in recent weeks hatched a pass-rushing scheme so potent that his defensive ends started a pool among themselves based on such stats as sacks and forced fumbles. The Giants chose to wear their seldom-used red jerseys, one more indication that they viewed the matchup with Dallas as extra special. "They are beautiful," defensive end Osi Umenyiora said of the uniforms. "They look real good when you see a swarm of red."

The scarlet swarm never materialized. The Cowboys' offensive line mostly held at bay a Giants' rush that had sacked Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb a phenomenal 12 times in Week 4. Romo was sacked only twice. He completed 20 of 28 passes for 247 yards, finding Owens in favorable matchups and capitalizing with quick strikes. With Owens lined up one-on-one against cornerback Sam Madison down the right sideline in the third quarter, Romo delivered a 25-yard strike that broke a 17-17 tie. T.O.'s second touchdown came with 10:58 remaining in the game, when he sped down the middle of the field, motored past safety Gibril Wilson and hauled in a 50-yard pass.

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