"They're every bit the team we thought they were," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said after the game in his team's locker room. "They treated us like they were world champions and we were in a different league."
Like the XFL.
The fact Dallas surrendered 200 rushing yards and three Eli Manning touchdown passes was overshadowed by just how badly the offense played. Quarterback Brad Johnson was horrific before being benched at halftime; Brooks Bollinger wasn't much better in relief.
"Man-handled" is how Jones described the lopsided loss that left Dallas (5-4) in the NFC East basement.
But when it comes to the Cowboys, the key word is manpower. That's what Dallas will be getting after what Jones called the best-timed bye week since he became team owner in 1989.
Jones said he expects "eight or nine" injured players will be returning for a Nov. 16 game at Washington, the most notable of which is quarterback Tony Romo (pinky). The Cowboys have gone 1-2 with only four offensive touchdowns in the three games Romo has missed.
"Without being trite," Jones said with a smile, "It would be nice to have your Pro Bowl quarterback back."
Just how nice? Flash back to roughly this same time last year when these teams met at Giants Stadium. In that 31-20 Cowboys victory, Romo threw four touchdown passes while Manning was sacked five times.
This time, it was Manning who received secret service protection while Johnson and Bollinger took a beating. Johnson went down twice, including a 10-yard sack that prompted wide receiver Terrell Owens to shout at left tackle Flozell Adams and left guard Cory Procter on the sideline.
But even when Johnson had time, he was usually off. After two Corey Webster interceptions led to Giants touchdowns, Johnson left the field for what may very well be the final time in his 17-year NFL career.
"We didn't put ourselves in position to be in the game," said Johnson, who finished 5-for-11 passing for 71 yards. "I didn't do my part."
Neither did some others, especially in a secondary that sorely misses Terence Newman, Roy Williams and even the suspended Adam "Pacman" Jones. While Mike Jenkins returned a Manning interception for a 23-yard touchdown, the rookie cornerback also surrendered Amani Toomer's 11-yard touchdown catch later in the second quarter by playing too deep in zone coverage.
Owens caught a touchdown pass but lost a fumble for the first time since December 2004. The offensive line—especially Adams—continued to struggle as Giants defensive end Justin Tuck established permanent residence in the Cowboys backfield. And in an ongoing reflection on coach Wade Phillips, Dallas committed far too many penalties (nine for 55 yards).
"We can't think when Tony comes back that everything is going to be great," said Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, who played with a broken rib. "We've got to make some changes — protection, running the ball and all-around."
"Every person needs to look at himself. No matter how many Pro Bowls you have, we all can play better."
On the flip side, it's hard to imagine the Giants playing much better than Sunday.
But the road to the NFC East title is about to get much tougher. New York's opponents from the first eight games are a combined 21-35. That mark improves to 41-24 over the final half of the season, with none of the upcoming foes below .500.
The Cowboys actually catch a break after facing the Redskins (6-2), ending November with games against NFC West doormats San Francisco (2-6) and Seattle (2-6). By the time Dallas hosts New York in a Dec. 14 rematch, a healthier Cowboys team could be back in the division race if not pushing for a wild-card berth.
The Cowboys also won't have any excuses if they're not.
"We better be good quick," Cowboys inside linebacker Zach Thomas said. "We've got no room for error."
Especially not after being arguably the NFC's most disappointing team halfway through the 2008 season.
"We're in the same spot whether we lost today by one point or 30," Jones said. "I will not buy into it if you write that we lost heart. We have a team that has a chance to be a lot better."
They had better be.
This article originally published on FOXSports.com.
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