The Dallas Cowboys thought subbing out Brandon Weeden in favor of Matt Cassel would help solve their offensive woes.
They thought wrong.
The New York Giants picked Cassel off three times, leading to 10 points, as they moved to 4-3 with a 27-20 win over Dallas.
New York rushed for 132 yards, as Shane Vereen, Rashad Jennings and the unheralded Orleans Darkwa split the load. The consistency on the ground helped the Giants overcome a shaky day from Eli Manning, who threw for 170 yards, and a defense that was at times clutch and others totally at a loss.
When they could hold onto the ball, the Cowboys offense moved up the field to the tune of 460 total yards. Cassel threw for 227 yards on 17-of-27 passing, hitting Jason Witten for a team-high six receptions for 73 yards and bringing a more consistent downfield dynamic that was absent with Weeden under center. Darren McFadden also rushed for 152 of the Cowboys' 233 yards, posting triple digits for the first time since Sept. 15, 2013.
Rich Eisen of the NFL Network noted an ex-Cowboys running back would probably be having a field day with the holes McFadden got from the offensive line:
McFadden was able to get the bulk of the work after Joseph Randle left in the first quarter with a back strain, per David Helman of the Cowboys' official website. Randle did not return, though the injury did not appear severe. McFadden's ascent also relegated Christine Michael to minimal work; he finished with five carries for 18 yards. Michael had been predicted by some as being due for a breakout game.
Scott Pianowski of Yahoo Sports made light of the hype:
Michael-related jokes aside, it was the Cowboys' inability to get out of their own way that spelled their demise. They turned the ball over four times, each one driving the wedge deeper than the last.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie returned a Cassel interception 58 yards in the third quarter to give the Giants a 17-13 lead, and Cole Beasley's muffed punt late in the fourth sealed the deal for New York after the Dallas defense got a stop.
Celtics forward Jared Sullinger noted the team's propensity for finding itself in these situations:
The Giants, meanwhile, have to feel fortunate to have come away with a win.
Their lone offensive touchdown came on a 15-yard Darkwa run less than four minutes into the second quarter. They had one successful offensive drive afterward, resulting in a Josh Brown field goal, but were otherwise shut down. Brown's other field goal came after a Cassel pick, and the game-winning score came on a Dwayne Harris 100-yard touchdown return.
Yes, that is the same Dwayne Harris who used to ply his trade in Dallas. The irony was not lost on Trey Wingo of the NFL Network:
The Giants finished with 289 total yards and held possession for less than 22 minutes. The big statistic was turnovers, as New York did not cough the ball up once.
Some of the offensive struggles can be blamed on the lingering hamstring injury to wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. The second-year star managed to play despite being listed on the injury report, but had just four receptions for 35 yards. It's the lowest total of his 2015 season and third-lowest of his career overall.
It's worth noting that Dallas was once again without its star receiver, Dez Bryant, who is inching closer to a return from a foot injury.
For the Cowboys, Tony Romo's return cannot come soon enough. They've now dropped four straight games, and ESPN's Darren Rovell provided a statistic that doesn't bode well for their future:
The Giants are temporarily in the NFC East driver's seat at 4-3. They have a half-game lead over the Philadelphia Eagles, who play Carolina later Sunday evening. Philly currently has the tiebreaker thanks to its 27-7 win a week ago, and the two teams don't play again until Week 17.
New York hits the road for its next two games against New Orleans and Tampa Bay, both winnable contests that should help it right the ship on offense. That said, if Sunday proved anything, it's that this team can find more than one way to come out ahead.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Cassel will remain starter, per Helman.
Manning praised the New York defense when speaking to reporters: "The defense played outstanding. They've been playing well and forcing turnovers."
The Giants provided a video of Tom Coughlin's postgame press conference:
From Coughlin (via Stephen Edelson of the Asbury Park Press): "We played hard. We knew we would have to stop the run, and it would take everything we had. They mixed it up enough throwing it downfield to get three picks, and we should have had five.’’
Rodgers-Cromartie spoke on his interception: "It was out breaking route, and I knew they were going to come back to it."
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