EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Maybe instead of looking at what the Cowboys have been doing to the rest of the league, NFL teams should look at what the Giants did to the Cowboys this season.
And who knows, maybe what New York could do again should they meet in the playoffs.
Dallas’ offense ripped through nearly every opponent during an 11-game winning streak that began after a 20-19 home loss to New York in the season opener. That string ended under the powerful pressure the Giants applied on defense Sunday night: a strong pass rush; sticky coverage of the Cowboys’ star receivers, Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten; and three takeaways.
Tampa Bay, Detroit and Philadelphia, the Cowboys’ final three opponents, surely will take note.
The Cowboys have put their stamp on victories all year by jumping to leads and pounding opponents with sensational rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott. Dak Prescott has made all the right decisions and plenty of big plays. The defense has been far less dynamic, but not a liability.
That formula earned them the league’s first playoff clinching last week and could have gotten them a first-round bye with a victory over the Giants at MetLife Stadium. Except the formula got squished by the Giants, 10-7.
While there’s no reason to panic in Big D, the Cowboys’ main public speaker, owner Jerry Jones, hoped the loss would provide a cautionary tale.
"As a team, we will react to this loss against a physical Giants team and get better," Jones said. "We’re not going to let this do anything but improve us.
"I like our players’ tools. We were inconsistent tonight. I’m giving the Giants the credit for creating that inconsistency."
Jones smiled when the inevitable question came of whether Tony Romo’s role will change after Prescott struggled mightily in the Meadowlands. Dallas went an abysmal 1 for 15 on third downs and gained a season-low 260 yards.
"No," he said with emphasis.
Although the Cowboys have a big lead in the NFC with three games remaining, Jones knows they are treading a thin line when relying on rookies as major contributors. Of course, Elliott and Prescott appear to be special rookies.
He was careful to praise the Giants and then emphasize the good elements he saw from his team. All of those, given the score, were on defense.
"We played a well-coached team and effective team out there," Jones said. "A lot of the credit goes to the Giants for what we didn’t do offensively like we needed to do. They had a good way to defense us, and they did.
"I thought our defense played as well as I have seen them play this year. That’s encouraging as we go into these last few games."
And he was quick to restate his unwavering confidence in the kids.
"These guys are sound," Jones said. "We’re proud of our guys.
"We’ve seen Dak have a bad series or what I’d call challenging series and come back and right the ship. We have no expectations that he won’t come back. I like our players’ tools."
As he should. They are, after all, 11-2 and likely to earn the top seed in the conference. They are, at the very least, a leading contender to reach their first Super Bowl since that other JJ (Jimmy Johnson) built a squad that Barry Switzer coached to the 1995 NFL title.
But Jones, coach Jason Garrett and his staff also must recognize that come January, any vulnerabilities will be exposed if they haven’t been address and minimized, if not eliminated.
"We have a lot of fighters in that room," Garrett said. "We have to build on the good, clean up the bad, and move forward."