Taking only so much losing, it was expected that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones would eventually give head coach Wade Phillips his walking papers, and insert Jason Garrett on an interim basis.
It’s only one game, but the latter portion of the title may be lifted before the season is over given the way the Cowboys man-handled New York at the New Meadowlands Stadium last Sunday.
Hardly playing like a 1-7 team, Dallas pulled off a 33-20 stunner in an NFC East battle. This was the kind of clash that on paper looked like a runaway, given the Giants entered with a five-game winning streak.
Still early, it’s also clear that there was a noticeable difference in the way the Cowboys played and executed, compared to their first eight games.
The main complaint against Phillips, who seems like a decent sort, and an above-average coach, is that he’s far too lax. How then is Garrett different? For starters, there’s accountability.
“Accept the challenge,’’ he said afterward. “Try to be great on Wednesday. Then try to be great on Thursday. And then we’ll be good on game day.”
This notion worked, even without starting quarterback Tony Romo, sidelined with a collarbone injury.
Romo’s backup is veteran signal-caller Jon Kitna, who was more than ready for New York (6-3), which has the top-ranked defense in the league.
On this day, Kitna looked like an All-Pro, throwing for 327 yards, with three touchdowns, while hitting 13 of 22 passes and one interception.
Dallas used a balance offensive attack, and a punishing defense that intercepted New York quarterback Eli Manning twice, including a 101-yard return by rookie cornerback Bryan McCann that made it 16-3 with 7:34 left before the half.
This was the longest interception return for a score in Dallas history, and occurred with the Giants poised to score.
The Cowboys (2-7) rushed for 103 yards, with fleet Felix Jones finishing with 51 yards on 14 carries, and bruising Marion Barber adding 47 yards on eight rushes.
The Giants amassed 107 yards on the ground, and were led by Ahmad Bradshaw’s 73 yards on 20 carries.
When Kitna connected with rookie wide receiver Dez Bryant (104 yards and three catches) on a 13-yard pass late in the first quarter, the Cowboys opened a 6-3 lead.
Dallas went ahead 9-3 when one-time USC kicker David Buehler nailed a 22-yard field goal that concluded a 60-yard, seven-play march. Buehler’s 23-yard field goal late in the second quarter made it 19-3.
Kitna sparkled in the third quarter, drilling Jones with a screen pass that turned into a 71-yard score early in the quarter, making it 26-6.
Kitna also spotted wide receiver Miles Austin with a 24-yard connection that capped off an 85-yard, six-play drive. At this point, the Cowboys had a 33-13 edge.
A Super Bowl winner, Manning (33 of 48 for 373 yards) had a pair of scoring passes in the third quarter.
Manning’s first went to wide receiver Mario Manningham (10 catches for 91 yards), who hauled in a five-yard pass that ended a 58-yard, eight-play march, and moved the Giants within 26-13, and just under nine minutes left.
Manning also hit tight end Kevin Boss (81 yards and five receptions) with a 35-yard toss and 5:19 left, getting the Giants within 13 points. The two-play drive covered 73 yards.