The Prize

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Sometimes it’s simple as win or go home. Last Sunday night at MetLife Stadium it came down to just that between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. The winner would claim the NFC East title, and reserve a spot in the playoffs.

The Giants jumped out to a three-touchdown halftime lead, and after the Cowboys scrambled to close within seven points, New York was able to secure a 31-14 victory as quarterback Eli Manning and Victor Cruz starred.

Everyone knows Manning, a No. 1 selection by the San Diego Chargers, who traded him to the Giants. Manning, like his older brother Peyton, has led his team to a Super Bowl win.

Cruz is a young talented wideout who is making a national name for himself, and now holds the Giants’ single-season record for receiving yards with 1,536.

“We had to win the last two games to get into the playoffs,’’ said Manning, who had 346 yards through the air while hitting 24 of 33 attempts and no interceptions. “We have to continue what we’ve been doing in the playoffs.”

Manning had glowing praise for Cruz, who played his college ball at the University of Massachusetts. “He’s a big-play maker and works really hard in practice,’’ he said. “He’s a really good weapon to have and he’s only going to get better.”

Under rainy conditions, New York came out with blinders on. The Giants (9-7) marched 96 yards on six plays for a 7-0 lead with just under five minutes left in the first quarter.

The score was a 74-yard throw from Manning to Cruz, who lined up in the left slot, grabbed the short offering, and raced down the left sideline.

“They [teammates and coaches]have confidence in me,’’ said Cruz, who accounted for 178 yards on six receptions. “It makes you feel good that they do.”

Dallas (8-8) fell behind 14-0 when running back Ahmad Bradshaw (57 yards on 16 carries) scored from five yards out early in the second quarter. Manning was masterful during the 10-play, 68-yard drive.

New York (437 total net yards with 106 on the ground) extended its lead to 21-0 with 1:09 left before the intermission when Manning connected with Bradshaw on a 10-yard screen pass. This time Manning marched the Giants 80 yards on eight plays.

Manning had nearly everything going his way in the first half, drilling 15 of 20 attempts for 199 yards.

Dallas quarterback Tony Romo recently injured his throwing (right) hand in a contest against the Philadelphia Eagles, and was sacked six times.

Romo (29 of 37 for 289 yards with one interception) played despite the top of his hand and fingers being slightly swollen.

Romo was cautious in the first half, but played much better in the second half when he unloaded a 34-yard bullet to wide receiver Laurent Robinson with just under seven minutes left in the third quarter to make it 21-7, and a six-yard dart to Robinson (61 yards and four receptions) with 10:15 left in the fourth quarter that made it 21-14.

Dallas churned out 300 total yards (49 rushing), and was successful on four of 12 third-down plays. New York converted seven of 15 third-down opportunities.

Manning answered with a nifty nine-play, 65-yard march that Lawrence Tynes capped off with a 28-yard field goal as 5:45 remained in the fourth quarter, and Manning added a four-yard toss to wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (76 yards and five catches) about two minutes later to make it a 17-point lead.

Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at richsports5@sbcglobal.net.

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