Cowboys Fall in New York

A phenomenal defensive effort gave the New York Giants the inside track to NFC East Division title.

Linebacker Antonio Pierce's 12-yard fumble return for a touchdown proved to be the difference as the Giants came away with a hard-fought 17-10 triumph over the Dallas Cowboys.

The Giants (8-4) gained a split of the season series and moved a game ahead of the Cowboys (7-5) in the division. The Cowboys had won the first meeting between the teams in overtime.

"This was an outstanding, tough, difficult and hard-nosed NFC East divisional win," said Giants coach Tom Coughlin, whi is now 4-4 against Dallas coach and former mentor Bill Parcells. "Our crowd was really into it today and it inspired our players, and they could feel it."

With their defense leading the way, the Giants made it a miserable afternoon for Drew Bledsoe, who entered as the NFC's second-highest rated quarterback. Bledsoe struggled from the outset, going just 4-of-13 for 17 yards in the first half.

"For the first time all year, I felt like the other team played better than we did," Bledsoe said. "I'm talking about their defense against our offense. We did not play anywhere close to our expectations."

The woes for Bledsoe continued on the first play of the second half when defensive lineman Kendrick Clancy got to the signal-caller before he could hand off to Julius Jones. Pierce scooped up the ball and ran in for the score, giving the Giants a 17-0 lead.

"Kendrick Clancy pushed the center almost all the way back to the quarterback and the running back backed off," said Pierce, who scored his second career touchdown. "The ball hit the center, then I had the easy part. I only had to run 12 yards. Give a lot of credit to the defensive front, because they played their butts off."

Bledsoe, who completed 15-of-39 for 146 yards, was surprised by how quick Clancy was off the ball.

"It seemed like he was offsides on the play," Bledsoe said. "He jumped the snap count pretty good. He almost took the handoff from me."

But that was typical of how the Giants' defense played on a cold and dreary afternoon in the Meadowlands.

"Today's performance was absolutely amazing," said Giants end Michael Strahan, who recorded two of his team's four sacks. "Up front, the linebackers and the defensive backs all played great. It goes to show, if we make our minds up, we can play with anybody."

Shortly after Dallas answered with a 34-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff, cornerback Aaron Glenn came up with his second interception of the game and returned it to the Giants 7. Bledsoe then hit Terry Glenn for a TD on the ensuing play to shave the deficit to 17-10 with just under four minutes left in the third quarter.

Unfortunately for the Cowboys, their final five possessions resulted in two punts, two interceptions and the clock running out before they could get the game-tying touchdown.

"We made way too many mistakes on offense to really have a chance," said Parcells, who is 4-4 against the team he guided to its two Super Bowl crowns. "We gave them an easy touchdown to start the second half. We just can't do that on the road."

New York's Tiki Barber rushed for 115 yards on a season-high 30 carries. He had a 32-yard run, along with a nine-yard reception to set up Brandon Jacobs' one-yard plunge midway through the second quarter to open the scoring.

"We came in with the philosophy we were going to pound the ball," said Barber, who topped the century mark for the fifth time this season and 27th time in his career. "I prepared for 30 carries and that is what I got."

The Giants had opportunities to put the game out of reach, but the offense failed to move the chains on their last two possessions.

"Our defense controlled the Cowboys' offense," said Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who was just 12-of-31 for 152 yards and two interceptions. "But we can't count on that. We have to be able to do a better job on offense. From an offensive standpoint, we can't rely on them. They were on the field too much."

But Strahan knows the defense cannot get caught up in how the offense is performing - or not performing.

"It doesn't matter what the offense does," he said. "What matters is what we do on defense. Seventeen points should be enough."

Jay Feely's 27-yard field goal late in the second quarter gave the Giants a 10-0 lead. Feely, who missed three field goals in the fourth quarter and overtime last week in Seattle, hit the right upright on a 33-yard attempt with 5:23 remaining that would have sealed the win.

"I'm not worried about him," Coughlin said. "I'm worried about two or three missed field goals. He missed left last week and right this week. Somehow, we're going to get this thing down the middle."

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