'Boys-Giants: Inside the Actors Studio

Too many times, the Cowboys acted stupid. Too many times, the Giants responded by acting, period. But the greatest performance showcased during Sunday's NFC East showdown was delivered at halftime, in the Fox studio, by noted thespian Jimmy Johnson.

Ex-Dallas coach Johnson was almost hysterical in mocking present Dallas coach Wade Phillips as the analyst tried to pinpoint the reason for the Cowboys' boneheaded misbehaviors.

"Relaxed atmosphere!?'' Jimmy squealed. "You cain't have a relaxed atmosphere!''

Like most of the dialogue on the Fox set, which is designed to look and sound ad-libbed and impromptu, Jimmy's tirade was almost certainly. … well, designed. The camera somehow knew to focus on his reddened face in close-up. The other members of the crew "oohed'' and "aahed'' and chuckled on cue.

It was Staged Rage.

It was also premature, unfair and completely inaccurate, given that at the moment the Cowboys were involved in a 17-all halftime tie on their way to an impressive 31-20 victory.

Among these Cowboys' few flaws is their penchant for penalties. Sometimes, though, penalties are the result of "hustle plays''; an accidental nipping of a quarterback's head while rumbling toward him at high speed. Sometimes, penalties are of the "nature-of-the-beast'' variety; defensive backs hand-fighting receivers and it's a coin flip whether one of them gets flagged. Sometimes, penalties are even the result of displayed wisdom; I'd rather get called for holding Michael Strahan than to let him go and me having to end up carrying Tony Romo's body off the field in pieces. But Jimmy's Staged Rage concerned two first-half flags that weren't "hustle mistakes.'' They weren't "nature-of-the-beast'' acceptable. And they darn sure weren't smart.

The first incident involved Bradie James, who thought he was just exchanging friendly helmet taps and butt pats with Brandon Jacobs. … and then suddenly, Jacobs hurled himself cartoonishly backwards, a flop worthy of Vlade Divac. A zebra saw Big Brandon go boom, figured James must've shoved him, and rewarded the Giants with 15 yards.

The second incident involved Kevin Burnett, who foolishly taunted the Giants after a tackle. No excuses here. The yardage assessed against Dallas moved the Giants to within field-goal range, and their last-moment 3 tied the score and provided them theoretical momentum.

After the half, the Cowboys allowed themselves to flunk one more IQ test. A third incident involved Keith Davis, who was engaged in a special-teams wrasslin' match with a Giant. They're shoving, they're grappling. … and then Davis' hands slide up from his opponent's shoulders to his neck and headgear. … and the Giant, having apparently taken halftime lessons from Jacobs, threw his hands up in the air as if he'd been shot. Flag, and another huge chunk of turf given to New York.

The Cowboys, despite the three mistakes, are trying to get to the playoffs. The Giants are obviously trying to get to "Inside The Actors Studio.''

Again, all of this was (fake) maddening to Jimmy, who was actually moved to supplement his "You cain't have a relaxed atmosphere!'' diatribe with a truly silly hypothetical question:

"What would Bill Parcells think about all this?'' Johnson asked.

Who? Are you kidding me?

I don't care what yet another ex-Dallas coach, Parcells, would think about Cowboys penalties – unless he'd like to answer why HIS Cowboys teams were perennially among the NFL's most flagged. (What would Parcells do with this year's Cowboys? Probably be something less than 8-1, that's what.)

I don't really care what Jimmy thinks about the Cowboys' discipline, either, given that his hard-line views sound like hypocrisy now that we know that by day, his players made the Super Bowl their house but at night made the White House their house.

I DO care what the PRESENT coach thinks, though.

"It was a big win – I won't say a ‘giant' win,'' said Wade Phillips. "We played pretty well overall.''

The word "giant'' was likely meant to be a pun. The word "overall'' was likely meant to be a nod to the brain cramps.

But somebody needs to remind critics of the 2007 Dallas Cowboys (sidebar question: how do the 2007 Dallas Cowboys even HAVE any more critics?) that Wade and his relaxed atmosphere is precisely what this franchise needed. That, plus gifted players, creative coaching and a sense of unity.

In the end, we learned that silly penalties can happen to anyone. With less that three minutes left in the game and the Cowboys nursing an 11-point lead – but running the ball on third-and-25 – the Giants' Aaron Ross plunged into the pile and grabbed Marion Barber's facemask. Automatic first down, game over. Imagine that: a dumb penalty committed by a team coached by Tom Coughlin, whose atmosphere is decidedly un-relaxed.

For their performance, the Giants get an Oscar. For his performance, Jimmy Johnson gets an Emmy.

The Cowboys? I guess they get a dunce cap. … though they'll have to remove it in the coming weeks when their heads will be occupied by NFC East Champion crowns.

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