EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Looks like the new management team is working.
With Jason Garrett in Wade Phillips' old head coaching job and Paul Pasqualoni as his defensive coordinator, a rejuvenated Dallas Cowboys team literally turned the lights out on the Giants' five-game winning streak, handing them a 33-20 loss Sunday.
For much of the time, the Giants appeared as if they were playing in the dark. And that was never truer than 3 1/2 minutes into the second half, when a power outage caused the lights at the New Meadowlands Stadium to go out not once, but twice. The teams played through the first partial outage, but when the lights vanished completely with the second one, play was stopped.
Just as well for the 6-3 Giants, who remain atop the NFC East pending 5-3 Philadelphia's result in Washington Monday night. While the stadium was in twilight between blackouts, the Cowboys turned a 19-6 lead into a decisive 26-6 advantage as running back Felix Jones took a screen pass and ran 71 yards for a touchdown with 13:56 remaining in the quarter.
And that wasn't the biggest play the Cowboys had. Bryan McCann, in for cornerback Mike Jenkins after a neck sprain sent Jenkins to the locker room in the second quarter, had earlier put the Cowboys up 16-3 when he stepped in front of Hakeem Nicks in the end zone, and returned an interception a franchise-long 101 yards for a touchdown.
"I jumped the route," said McCann, a reserve cornerback who played just three plays there the previous week. "I was actually expecting a fade. But to run a fade, you have to get off the line immediately. I noticed he stuttered his feet at the line, so I knew he wasn't going back there. My mentality was just to make a play."
Rejuvenated? Garrett preferred not to use the word, but suffice to say the Cowboys were a far different team than the bunglers that allowed the Giants 31 unanswered points in a loss just three games before in Dallas.
"This feels great," Garrett said. "We all got together Wednesday and said, ‘It starts now.'
"Today was a good day for us, for a lot of different reasons. Everybody stepped up and played together. We were challenged in all areas, but we stepped up."
That was something the Cowboys hadn't been doing under Phillips.
"Nobody gave us a chance today," Cowboys receiver Roy Williams said. "I don't blame them. One-and-7, and we're the worst team in the league. But this week we pulled it together."
Of course, the Cowboys had plenty of help from the Giants. Not only did Eli Manning – 33-of-48 for 373 yards with two touchdowns -- throw two interceptions for his second multiple-pick game in the last three, but the defense looked slow and confused. Jon Kitna picked on cornerback Terrell Thomas much of the night, and Thomas did not rise to the challenge. Rookie receiver Dez Bryant, with three catches for 104 yards and a touchdown, had a 46-yard completion to get into Giants' territory and set up the final touchdown, Jon Kitna's 24-yard throw to Miles Austin.
As hard as it may be to rip off six straight wins, Giants coach Tom Coughlin didn't expect the streak to end in such a confused, ineffective fashion.
"I was hoping that wasn't going to be the case with us," Coughlin said. "We were at home, and we thought we were in a good position. We knew where their strengths were and what they were trying to do. We weren't able to do a whole lot about it."
Said tight end Kevin Boss, who finished with five catches for 81 yards and a touchdown, "I think they came out with a little more energy than the last time."
On top of the loss, which ended an historic four-game stretch in which the Giants' offense averaged 36 points per game, the Giants came out physically battered. Wide receiver Ramses Barden, in at the No. 3 receiver because Mario Manningham moved up to No. 1 because of the inactive Steve Smith's strained pectoral muscle, was on crutches and a walking boot after spraining his ankle in the fourth quarter.
Left guard Kevin Boothe, whose fourth-quarter holding call nullified a touchdown catch by Nicks, aggravated a knee injury. Boss bruised his lower back and tailbone, and middle linebacker Jonathan Goff banged his elbow.
Eight penalties for 69 yards, some coming at key times, kept the Giants' offense from functioning. Three dropped passes, two with wide-open fields in front of Nicks and Brandon Jacobs, and Jacobs' failure to convert a fourth-and-inches early in the fourth kept the Giants from closing the gap.
Manning's second interception deep in Dallas territory with 2:45 to play ended any hope of another comeback win.
The views from the respective sidelines were understandably different. The Cowboys were energized.
"Energy is a function of success," Giants defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. "And we didn't have any. When you're playing well, it's like a party on the sideline."
Now, the Giants have to worry about a second-half collapse. Five of the first six of Coughlin's Giants squads have started 5-2 or better, but all but the 2005 and 2007 teams have experienced second-half stumbles. Last year, the Giants started 5-0, and went 3-8 the rest of the way.
"I'm not concerned," defensive end Osi Umenyiora said. "This is a completely different team, a completely different mentality. We're going to erase this last game and go out and play better the next game."
That would be next Sunday night in Philadelphia.
For the Cowboys, the win was just one small step in salvaging what appears to be a lost season.
"We have to enjoy this for 24 hours and get back to work," Garrett said.
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