The Season Comes Down To Giants-Cowboys Once Again

The first thing I do when the Giants’ schedule comes out is look for the Cowboys games the way I look for the Red Sox games when the Yankees’ schedule comes out. It’s an instinct. And this year when I saw that the Giants would be playing in Dallas in Week 1 I thought about all of the hype and anticipation that would be created for a rivalry game on Opening Night on Sunday Night Football, which in turn only added to the hype and anticipation. And when I saw that the Cowboys would come to MetLife in Week 12, I thought it would be the perfect time for a big 4:25 p.m. game with the division potentially on the line like the 2010 Week 10 game between the two teams in East Rutherford.

After the Giants started off the season with six straight losses and basically eliminated from the playoffs, I didn’t care about the remaining 10 games on the schedule and certainly didn’t care about the second meeting with the Cowboys on Nov. 24. But the Giants got the stars to perfectly align for them and their schedule and the results of other NFC East teams’ games and now at 4-6, they will finally play for their season on Sunday against the Cowboys.

With the Giants’ season once again coming down to needing a win at home against the Cowboys, I did an email exchange with Dave Halprin of Blogging the Boys to talk about the game, what’s happened to the Cowboys since Week 1 and whether or not Jason Garrett’s job is safe.

Keefe: The last time we talked was before the Sunday Night Football opener. The game turned into what I call the “Disaster in Dallas” after starting with an Eli Manning interception and not stopping until the Giants had turned the ball over six times in their 36-31 loss (a win for you).

Since then the Giants lost five more games and were proud owners of an 0-6 record heading into their Monday Night Football matchup with the Vikings. But then things changed.

Over the next five weeks, they won that game on Monday Night Football against Josh Freeman, beat Matt Bick (a combination of Matt Barkley and Michael Vick despite having lost to Nick Vick – a combination of Nick Foles and Michael Vick in Week 5), held off Tashad Pennings (a combination of Terrelle Pryor and Rashad Jennings) and got past Scott Tolzien. Everything broke right for the Giants with the Vikings quarterback-less, Vick and Foles being injured, Terrelle Pryor getting injured and Aaron Rodgers being out.

Yes, the Giants are now 4-6 and with a win against your Cowboys on Sunday they control their own destiny. But right now I’m not sure which Giants team to expect since they haven’t seen a real starting quarterback for a full game since losing to Jay Cutler and the Bears in Week 6 and maybe the team we have seen (mainly the defense) over the last four games isn’t a true indicator of who the Giants are or have become and the first six games are who they really are.

While the Giants have been fighting to get back into the race and the playoff picture, the Cowboys haven’t been able to run away with the NFC East (since if they had, we wouldn’t be having this email exchange) and why is that?

Halprin: The Cowboys have been as frustrating as ever in 2013. Handed a perfect opportunity to run away with the NFC East early this year, they bumbled and stumbled their way to a 5-5 record, allowing both the Eagles and Giants to get firmly back into the race. The Cowboys defense has been dreadful in most statistical categories except one: turnovers. If it wasn’t for that, the Cowboys would be in really bad shape. As it is, all those turnovers have helped to keep the scoring from the opposition to a slightly more manageable number.

The Cowboys hustle and scrap like crazy on defense, but they just aren’t very good. Offensively, the team has been in a slump recently. Plenty of people have come under fire for that including play-caller Bill Callahan and Tony Romo. There have been issues with both of their performances, so the question is did they get it straightened out over the bye week?

Keefe: The NFC East teams have a combined 18-23 record with a -97 point differential. Somehow despite having the division with the best all-around quarterbacks, the NFC East has transformed into what the NFC West was before the 49ers and Seahawks turned their franchises around over the last few years. In a division with Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Robert Griffin III and Michael Vick/Nick Foles it doesn’t seem fathomable that the NFC East could be the worst division in the league.

And with the emergence of Foles as the starting quarterback in Philadelphia and with the Eagles sitting atop the division at 6-5 and able to control their own destiny, do you believe they could win the division? Everyone is making it feel like the division comes down to this Giants-Cowboys game and that the winner of it will eventually on to win the division, but maybe that’s just the perception in New York? Who is the bigger obstacle for the Cowboys: the Giants or Eagles?

Halprin: I think that’s the perception in New York. Dallas realizes that it would be VERY beneficial for them to win in New York, but a loss, at least from a math point of view, doesn’t come close to eliminating the Cowboys from contention.

For a couple of weeks, Cowboys fans have been looking more at the season-ending game against the Eagles as a possible win-or-go home scenario for the NFC East. Dallas has played in two of those in the past two years in Week 17 (Giants in 2011 and Redskins in 2012), maybe it’s just destined that they will do it again this year with the  Eagles.

Don’t get me wrong though, this game is huge for both teams and we know it. Dallas needs to get some confidence going again after getting blasted by the Saints and it needs to happen this week. If they lose, it’s possible it could start a chain-reaction demise in Dallas.

Keefe: Jerry Jones gave Jason Garrett his vote of confidence this week, which means absolutely nothing. How many times in sports do coaches or managers get a vote of confidence only to be fired later?

Right now, Garrett has a 26-24 career record as head coach of the Cowboys with a 5-3 finish to the 2010 season, 8-8 seasons in 2011 and 2012 and now a 5-5 record this season. Nothing says mediocrity like being two games over .500 as a head coach, especially when coaching a team with as many elite offensive players as the Cowboys have had during his tenure. And after two third-place finishes in both of his full season as Cowboys head coach and with the possibility of not winning the NFC East in this down year, is there any truth to Jones’ statement that making the playoffs won’t impact Garrett’s future? I’m not sure he comes back even if the Cowboys do make the playoffs and don’t win a playoff game.

Halprin: If the Cowboys make the playoffs he’s coming back without a doubt. You can bet the farm on that. I think for Jason Garrett to not come back in 2014 Dallas would need to go 0-6 or 1-5 over these last six game. If the team bottoms out that badly, then Jerry will likely have no choice since the fan base would be in total revolt and he would have nothing statistically to say Jason is the guy. Of course Jerry might hang on to him anyway at that point just to prove a point, but I think the pressure to fire him would be immense.

If the Cowboys don’t make the playoffs but play well enough that it doesn’t look like Jason has lost the team or anything, then he will likely come back. Jerry has a lot invested in Garrett and he really wants him to succeed. Not just for the Cowboys, but so Jerry will look smart for hiring him, designating him a head-coach-in-waiting all the way back to when he hired him as offensive coordinator. He desperately wants to give him another year, so if the bottom doesn’t fall out, then he’ll likely bring him back.

Personally I agree Garrett should come back if the team contends and doesn’t fall apart even if they don’t make the playoffs. I actually think he’s got the culture of the franchise going in the right direction, and I think he knows what he needs to do to succeed. He just hasn’t gotten there yet. I’m willing to give him more time … unless he goes 0-6 to end the season!

Keefe: Two years ago in Dallas in Week 14, the Giants trailed by 12 with five minutes and 41 seconds left before pulling off a miraculous comeback to save their season. Then three weeks later in Week 17, the Giants hosted the Cowboys for a winner-take-all game for the division. The Giants won that game 31-14, won the NFC East and ran the table in the playoffs for the second time in five seasons.

If the Giants lose this game, their season is over with seven losses, two of them against the Cowboys, a 1-3 division record and a somewhat challenging five-game schedule to finish the season. Even if the Giants win this game, they are going to need help with the Eagles currently controlling their own destiny, so if the Giants lose this game they would need even more help and really too much help to reach the postseason.

For the Cowboys, a loss wouldn’t necessarily end their season, but I’m sure Cowboys fans and the media will react as if their season is over.

How is this game being treated and viewed in Dallas and what do you expect on Sunday?

Halprin: That’s the thing, if the Cowboys lose they are still mathematically very much alive, but for Dallas it goes deeper than that. They were manhandled by the Saints, embarrassed by them, and the offense has been struggling which is supposed to be the strength of the team. They, and the fan base, have had two weeks to sit and stew about that loss while also having to watch the Eagles grab the NFC East lead by half a game. It’s been a nightmare, and we’ll be without Sean Lee for at lest a few more games.

All of this has been building for the team and the fans, and now all that energy will be released on Sunday. Either the Cowboys will win and we’ll feel right back on tack, tied with the Eagles but with a 4-0 record inside the division. All will look rosy for getting back to the playoffs. If we lose, it will be a mega-disaster. The Cowboys are falling apart, they are losing the NFC East, this team can’t recover.

Emotionally, it will be an extreme response either way. But rationally, mathematically, winning puts us in a better position, but with plenty of room to blow it. And losing would drop us a bit, but by no means would be fatal. So that’s the split for us on Sunday.