ARLINGTON, Texas — With a litany of errors and squandered opportunities, the Dallas Cowboys seemed like they tried their best to give away the game.
And then in the final two minutes, the New York Giants committed their own blunder – one destined to be cursed and rehashed all week on New York sports talk radio — that helped pave the way for the Cowboys’ dramatic 27-26 victory.
On third-and-goal from the 1, with Dallas out of timeouts, the Giants did not run the ball. Instead, Eli Manning dropped back to pass. And with no one open, instead of taking a sack, Manning threw the ball out of the back of the end zone. That stopped the clock with 1:43 to play.
A 19-yard field goal pushed the Giants’ lead to six points, but the decision to throw on third down gave the Cowboys much more time (1:29) than they would have had to engineer a drive. The result: a six-play, 72-yard drive capped by Tony Romo’s 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jason Witten.
Both Giants coach Tom Coughlin and Manning took responsibility for play-calling miscues with just under two minutes to play.
“It’s my fault at the end of the game,” Coughlin said. “There is nobody else to blame but me. The decision to throw the ball there on third down was not a good decision. It should have been a run, whether we scored or not. The clock would have at least given us the opportunity to take a few more seconds off.
“We wouldn’t have had the points, but we could’ve run the ball and clock would’ve run and we couldn’t taken a timeout and kicked a field goal. And it would have taken at least another 40 seconds or so off the clock. So that was a bad decision on my part. There’s nobody else to blame but me.”
Manning said that he should have taken a sack on the third down play, adding that it is “100% on me right there. Bad clock management for that whole deal. I had an option – just take the sack and run those 40 seconds off the clock, give them less time. That’s 100% on me and that can’t happen.”
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was also quick to deem it a mistake.
“They did make a mistake at the end not running the ball,” Jones said outside the Cowboys’ locker room. “That gave us our little opening. To this bunch’s credit, they took it.”
Romo tried to be diplomatic and defend the Giants’ decision not to run the ball. But he acknowledged that “anyone who has played football would probably think it’s a run.”
Romo added that the call “takes guts, but when you do that you give yourself a great chance to win. It’s a good call … I can see both sides of it. We caught a break and ended up taking advantage.”
The rally marked the 24th fourth-quarter comeback for Romo. And this one seemed especially improbable because the Cowboys rallied without star wide receiver Dez Bryant, who broke a bone in his right foot in the second half. Lineman Randy Gregory also is nursing what coaches believe is a high ankle sprain.
There was never a doubt, right?
“I wish that was the case,” Witten said. “It was a wild game. Really ugly in a lot of ways.”
Romo had two interceptions, including one that bounced off the hands of receiver Devin Street and was returned to the 1. That set up the Giants’ touchdown that gave them a 23-13 lead.
Rodgers-Cromartie scooped up a fumble and returned it 57 yards for a touchdown. Bryant dropped a key pass early in the game. Defensive lineman Jeremy Mincey committed an inexplicable personal foul late in the game.
So with all that, the Cowboys dominated time of possession but still needed Romo’s magic in the end to eke out a victory that they badly needed.
“He thrives in those moments,” Witten said of Romo. “It’s really hard to do what he does. Tony’s the best at it.”
On the touchdown pass to Witten, the snap was low and Romo said it was critical that he remained calm because he couldn’t just fall on the football to protect it. There wasn’t enough time remaining. He quickly gathered himself and found Witten for the game-winning score.
When asked what the first thing he told Romo was, Witten said, “It was full of emotion. I think there was a couple ‘I love yous’ in there.”
The duo could also thank the Giants for their third-down play calling.
GALLERY: BEST OF WEEK 1 AROUND THE NFL