Giants Beat Cowboys, Clinch NFC East!

The Giants are champions of the NFC East - guaranteed.

In a gutsy, inspiring performance in which they were forced to overcome several setbacks - many self-inflicted - the Giants overcame a 13-point second-half deficit to defeat the Dallas Cowboys, 17-13, in Texas Stadium. The victory improved the Giants to 11-4 and clinched their first division title since 1997. That, of course, also validates Jim Fassel's Nov. 22 guarantee that they would make the playoffs.

The Giants are in position to do much more than that. Because the Minnesota Vikings were upset at home by the Green Bay Packers, the Giants now control their own destiny with regard to the No. 1 seed in the NFC throughout the playoffs. If the Giants win their regular-season finale Saturday at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars, they will play in Giants Stadium for as long as they are alive in the playoffs.

To put it another way, if the Giants continue their winning ways, the next time they board an airplane after returning home from Dallas will be to fly to Tampa for Super Bowl XXXV.

Tiki Barber scored the winning points on a 13-yard sweep around right end with 8:15 remaining in the final period. The one-play drive was set up by Emmanuel McDaniel's interception of Anthony Wright, who almost led Dallas to victory in his first NFL start.

The Cowboys are 5-10.

It was only the second time since 1990 that the Giants won a game in which they trailed by more than 12 points. The other was last season in Philadelphia, where the Giants overcame a 17-3 fourth-quarter deficit to win in overtime, 20-17.

The Giants were sluggish offensively and squandered numerous scoring opportunities. But the defense made several big plays and the offense came through when it had to. Kerry Collins' 33-yard pass to Amani Toomer late in the third period gave the Giants their first touchdown.

The score ended ended a frustrating third period in which the Giants started four possessions in Dallas territory, but didn't score until the last one. The first three drives, which ended with a missed field goal, an end zone interception and a punt.

But the persevering Giants finally scored on their fourth try. On third-and-six from the 33, Toomer streaked down the left sideline and got behind cornerback Ryan McNeil. Collins, who had passed for just six yards in the quarter to that point, lofted a pinpoint pass which found Toomer for the first Giants points of the night.

The Giants forced two turnovers in the first two minutes of the second half, got great field position each time and failed to score.

On the second-half kickoff, Damon Washington forced Dallas returner Jason Tucker to fumble. The ball spun on the ground before rookie Jack Golden recovered it for the Giants on the Cowboys 27-yard line. Just like that, the Giants had a chance to swing the momentum their way.

And just like that they let it slip away. Two runs by Tiki Barber gained four yards. But on third down, Collins misfired on a throw to Ike Hilliard, who might have scored had he been able to catch the ball.

But the Giants quickly got another chance. On the second play of Dallas ensuing possession, Wright couldn't handle the snap and the ball rolled into the middle of the Giants defense, where Jessie Armstead fell on it. An unnecessary roughness penalty on Erik Williams gave the Giants a first down on the Dallas 10-yard line.

But again they squandered a great chance to score points, gaining just one yard on two plays to set up third-and-goal from the nine. Collins, under heavy pressure, threw for Hilliard, but the closest player to the ball was Phillippi Sparks, the former Giants cornerback who was perched in the front of the end zone. Sparks scooped up the ball and brought it out to the 20 before officials ruled it was incomplete. A fight ensued and Dallas defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban was ejected for kicking Giants tackle Lomas Brown.

Dallas coach Dave Campo challenged the incompletion ruling, claiming it should have been an interception. After reviewing the play, referee Tom White agreed. Sparks had his interception and the Giants had lost a chance to put at least three points on the board. The ball was spotted at the 10 because of Ekuban's penalty.

Tim Seder's second field goal, a 43-yarder with 2:16 remaining in the second period, gave Dallas a 13-0 halftime advantage. The Cowboys had taken possession on the Giants 44 after Brad Maynard was forced to punt out of his own end zone. But after a 15-yard pass from Wright to James McKnight the Giants defense tightened up, forcing Seder to try a field goal.

The Giants were held without a first-half point for the fourth time this season.

Seder's 47-yard field goal with 12:37 left in the second period had stretched the Cowboys lead to10-0. Dallas traveled 41 yards in 10 plays prior to the kick. The longest play on the drive was a 17-yard pass from Wright to Jackie Harris. But the Cowboys were also helped along by Giants mistakes. Jessie Armstead missed tackling Harris, which added 11 yards to the play. And 5-yard penalties by Dave Thomas (holding) and Mike Barrow (illegal contact) gave Dallas a pair of first downs.

Emmitt Smith's 1-yard run around left end with 4:20 remaining in the first period had given Dallas a 7-0 lead. The play capped an 8-play, 65-yard drive that began after Brad Daluiso's 45-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Brandon Noble, the Giants first missed 3-point try in 15 attempts and three months.

Wright looked poised and confident on the march, completing all three of his passes, including key gains of 30 yards to James McKnight and 10 yards to Wane McGarity. The latter pass gave Dallas a first down on the Giants 7-yard line. Smith was stopped just short of the goal line on a 6-yard run up the middle, the score running to the left, where he stiff-armed safety Shaun Williams as he stepped into the end zone.

Dallas became the first team to score a first-possession touchdown against the Giants since Tennessee on Oct. 1.

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