Dave Campo had two choices as the two-minute warning approached at the end of yesterday's game. He could call for a play on fourth-and-9 from the Giants' 48, or he could opt for a punt. Campo chose the latter, figuring his chances were better with the ball in the Giants' hands.
Normally, he might have been right. But yesterday, the Giants couldn't do much wrong.
Using a game plan streamlined last week by their head coach, the Giants rediscovered the end zone, finally produced a running game and even mounted a late, game-winning drive with one of their best players on the sideline. They also ran out the clock after the Cowboys gave them the ball back with 1:53 remaining, escaping Texas Stadium with a 21-17 win.
The game-winning drive came just after the Cowboys had gone ahead 17-14 with 10:52 remaining. The Giants, thanks to a 23-yard run by Tiki Barber and a 20-yard pass from Kerry Collins to tight end Dan Campbell, responded with their best-looking drive in three weeks. It ended with tight end Marcellus Rivers, in for the injured Jeremy Shockey, catching a 17-yard touchdown pass - Collins' third TD pass of the game.
"When you're on the road, you can crumble," said Giants coach Jim Fassel. "We didn't crumble."
"We played up and down today throughout the whole game," added receiver Amani Toomer. "Towards the end is when we saw that there was a victory out there for us to get. That's the sign of a good team."
To be fair, the Giants (3-2) had plenty of help from a slew of near-misses by the Cowboys (2-3). In the first half alone, Dallas blew chances at nine points. The Cowboys got stopped on fourth-and-2 from the Giants 38, botched a fake field goal from the Giants 17, and kicker Billy Cundiff hit the right upright from 45 yards away.
Then there was the Giants' biggest break, with 2:53left in the game, when Dallas rookie receiver Antonio Bryant blew by Giants cornerback Ralph Brown, who was in for the injured Will Peterson. Dallas quarterback Quincy Carter (23-for-42, 262 yards) unleashed a bomb from the Giant 49, but he overthrew Bryant by a couple of yards.
Three plays later, Campo called for the punt that allowed the Giants to run out the clock.
"Hey, sometimes the breaks go your way, sometimes they don't," Collins said. "Today they went our way."
The Giants made plenty of their own breaks too, riding a rejuvenated running game led by Barber, who rushed 17 times for 94 yards (5.5 yards per carry). That opened things up for Collins (18-for-27, 228 yards), who led the Giants to as many touchdowns (three) as they had scored in the first four games.
Even in the red zone, the much-maligned Giants were two for two, with the touchdown pass to Rivers and a 12-yard strike to Ike Hilliard in the second quarter. Collins also hit Toomer with a touchdown pass from 54 yards away.
"What we did today was we balanced ourselves offensively, which is what I want to do," Fassel said. "I don't want to have to rely on big passes to move the ball down the field because you can't make big passes in the red zone. You have to run the ball. You have to get everybody involved."
Barber credited the simplified game plan, with about 25% fewer plays, for the Giants' better execution. Offensive coordinator Sean Payton said it had more to do with how his players ran the plays.
"There were no new innovations with regards to our scheme," Payton said. "It was the same thing we've worked hard on. Things just hit today."
It was a good thing they did, because the Giants defense wasn't at its best in the Texas heat. Carter had his best day passing with the Cowboys, and even the struggling Emmitt Smith managed to rush for 70 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown. And the Cowboys even burned the Giants late, mounting a 14-play drive - their longest of the season - that ended with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Carter to Bryant that put the 'Boys up 17-14 with 10:52 to play.
Four minutes later, the Giants answered. They had answers all day on offense.
"We did the things that we do well and we just repeated them and repeated them," Fassel said. "I thought Sean called a good game."