EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- What did we learn Sunday from the New York Giants' 27-20 victory over the Dallas Cowboys? Well, the primary thing we learned is that these might not be your 2013 or 2014 New York Giants.
The 2013 Giants never had a chance, starting 0-6 en route to a 7-9 year. The 2014 Giants were 3-2 before a blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles started a season-wrecking seven-game losing streak.This year a 3-2 start was also followed by a blowout Week 6 loss to the Eagles. The difference is that in Week 7 this Giants team responded.
They didn't respond in pretty fashion. They responded with determination. They surrendered 233 yards rushing. They scuffled a little bit in the passing game. They benefited from three Matt Cassel interceptions and a muffed Dallas punt. They won, though, improving to 4-3. If the Carolina Panthers defeat the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night the Giants will go to bed with sole possession of first place in the NFC East.
"They're fighters, they're scrappy. They're scrappy. We're gritty and scrappy, that's what we describe ourselves as, and they are," said head coach Tom Coughlin. "They battle and they fight."
This was the first time the Giants had beaten the Cowboys in six tries.
"I was think about that, that's the whole time I've been here," said defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins. "Good to get over that hump.
"It's huge, being in a big situation like that. Last year when we lost the Philly game it started a six-game skid for us, six or seven (it was seven). This year we had a bad game. We didn't play the best today, but we responded and we did enough to win the game."
It's about time Orleans Darkwa played
Through six games, Orleans Darkwa never saw the field on offense. Through six games, the Giants struggled to establish any kind of running attack. Trailing 3-0 in the second quarter the Giants finally turned to the second-year running back. On his first series of the season he carried four times for 41 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown run during which he broke through tackles and dove to the end zone, as the Giants went 79 yards in seven plays for a 7-3 lead.
Darkwa said he didn't know entering the game that he was finally going to get an opportunity to contribute on offense.
"Had to make the most of it," Darkwa said. "I wasn't really expecting it. They called my number, I just had to be ready."
Darkwa finished with eight carries for 48 yards, both career highs for the second-year man from Tulane. The eight carries was the most of any Giants' running back on Sunday. He had nine carries for 23 yards combined for the Giants and Miami Dolphins in 2014.
Devon Kennard can't be 100 percent healthy
It's the only way to explain why Kennard, the most dynamic player in the Giants' front seven, was continually taken off the field on passing downs. Kennard missed the previous two weeks with a hamstring injury, but returned Sunday in what amounted to part-time duty. He played mostly on running downs.
Something has to be up with Josh Brown
The veteran placekicker has hit some AWFUL kickoffs this season. None were worse than a second-quarter kickoff after the Giants had taken a 7-3 second-quarter lead. The ball went sideways, barely reached the 20-yard line in the air and went out of bounds at the 10-yard line. The subsequent penalty gave Dallas the ball at the 40-yard line. They converted that into a field goal, which could have been more if Devin Stree of Dallas had not been called for an offensive pass interference penalty that negated a 31-yard Cowboys touchdown pass.
Brown had a fourth-quarter kickoff that barely got off the ground and two other kickoffs that just reach the goal line. Unless something is physically wrong with Brown, which there doesn't seem to be on field goals, his kickoff struggles are odd.
Damontre is in the doghouse
You had to understand this was coming when Coughlin said during the week that he didn't trust Damontre Moore, but the third-year defensive end was inactive on Sunday. Like it or not, and whatever it means for the pass rush, Moore is going to have to earn his way back onto the field by getting back into the good graces of Coughlin and Steve Spagnuolo with his work during the week at practice.
Matt Cassel is not the Cowboys' savior
Dallas went to journeyman Matt Cassel at quarterback after three straight losses with Brandon Weeden as the replacement for injured star Tony Romo. They did so because of the losses, and because Weeden simply did not make enough plays. Cassel had his moments on Sunday, including a fantastic throw on a 25-yard touchdown to Devin Street to tie the game at 20 before Dwayne Harris's game-winning 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Cassel, though, was intercepted three times. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had two of those, including one he returned 58 yards for a score. Brandon Meriweather had the other one at the goal line, intercepting a long pass for Terrance Williams that seemed to hang in the air for an eternity, giving Meriweather time to track the ball down.
The Cowboys should get injured stars Romo and Dez Bryant back eventually, but Sunday's loss makes it look increasingly like it might be too late for Dallas when that finally happens.
For once, the special teams were special
Well, aside from Brown's kickoffs, anyway.
Brown made up for his kickoff follies with a pair of field goals. He has now made 19 straight field goals, eclipsing the franchise record of 17 straight he set a year ago.
Harris' kickoff return touchdown tied Clarence Childs' franchise record (set in 1964) and was the first kick return touchdown for the Giants since David Wilson had a 97-yard kickoff return against the New Orleans Saints in 2012.
Myles White was Johnny on the Spot in the final minutes, making a game-sealing recovery on a muffed punt by Cole Beasley of Dallas.
Brad Wing averaged 47.0 yards on five punts.
Run defense? What run defense?
Remember the days early in the season when the Giants were -- statistically -- the best run defense in the NFL? Well, those days seem looooong ago. Even with linebacker Devon Kennard back in the lineup and with Jon Beason playing nearly every snap for the first time this season the run defense was gashed. The Giants gave up 233 rushing yards on 41 carries (5.7 yards per rush). Darren McFadden of the Cowboys had a career-high 152 yards rushing on 29 carries. The Cowboys gashed the Giants by using reverses and sweeps to unheard-of wide receiver Lucky Whitehead, who had four carries for 35 yards. Dallas had four running plays of 13 yards or longer.
To be sure I have to watch the replay of the game. It seemed, however, that Dallas did almost all of its damage rushing to the edges.
The Giants got by without a pass rush or a run defense because of the play of their special teams and because they intercepted Cassel three times. They must, however, find a way to get back to controlling the run game.
Odell Beckham? Targets? Eh, whatever
So much for all that "Odell Beckham needs more targets" stuff. Beckham had four catches for 35 yards on Sunday. He was targeted only twice in the second half. Beckham, for one of the rare times in his two years with the Giants, was pretty much a non-factor in a game the Giants actually won.
The big plays in the passing game from Rueben Randle, who had a Beckham-esque one-handed, 44-yard catch that bailed the Giants out of a third-quarter third-and-5 from their own 6-yard line, and Dwyane Harris, who had a 38-yard catch-and-run on a second-quarter slant pass. The Giants also got a 39-yard run from Shane Vereen and a 15-yard scoring run from Darkwa.
It was important to see contributions from so many other players and areas, but the Giants will need more from Beckham going forward.
Jon Beason can play a whole game and not break
With Uani 'Unga inactive due to a neck injury, veteran middle linebacker Jon Beason was forced to play a majority of the defensive snaps. Beason, oft-injured as he is and having dealt with his own knee issues in recent days, made it through the entire game. He ended up leading the Giants in tackles with 11. With the Giants getting gashed all over the place in the run game it is hard to tell if any were impact plays (none were for losses), but it was nice to see the Giants' defensive quarterback hold up.