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A Date To Remember: A tale of two ‘signature’ Giants wins

The 1990 and 2007 Giants took different paths to the NFC title game: one in a rout, one in a nail-biter

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys
Unlikely hero R.W. McQuarters celebrates with teammate Reggie Torbor after McQuarters intercepted Tony Romo in the final seconds of the Giants’ 2007 NFC Divisional Round upset of the top-seeded Cowboys.
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

A Date To Remember is an occasional series Big Blue View will be running through the Super Bowl, highlighting the glory of the Giants’ past and celebrating the biggest playoff wins in franchise history.

A Tale of Two Signature Wins

NFC Divisional Round games

Jan. 13, 1991

Giants 31, Bears 3

Jan. 13, 2008

Giants 21, Cowboys 17

There was almost no one left.

The Giants secondary had been decimated by injury, losing one starting cornerback and a top backup in the season’s final weeks.

They arrived at Texas Stadium as touchdown underdogs for the 2007 NFC Divisional Round game with four healthy corners. Only three would finish the game.

Starter Sam Madison and Kevin Dockery were inactive due to injury. Then Aaron Ross, the other starter, left in the third quarter and did not return.

That left just three corners to stop Tony Romo, Terrell Owens, Jason Witten and the 13-3 Cowboys: Corey Webster, R.W. McQuarters and Geoffrey Pope. And Pope had spent the regular season on the practice squad, only promoted to the active roster the week of the Wild Card game win over Tampa Bay.

So of course, the divisional round game came down to a Cowboys’ final-seconds drive and Romo firing passes into the end zone.

But just like the rest of the 2007 Giants, those remaining cornerbacks rose to the challenge. McQuarters emerged as the hero, first by setting up the game-winning touchdown with a long punt return and then intercepting a Romo throw intended for Terry Glenn with nine seconds remaining.

It sealed a 21-17 victory over top-seeded Dallas.

“For me, the big one in 2007 was having lost twice against the Cowboys and going into their place and beating them,” kicker Lawrence Tynes told Big Blue View. He was the kicker on both the 2007 and 2011 Super Bowl champions. “That was a signature win. That was huge.”

It propelled the Giants to bigger upsets to come.

They became the first team to beat the NFC’s top seed in the divisional round since the current postseason format was adopted in 1990.

It was the Giants’ second road playoff win that January, and one more remained in Green Bay. But that’s a story for a different day.

The road was easier for the 1990 Giants — at least in the divisional round.

Earning a first-round bye and home game as the No. 2 seed after a 13-3 regular season, they smothered the underdog Chicago Bears at Giants Stadium, 31-3.

They dominated thanks to their suffocating defense and backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler, who threw two touchdown passes and ran for another in his playoff debut.

The Giants limited Chicago to only 27 total rushing yards and not a single first down on the ground. Meanwhile, they held the ball for 38:22 thanks to Hostetler (10-of-17 passing for 112 yards) and their ball-control offense.

And when the Bears tried to attack through the air, Mark Collins and Everson Walls intercepted passes from Mike Tomczak.

The Giants had overcome Mike Ditka’s Bears and were headed to face the heavily-favored Joe Montana and the 14-2 49ers.

Although both the 1990 and 2007 teams overcame long odds, they started in completely different circumstances,

The 1990 Giants began 10-0 and did not hit significant turbulence until Phil Simms broke his foot in Week 15 against Buffalo.

The 2007 squad faced adversity from the start.

The Giants began the season 0-2 and trailed the Washington Redskins, 17-3, at halftime in Week 3 on the road.

They took a 24-17 lead with 5:32 remaining in the game, but the Redskins reached the Giants’ 1-yard-line with 58 seconds remaining and four downs to score.

“We lose in Dallas [45-35]. We get killed at home against Green Bay [35-13]. And then we get down to a third- and a fourth-and-goal against the Redskins looking at 0-3 right in the face,” Tynes said. “Then Kawika Mitchell makes an unbelievable tackle to stop them [on third down and James Butler made a stop on fourth down].

“And we got on a little run.”

They won six in a row and nine out of 11 to finish 10-6 and earn a Wild Card berth.

“We looked at it as a new life, a new beginning,” Tynes said.

Against Dallas, Eli Manning (12-of-18 passing for 163 yards) threw two touchdown passes to Amani Toomer (four receptions for 80 yards, including a 52-yard touchdown on the opening possession).

“No one’s given us much credit and probably still won’t. But that’s OK,” Manning told reporters. “We like it that way.”

Manning led the game-deciding scoring drive early in the fourth quarter. It began with a 25-yard McQuarters punt return, setting up the Giants at the Dallas’ 37-yard line. The possession ended with Brandon Jacobs’ 1-yard touchdown run.

That left the injury-ravaged secondary to protect a 21-17 lead over the final 13:29.

And it did, thanks to a serious pass rush that led the NFL in sacks. It produced only two of Romo (Mitchell and Reggie Torbor), but harassed him all day.

Yet Dallas still had chances. Romo threw two passes into the end zone in the final 20 seconds. The first — on third down — fell incomplete. On fourth down, McQuarters stepped in front of Glenn for the interception.

It was the Giants’ ninth straight road win.

“It was an interesting team,” Tynes said. “There was a lot of moves being made [by general manager Jerry Reese] in the first couple months. The Dave Tollefsons of the world. The Kevin Boothes. The Domenik Hixons. The roster was constantly fluctuating for the first couple of months.

“And then as we started winning, things obviously started to settle down.”

Two divisional playoff games 17 years apart. Two wins.

Two teams that advanced to NFC Championship games.

The 1990 Giants were headed to San Francisco. The 2007 Giants were headed to Green Bay.

The rest, as they say, is history.