Jason Pierre-Paul's field goal block was the exclamation point on a big night for the defensive end, who also had two sacks. (Tim Heitman/US Presswire)
A game that featured 71 total points, nearly 1,000 yards of offense and enough defensive breakdowns to last a season came down to one kick.
Well ... make that two kicks.
After Eli Manning and Tony Romo spent an evening trading big plays, the Cowboys needed a 47-yard field goal from Dan Bailey to send Sunday night's Giants-Cowboys game to overtime. And Bailey delivered, drilling one through the uprights with plenty of cushion.
Except Tom Coughlin called timeout, in an effort to ice Bailey. The strategy worked, too, as Bailey's second kick was swatted by -- who else? -- Jason Pierre-Paul, who was an absolute nightmare for the Cowboys. It was the second straight week that a last-second Bailey field goal had been wiped off the board by a timeout. Last Sunday, it was Bailey's own coach, Jason Garrett, who signaled for the TO just before Bailey nailed what would have been a game-winner against Arizona.
Bailey came up short on the next attempt, then Dallas lost in overtime. This time around, Pierre-Paul's block secured a 37-34 Giants win that propels New York into first place in the NFC East (box | recap).
"You can't help your mind race ahead towards overtime," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said, "but you shore it all up for that one play, that one burst and we got a finger on it and that was enough. I'm so happy for our players that they won, the idea of being in first place ... it won't be such a bad trip home tonight."
Coughlin and the Giants can thank Manning for that. In the midst of arguably his best season as a pro, Manning turned in perhaps his finest performance yet.
He threw for 400 yards on the nose and two touchdowns, the second coming with 3:20 left to start New York's rally from a 12-point deficit. Brandon Jacobs later punched one in from a yard out a couple minutes later to complete that comeback and give the Giants the 37-34 lead.
Jacobs also enjoyed a big game -- 101 yards rushing and two touchdowns -- but the Cowboys' real problems came in trying to slow down Manning, just as the Giants had no answers for Romo. NFL.com's box score counted 20 "big plays" between the teams in the contest, and the quarterbacks were responsible for many of them. Aided by coverage breakdowns, Manning and Romo combined for 11 passing plays of 20-plus yards.
This game featured two of the most evenly-matched teams that you'll find, for better or worse. Both offenses came up with big play after big play. Both defenses made critical mistake after critical mistake. And both Manning and Romo put on a show for a national-TV audience.
The margin between Dallas and New York is razor-thin, and that's why the Giants' victory is a game-changer in the NFC East. A Dallas win would have given the 'Boys a two-game edge in the division with just three weeks left, and also dropped the Giants two back in the wild-card race.
Instead, it's Dallas now looking up at New York in the division -- with the two teams set to meet again in the Big Apple on the season's final day.
Who knows what will happen between now and then? The Giants host Washington next week, then "visit" the Jets; Dallas travels to Tampa Bay in Week 15, before a home game against Philadelphia.
It does seem a bit like it's written in the stars that the NFC East title will come down to that Week 17 game. But the pressure's squarely on the Cowboys now to rebound from Sunday night's loss. The fact that they've now suffered back-to-back heartbreaks because of their kicker getting iced won't make their quest very easy.
"There were a lot of things that were disappointing within the game -- I don't think effort and intensity were issues at all," Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. "You can't let losses linger and disappointment linger ... you've got to get on to the next one."
That'll be tough, because they had this one. After a fluky Manning interception and a Romo-to-Dez Bryant touchdown pass, Dallas had a 34-22 lead with less than six minutes to go. Even Jerry Jones looked happy.
A short while later, not so much.
The Giants simply snatched victory out of the Cowboys' hands, with Manning leading the charge. When two teams are this closely matched, though, it usually comes down to one team making a key play at the opportune moment.
In this case, it was Pierre-Paul following Manning's lead and delivering. Thanks to Pierre-Paul's surge, Bailey's second kick, just like in Week 13, missed the mark. Because of that, the NFC East is the Giants to lose.