Over the last 15 seasons, the NFC East division has been the most volatile sector of the NFL. No team has repeated as kings of the East since the Philadelphia Eagles did so in 2003 and 2004, easily the longest stretch without a repeat division champ in the league. They are the perfect foil to their geographical counterparts in the AFC and a certain quarterback-coach tandem who established a stranglehold on that quartet of teams almost two decades ago. However, in a district typically devoid of reason, pattern and logic, two recent, uncomplicated trends offered an unusually clear-cut peek into the outcome of Monday night’s NFC East showdown between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants.
The Cowboys entered Monday night winners of five in a row against New York, and the Giants punched in as losers of 11 of their last 14 games against their divisional opponent. True to form, Dallas completed the third consecutive seasonal sweep of its rival to the north, emerging with a 37-18 win at MetLife Stadium. The Cowboys' three offensive linchpins delivered big performances: Dak Prescott finished 22-of-35 for 257 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, Ezekiel Elliot logged 139 yards on 23 carries and Amari Cooper reeled in four receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown, enough to keep Dallas atop the Fickle Four with the Eagles lurking in the rearview mirror.
Despite the final score, the Cowboys looked a bit stiff in their saddles in the first half coming off the bye, shooting themselves in the foot twice (or would it be once in each foot?) in the first two plays. Rookie tailback Tony Pollard muffed the opening kickoff, forcing Prescott and the offense to start from their own 12-yard line. Prescott took the first snap of the game and beamed a short pass over the middle, directly into the hands of a leaping Antoine Bethea. After a Giants field goal, the subsequent Dallas drive featured all the following miscues: a dropped snap by Prescott, a touchdown-negating penalty and a dropped screen pass on third-and-goal. Not satisfied with those gaffes, Dallas would later add a missed field goal and a lost fumble following a third-down conversion to its first-half highlight reel.
But the Giants couldn’t quite capitalize, nosing out to a meager 12-3 lead near the end of the first half. A dump-off from a rolling Prescott sprung Blake Jarwin for a 42-yard touchdown with 52 seconds left in the half to cut the lead to two. New York only managed to run another 27 seconds off the clock before Daniel Jones threw a pick to Xavier Woods, whose 29-yard return resulted in a 52-yard Brett Maher field goal and a Dallas lead heading into the break.
In the second half, the Cowboys tightened up. Likely due to some divine intervention from one of MetLife Stadium’s resident stray cats unjustly displaced from his home by the football game taking place nearby. The offensive line kept the running lanes agape for Elliott as Prescott began slinging the ball around to Cooper, the truly ageless Jason Witten and Randall Cobb, and the stingy Dallas defense held the Giants to just six second-half points.
As for New York, another loss matters little in a transitional season where things to look forward to matter more than things won. The Giants were undone by shoddy red-zone offense, with four of their five trips inside the Dallas 15-yard line ending in field goals. They also failed to get their most potent offensive weapon adequately involved, as Saquon Barkley rushed for just 28 yards on 14 carries. He did get loose for a 65-yard scamper down the sideline on a screen pass, but only added another two receiving yards to that total. Evan Engram, a huge mismatch on most nights in both the literal and figurative sense, managed just 48 yards on six catches.
But as Giants fans are hopefully aware and the rest of the NFL is quickly learning, Daniel Jones is going to be just fine. Yes, the growing pains are there—he missed an open Barkley in the first half near the goal line, failed to capitalize on trips to the red zone, fumbled twice and threw a pick. But Jones still managed to look poised, decisive and even confident at times. He gets the ball out quickly and accurately for a rookie, and a 26-of-41, 210-yard, one-touchdown, one-interception outing against one of the better defenses in the league while missing his best wideout in Sterling Shepard is nothing to sniff at. Jones even boogied out in front of Golden Tate to throw a clumsy but effective block on a reverse in the third quarter.
But on this night, in a division characterized by unpredictability, the expected and actual outcome finally aligned. The Cowboys can thank their offensive stars and their sturdy defense, but Jerry Jones will probably send his glasses-polishing crew in the bowels of MetLife to search for that black cat.
Now on The MMQB: Gary Gramling’s takeaways from an eventful Week 9 slate…Kalyn Kahler on the spiraling Bears and their woeful offense…Connor Orr unpacks what might be rock bottom for the Jets...and more.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: Michael McCann examines the significance of Trent Williams’s medical battle with the Redskins…Gary Gramling hands out some midseason awards…Andrew Brandt explains why the NFL’s top talent has more leverage now than ever before...and more.
1. The secret to healing an eye injury? Deshaun Watson says it’s Popeyes.
2. On his big night, Lamar Jackson broke one of Michael Vick’s records.
3. College football winners and losers after a busy Week 10.
4. Molly Geary and Joe Wilkinson made the heroic effort to rank all 353 college basketball teams.
5. Get ready for LSU-Alabama with Pat Forde.
Winter’s almost here. You can be sad about it, or you can watch the new(ish) episode of Line’s always-entertaining Traveling Circus YouTube series to get your mind right for ski season.
Question or comment? Email us at email@example.com