EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. —Halfway through the season, it’s safe to say the Super Bowl champion New York Giants are the team to beat in the NFC, and the injury ravaged Dallas Cowboys—the preseason favorite—will need to make a run after their bye just to make the postseason.
Eli Manning threw three touchdown passes, Brandon Jacobs rushed for 117 yards and a score and the Giants defense took advantage of the continued absence of the injured Tony Romo to intercept three passes in a 35-14 victory on Sunday.
“When a football team comes in here and it is kind of depleted as far as injuries go, you don’t want to give them any sunlight,” said Giants defensive end Justin Tuck. “You don’t want to give them any light whatsoever.”
In winning their five straight at home, the Giants (7-1) were in control from start in opening a three-game lead over the defending NFC East champion Cowboys (5-4) in the division.
“It was important for us to win the game and be 2-0 in our division,” Giants middle linebacker Antonio Pierce said. “When we were 4-0, somebody asked me about an undefeated season. I just think about being undefeated in our division. That’s 6-0. That’s the most important record to us. This is another step toward that.”
The loss was the third in four games for Dallas, which fell into last place in the division behind Washington (6-2) and Philadelphia (5-3), not something anyone expected from the team many considered the favorite to win the NFC.
However, nobody expected the Cowboys to either lose Romo for three games with a broken pinkie or to have safety Roy Williams and punter Mat McBriar lost to season-ending injuries or to have cornerback Pacman Jones suspended again.
“We still have seven games left and we need to go on a run,” Cowboys linebacker Bradie James said.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones smiled when asked if the goal was to simply make the playoffs.
“If you give me the playoffs and not worry about the division, I’ll take it,” Jones said after the game, adding the return of Romo after the bye will only fix one of the many things wrong with his team.
There was plenty wrong on Sunday. Despite getting three turnovers and a score from his defense, the Cowboys were still blown out.
Manning threw touchdown passes of 13 yards to Kevin Boss, 5 to Steve Smith and 11 to Amani Toomer, with the scores by Smith and Toomer being set up by Corey Webster’s interceptions of Brad Johnson, Romo’s replacement.
“The coaches preach turnovers,” Webster said. “We pin our ears back and let ourselves go once we start getting turnovers. If we keep getting turnovers, it builds more and more confidence.”
The Giants’ three interceptions all led to touchdowns.
Jacobs scored on a 12-yard run two plays after James Butler picked off Brooks Bollinger’s first pass in the opening minutes of the third quarter. Derrick Ward added a 17-yard touchdown run to ice the game in the fourth quarter.
Dallas showed little on offense without Romo. The Cowboys turned the ball over four times, with Terrell Owens adding a rare fumble in the second quarter at the Giants 10-yard line.
Cornerback Mike Jenkins scored Dallas’ first touchdown with a 23-yard, second-quarter interception on a play that Manning and Plaxico Burress were not on the same page.
Bollinger, whose entrance into the game in the second half only helped the Giants pad their lead, added an 8-yard touchdown pass to Owens in the fourth quarter, a drive set up by a questionable roughing the passer call against Tuck, who had 2 1/2 of the Giants four sacks.
Steve Spagnuolo’s pressure defense limited the Cowboys to 183 total yards, with 75 of those coming on the drive in which Tuck was penalized.
The Giants took the opening kickoff and went 75 yards in 11 plays with Manning (16-of-27 for 147 yards) hitting Boss in the corner of the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
Dallas had a chance to get right back in the game in the quarter when Johnson hit Roy Williams with a 28-yard pass for a first down at the Giants 25.
On the next play, Owens ran a look-in pattern and Johnson lead him too much with the pass. Webster caught the ball and returned it 57 yards to the Dallas 27. Manning found Smith in the middle of the field on a third-and-3 from the Dallas 5 for the touchdown.
Jenkins put Dallas on the board, catching a pass alone in the right flat and walking into the end zone. It came on the series following Owens’ fumble, his first since 2004.
Webster helped restore the 14-point lead late in the quarter picking off a poorly thrown ball by Johnson at the Giants 47 and returning it a yard.
Jacobs ran for 25 yards on first down and Manning eventually capped the drive with his TD pass to Toomer.
Cowboys coach Wade Phillips lifted Johnson after intermission and Bollinger made the move backfire throwing an interception right to Butler on his first pass.
Jacobs blew through a big hole to open a 28-7 lead and the game was never in doubt after that.