Take away a meaningless Week 17 loss to Philadelphia in which the Dallas Cowboys rested their key players. You’ll quickly realize that Jason Garrett and Co. lost to only one team in the regular season a year ago, the New York Giants.
That happened on two occasions.
In a sport where every game matters, Sunday night’s Kickoff Weekend opener between the NFC East rivals was a little bit bigger for Dallas, which was trying to send a message to Eli Manning and the Giants.
It’s a little too easy to trace the Cowboys’ 19-3 drubbing of the Giants to the fact that Dallas had Ezekiel Elliott and New York was without Odell Beckham Jr.
That obviously worked in the Cowboys’ favor, but it didn’t explain the dominance Dallas displayed, particularly in a first half in which the Cowboys ran 47 plays to the Giants’ 19, outgained New York by a 265-49 margin, and built a 16-0 advantage.
By the third quarter, New York’s defense was so beaten down from watching the impotence on the other side that even Janoris Jenkins, who generally puts Dez Bryant in his hip pocket, started losing one-on-one battles.
In a lot of ways, the Giants are the same team they were last season, when the defense had to overcome the serious flaws in Ben McAdoo’s offense.
The Giants have a descending quarterback, a bad offensive line, and a non-existent running game OBJ generally carries on his shoulders with his big-play ability.
Take Beckham out of the equation and this is what you get. Remember, the Dallas defense is not exactly the strength of its team, never mind the 1985 Bears.
The rebuilt Cowboy defensive backfield held up well. It was great to see former Notre Dame star Jaylon Smith flying around. Demarcus Lawrence was able to generate significant pressure against much-maligned right tackle Bobby Hart at times.
That’s white noise here, though — it fails to point to the elephant in the room when discussing the Giants: Manning.
The surname, the two Super Bowl rings, and the 200 starts all scream consistency, but in a lot of ways the Giants are going through what the New York Yankees had to do at the end of Derek Jeter’s career: Deny that greatness has turned into mediocrity.
To be honest, Eli Manning was never Jeter — he wasn’t great (above average is a better description) and mediocre is being kind right now (try below average).
The numbers weren’t terrible for Manning on Sunday unless you talk about his dismal yards-per-attempt, but the zip on the fastball is gone at age 36. He’s certainly not extending plays, so it’s basically OBJ or bust for this offense.
It’s tough to admit that when you have all the goodwill in the rearview mirror, however.
Things will get better for the Giants when Beckham returns. It’s not as though Geno Smith is the answer either, but if New York plans to take advantage of this defensive window, it better start planning for the future at the game’s most important position, no matter how painful turning the page may be.
As for the Cowboys, when it comes to defending the NFC East crown, they now know they can turn their attention south on the I-95 corridor to Philadelphia and Carson Wentz.
— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
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