EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Two months ago, Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys started the season with hopes of becoming the first NFL team to play in a Super Bowl on their home field.
February, 2011 was going to be big times in Big D.
Halfway through the season, Jones' dream has turned into a nightmare.
The Cowboys (1-7) have lost their way, along with their coach, Wade Phillips, who was fired.
Instead of playing at home in February, the mandate for the Cowboys is now to play hard and be accountable. In other words, play like the New York Giants (6-2), a team many consider good enough to end up in Cowboys Stadium in February.
Interim Cowboys coach Jason Garrett will get a chance to see how his team stacks up against the Giants on Sunday, when the NFC East rivals meet at the New Meadowlands Stadium.
The Giants, who beat the Cowboys 41-35 in Dallas on Oct. 25, are riding five-game winning streak highlighted by a 41-7 win over Seattle last weekend.
The Cowboys have lost five in a row, including last week's embarrassing 45-7 loss in Green Bay in a game in which America's Team seemed to quit and got Phillips fired.
"Our actions have to speak louder than our words and that's the mentality that we have to have and that was the way we discussed it," Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said. "You're right, we haven't gone and done those things in the last few weeks and so none of that is going to be acceptable. We're going to fight, we're going to play hard and we believe we can get it turned around, but it's got to go happen now."
How much the Cowboys can change in a week remains to be seen. Dallas' defense has given up 121 points the past three games and the offense can't be expected to carry the team, especially with backup Jon Kitna replacing the injured Tony Romo at quarterback.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning said no matter what's happening with the Cowboys, he expects a typical rivalry game.
"It's Dallas, and they have a new coach and a new attitude," Manning said. "Talking to my dad and other players, whenever a new coach comes in, you feel like you have a new season. Everything has been erased, and you can start over. That's the attitude they're going to have. They're going to come in fired up and we know they're talented all over the field. We have to make sure we take care of business."
While things are going well for the Giants, they, too, have some issues.
Their offensive line is going to be in flux because of injuries to tackle David Diehl (hamstring, hip), center Shaun O'Hara (foot) and a season-ending knee injury to backup center Adam Koets.
Rich Seubert has moved over from guard to center but the left side of the line is going to be relatively new with Shawn Andrews replacing Diehl at the tackle and either Kevin Boothe — fresh off the physically unable to perform list — or rookie Mitch Petrus starting at guard.
The receiving corps also is nicked with Steve Smith suffering a pectoral injury in practice Thursday.
The Giants defense is healthy, although they are not sure what to expect with Garrett running the show.
Linebacker Keith Bulluck thinks Dallas might try to run the ball more.
However, that might be tough against a unit that is ranked No. 2 against the run, giving up an average of 80.9 yards.
"We are going to prepare and expect their best game," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "That's the only way we can prepare. I am sure they are coming in here trying to play spoiler now. I have kind of been in that role before in my career and I know they really don't have anything to lose. We have a lot to play for."
While the Giants are tied with Atlanta for the best record in the NFC, there postseason field is crowded with Green Bay and New Orleans at 6-3 and Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Chicago all at 5-3. The other variable to consider is the NFC West. St. Louis and Seattle share the division lead with 4-4 records, with the eventual division winner guaranteed a postseason berth.
Garrett has changed some things in Dallas already with the most notable being the team practiced in pads Wednesday.
However, he needs to change the team's attitude.
"We are certainly disappointed about how our season started," Garrett said. "What we're doing now is going forward and there isn't a lot of time to think about different scenarios. We have to get ready for the Giants on Sunday. Like I said before, they will present a great challenge all across our football team."
Giants safety Antrel Rolle is more concerned about his team.
"We understand they are a very talented team, but we know it hasn't been displayed throughout this season," Rolle said. "I don't know what will take place Sunday, but I just know we have to come well prepared and understand it's going to be a battle."