DALLAS - Eli Manning begins another consecutive start streak against the team that he beat for his first career win.
On Jan. 2, 2005, the No. 1 overall quarterback from the 2004 NFL Draft led the Giants on a six-play, 66-yard drive to score the winning touchdown and earn his first career fourth quarter comeback and game-winning drive in the last game of the 2004 season.
The Giants were 5-10 coming into the contest, having lost seven consecutive straight. New head coach Tom Coughlin pulled Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner after a 17-14 loss to the Cardinals on Nov. 14 and went with the future, even though the club was 5-4 and could have easily qualified for the playoffs in a year that saw two 8-8 teams qualify as wildcards. Coughlin went with the rookie from Ole Miss, who could not muster a single victory in his subsequent six starts.
The 6-9 Cowboys had lost two of its last three games and their postseason hopes vanished with a 12-7 loss in Philadelphia on Dec. 19 to sustain their ninth loss on the season. The only bright spots in the final two games of 2004 were rookie receiver Patrick Crayton, rookie running back Julius Jones, and second-year tight end Jason Witten, who notched his first Pro Bowl honor.
The Cowboys and Giants traded a pair of punts to start out the night from Giants Stadium on ESPN Sunday Night Football before kicker Billy Cundiff hit a 40-yard field goal to give the Cowboys a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter. New York responded with a 13-play, 77-yard drive that culminated in Manning connecting with reserve tight end Visanthe Shiancoe for a 2-yard touchdown early in the second quarter.
Dallas would add two Cundiff field goals before halftime: one of 24 yards with 1:59 on the clock, and another from 45 out as time expired to give Dallas a 9-7 lead at the break.
The Cowboys would add to their margin with Witten catching a 7-yard touchdown pass from Vinny Testaverde with 45 seconds in the third quarter. The future leader in Cowboys receiving yards would finish the night with eight catches for 77 yards.
A 43-yard pass interference call against defensive back Lance Frazier setup the Giants a yard inside the Cowboys' red zone. Running back Tiki Barber gained four yards before Manning found receiver David Tyree -- yes, of eventual Super Bowl XLII fame -- for a 15-yard touchdown to pull New York within two points.
Second-year defensive end Osi Umenyoria strip-sacked Testaverde to give the Giants another trip inside the Cowboys' red zone. Six plays later, Manning hit Barber for a 3-yard touchdown as New York took a 21-16 lead with 11:51 left in the game.
The two sides traded three-and-outs until before Dallas mounted their comeback drive with 8:59 on the clock. Eight of the nine plays, including the two-point conversion, featured Jones and Witten. The lone play that did not was a 2-yard rush from free agent running back Eddie George.
Jones would score the go-ahead touchdown as part of a 129-yard performance on 29 carries. Jones also caught five passes for 46 yards on the night, proving that America's Team may have found a runner who could shoulder the load of being the feature back.
Manning's comeback was almost aborted as linebacker Ryan Fowler stripped returner Marcellus Rivers, who managed to fall back on the ball at the New York 34-yard line. Then, Manning was aided as a 23-yard completion to Barber had an extra 15 yards tacked on from defensive tackle Leonardo Carson's roughing the passer call.
With 1:29 until the interminable off-season, Manning completed one pass to Rivers for five yards. It was Barber who rushed four times for 28 yards to give the Giants their 10th season sweep of the Cowboys as he plunged for a 3-yard touchdown and a 28-24 win.
Just as the game had relatively no meaning other than inspire confidence for a rookie quarterback, so too will Sunday's game have no other meaning for the Giants than to showcase that their No. 1 overall pick from a time before YouTube still has a future in the NFL.
Unlike '04, the Cowboys do have a playoff spot to chase in this journey to the Meadowlands and hope to separate themselves from any comparisons to the team that left that January night 6-10.
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