DALLAS — The Cowboys host the New York Giants at AT&T Stadium on Sunday Night Football in Week 2. What could be better?
You mean, what could be worse?
Sept. 20, 2009 was the grand opening of Cowboys Stadium, as it was called upon its debut, the Taj Mahal of the NFL, the new Ninth Wonder of the World (Astrodome is eighth). The roof was open, the end zone doors were open, and the Cowboys were ready to face the Giants.
It was the first season without receiver Terrell Owens for quarterback Tony Romo, who was entering his third full season as the starter and seventh season total as a pro. He did well against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the week prior and threw for three touchdowns to three different receivers in an Opening Day win in the blue jerseys.
New York beat up on Washington the week prior. They were coming off of a season that ended rather ignominiously with a first-round playoff loss at home to the Philadelphia Eagles after having the NFC's top seed wrapped up. The Giants were out to prove the 2007 Super Bowl season wasn't a fluke.
Dallas got off to a customary start in the Romo era and went three-and-out on the game's first series. The starting cornerback opposite Pro-Bowler Terence Newman was still being battled between Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins, each in their second year. The Giants took advantage and drove all the way to the Dallas 12-yard line to settle for a 30-yard Lawrence Tynes field goal.
The Cowboys ground game was just dominant that Sunday evening as they hope to be this time around. Running back Marion Barber popped a 27-yard run in the Cowboys' nine-play, 62-yard drive and capped it off with a 2-yard touchdown run to give Dallas a 7-3 lead.
New York went three-and-out on the next series, and Dallas got the ball back, that great ground game and all. It's first down and Romo looks for tight end Martellus Bennett, incomplete. On second down, he looks for receiver Roy Williams. No dice. On third down, rookie cornerback Bruce Johnson picks off Romo and returns it for a 34-yard touchdown.
No problem. It's still 10-7 early in the game.
Returner Felix Jones fumbled the kickoff, the Giants recovered, and Tynes is banging a 28-yard field goal from the freebie on the kickoff.
When the Cowboys did get the ball back, Dallas went 73 yards in eight plays with Romo connecting with tight end Jason Witten for a 1-yard touchdown to put Dallas ahead 14-13.
The two sides traded punts and three-and-outs. The game had finally found a nice, comfortable gridlock. The Cowboys took possession with 1:46 left in the first half from their own 6-yard line, and sought to make a drive out of it. Williams caught an 18-yard pass to give Dallas some breathing room. After an incomplete pass to receiver Patrick Crayton, Romo threw for Witten on first down and it bounced off the ground incomplete. But Giants safety Kenny Phillips is running with the dead ball toward the end zone for whatever reason.
The booth buzzes down to referee Mike Carey to take a look under the hood. It turns out the throw wasn't incomplete. Rather, it bounces off of Witten's heel and into Phillips' hands. It was Romo's second interception of the game.
Of course, the Giants took advantage of it, and Tynes did play a part in the possession's conclusion as he followed up a 22-yard touchdown pass to receiver Mario Manningham with an extra point to give New York a 20-14 lead. Dallas cut into the lead with a 47-yard Nick Folk field goal, but the Giants led 20-17 at the break.
The Giants had the first possession of the second half, and Tynes missed a 29-yard field goal. The Cowboys took possession, and the ground game was doing well. Jones galloped 24 yards on first down, but Dallas would punt after that.
When the Cowboys got the ball back after another New York punt, the Giants had no answers for the Dallas ground game. Jones ripped off a 56-yard run, Barber followed it up with a 10-yard carry, and then a 15-yard rush. On first-and-goal from the Giants' 2-yard line, Barber lost a yard, and Romo wasn't able to find Crayton on second down. The man with no playoff wins to date then took it himself on a quarterback draw to give Dallas the lead 24-20.
After a Giants three-and-out, things again seemed to be back to that comfortable gridlock. Dallas had it at their own 44-yard line with 1:56 to go in the third quarter. There was no urgency to score points since the Cowboys were in the lead by four. Romo found receiver Sam Hurd for seven yards on first down. Barber picks up three to move the chains. No problem. Romo heaves a deep ball for Hurd in centerfield into double coverage that gets picked off.
So, Dallas is getting 8.3 yards per carry at this point in the game, but with the ball at the Giants' 46-yard line, Romo's idea of ball control is to hurl a pass for Hurd in the middle of the field.
The Giants, once again, converted the free possession into points with a 22-yard touchdown pass to receiver Steve Smith (the Super Bowl-winning one). Giants lead 27-24. After a Dallas three-and-out, Tynes connects on a 36-yard field goal to give the Giants a 30-24 lead with 7:30 to go.
Dallas needed a game-winning drive, and to illustrate the absurdity of abandoning the running game, as offensive coordinator Jason Garrett had during the second half, five of the seven plays that drove Dallas 71 yards to take a one-point lead were runs. Barber alone rushed 51 yards, and even had a 35-yard dash befor coming up short when he pulled his quadriceps. Jones punched it in with a 7-yard score, and Dallas had the lead 31-30 with 3:34 in the game.
Manning's first career win was a game-winning drive against the Cowboys, and the first win in Cowboys Stadium would belong to Peyton's younger brother. The Super Bowl MVP completed eight passes on nine attempts for 66 yards to put Tynes in position for a 37-yard field goal. Dallas coach Wade Phillips iced him with a timeout, and that unofficial kick nearly shanked. But the real one went right down Broadway and the Giants started the season 2-0 while the Cowboys would open 1-1 for the first time since 2006.
This time around, in 2018, it's not two teams vying for a 2-0, but avoiding a 0-2 start. Weirdly, both franchises are the only clubs in NFL history to start with that mark and win a Super Bowl. However, this season, it is a postseason death sentence each side wants to avoid.
What do you remember about when they still called AT&T Stadium Cowboys Stadium? Share your memories with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.