DALLAS — In 2010, the Dallas Cowboys were awful.
They were 1-7 coming off a 45-7 thumping at the hands of the Green Bay Packers in Week 9 that got their coach Wade Phillips fired. Afterwards, they were slated to play at the New York Giants, the same team that started their four-week misery quest with quarterback Tony Romo breaking his collarbone in their previous meeting that season.
Dallas was going into MetLife Stadium to face a 6-2 Giants team that held first place in the NFC East. New York was three years removed from making a playoff run that culminated with a Super Bowl victory over the then-undefeated New England Patriots and would get their second Super Bowl with Tom Coughlin on the sidelines and Eli Manning under center a season later in 2011.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys were just trying to win a game with backup quarterback Jon Kitna and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, who was promoted to interim coach.
Garrett, the former backup to Troy Aikman, and member of all three Cowboys Super Bowl teams in the 1990s, used phrases throughout the week such as how righting the ship was a "process" and how the team was "focused on today" while preparing to play the Giants that Sunday afternoon.
Garrett had a calm, friendly demeanor and was unflappable despite the massive failed expectations of 2010 being a Super Bowl year for Dallas, and the drama of replacing Phillips midseason. It was the first time in Cowboys history a coach had been fired in-season, and Garrett merely stated they were getting ready to play the Giants on Sunday.
When that Sunday, Nov. 14, 2010 rolled around and Dallas kicker David Buehler kicked the ball off the tee shortly after 4:15 p.m. ET, no one gave the Cowboys a chance. They had scored 24 points in the last two games and had given up 80. On the road against a team that looked poised to make the playoffs, there was no way Dallas could win.
New York got on the board first with a 43-yard Lawrence Tynes field goal with 5:09 to go in the first quarter. New York had run 14 plays to the Cowboys' four plays to this point in the quarter.
At that point, the Cowboys unleashed their secret weapon in first-round rookie receiver Dez Bryant. After a 13-yard run by Felix Jones on the drive's first play, Bryant caught a 45-yard pass to give Dallas a first-and-10 at the Giants' 13-yard line. On the next play, Bryant made an acrobatic catch for a touchdown that was ruled incomplete on the field. It wasn't until after Garrett's challenge that referee Bill Leavy overturned the ruling on the field. As per usual that season, Buehler doinked the extra point to make it 6-3 Dallas with 3:37 in the first quarter.
After turning New York three-and-out, Dallas mounted a 63-yard drive that got down as far as the Giants' 1-yard line for a second-and-goal. Dallas couldn't punch it in, but Buehler managed to salvage points for a 9-3 lead with 14:26 in the second quarter.
Sooner or later, the Giants offense was going to take command of the game, and it did with the Giants converting two third-and-longs to keep their next drive alive. New York advanced as far as the Cowboys' 2-yard line on third-and-goal. In a replay of the Monday night game from three weeks previously when the Giants erased a Cowboys lead for a 41-35 win, New York was starting to take over. A touchdown and an extra point here would give the Giants a 10-9 lead and the chance to start burying the Cowboys.
Manning dropped back and sought receiver Hakeem Nicks, but undrafted free agent cornerback Bryan McCann picked off the Super Bowl MVP and sprinted 101 yards for a touchdown. The extra point was good, and Dallas had a 16-3 lead on the best team in the division.
New York got the ball back and immediately went backward. Guard Mitch Petrus picked up a face mask call. On first-and-20 from their own 15, tackle Kareem McKenzie committed illegal formation. On first-and-25 from the Giants' 10, running back Ahmad Bradshaw caught a 2-yard pass, but he was stuffed for no gain on second down, and Manning couldn't connect with tight end Kevin Boss on third-and-23.
Rookie punter Matt Dodge was awful for the Giants, and his 32-yard punt gave Dallas first-and-10 at New York's 44. After tight end Martellus Bennett caught a 32-yard pass, the Cowboys' drive stalled out at the 5-yard line. However, Buehler's 23-yard field goal gave Dallas a 19-3 lead with 3:12 until halftime.
A 44-yard Mario Manningham catch gave New York a chance to chip into Dallas' lead before the break. However, they could only get as far as the 7-yard line before Tynes added a 25-yard field goal. Dallas got the ball back with 1:18 until halftime but failed to add any points. They still had the momentum with a 19-6 lead.
Dallas had the ball coming out of the locker room, and Kitna's pass to fullback Chris Gronkowski, Rob Gronkowski's brother, and also the man responsible for the missed block that allowed Giants linebacker Michael Boley to break Romo's collarbone in the previous meeting, fell incomplete.
Before the Cowboys' second down play, a portion of the stadium lights went out at MetLife Stadium, and play was suspended for about 15 minutes. The stadium was still in partial darkness, but play resumed. After Jones rushed for no gain, Kitna threw a screen pass to him on third-and-10 from the Dallas 29-yard line. The former 2008 first-round running back from Arkansas scampered 71 yards for a touchdown with receiver Roy Williams as part of his convoy. Dallas led 26-6 with 13:48 on the clock in the third quarter.
The Giants would add a 5-yard touchdown catch from Manningham, but the Cowboys’ offense was rolling in a winning effort for the first time of the season. Indeed, they beat the Houston Texans in Week 3, but it was a clunky 27-13 victory that saw Houston commit three turnovers and fall apart in the fourth quarter. Even though Week 5's 34-27 loss to the Tennessee Titans had some explosive plays from Pro Bowl receiver Miles Austin, this was the first time Dallas' offense was on fire in a game they would win.
Case in point: they were answering the opposition's punches. Kitna got Dallas out from the depths of its own territory with a 46-yard pass to Bryant out to the Giants' 39-yard line. Kitna overcame a holding call and a Marion Barber 2-yard loss with a 27-yard pass to Williams. The very next play, Kitna hit Austin for a 24-yard touchdown to take a 33-13 lead with 6:39 left in the third quarter.
New York would score again with Manning hitting Boss for a 35-yard touchdown to pull within 13, but the Cowboys defense took out their first eight weeks of frustration on the Giants.
On a fourth-and-1 from the Dallas 42 with 10:22 left, linebacker Bradie James and undrafted rookie safety Barry Church dropped running back Brandon Jacobs for a no gain for a turnover on downs. Later, on a second-and-15 from New York's 42 with 7:18 to go, Manning fumbled and outside linebacker Anthony Spencer scooped it up to kill the drive.
On a third-and-10 from the Dallas 17 with 2:55 to play, safety Alan Ball intercepted Manning. All Dallas needed at that point were two first downs, which they got, to kneel out the clock and preserve a 33-20 victory.
Garrett will be returning to the Cowboys-Giants series Sunday at AT&T Stadium, but he will be wearing a lighter shade of blue as the Giants' new offensive coordinator under first-year coach Joe Judge. At 0-5, New York's offense has looked anemic and dysfunctional. Dallas is hoping, unlike 10 years ago, Red Ball doesn't have any tricks up his sleeve, but that the result plays out the same: Cowboys win.
Do you think the Cowboys will be able to beat old coach Jason Garrett and his new team on Sunday? Share your predictions with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.