The last time the Dallas Cowboys played the New York Giants in the Big Apple on Monday Night Football was in Week 2 of 2003 for new coach Bill Parcells' first bout against his old team that he won two Super Bowls with in 1986 and 1990.
The Cowboys were 0-1 after dropping a 27-13 decision to the Atlanta Falcons at Texas Stadium, and the Giants were a bit more optimistic after trouncing the St. Louis Rams – still led by future Hall of Fame QB Kurt Warner – 23-13 on the road. Giants Stadium was set to be the venue for the showdown under the bright big city lights on a Monday night.
It really looked like Parcells had his work cut out in turning around a team that had finished 5-11 for the past three seasons when quarterback Quincy Carter had an interception returned 29 yards by cornerback Ralph Brown for an early 7-0 Giants lead. This was the Cowboys' second drive of the game; their first one was a penalty-laden three-and-out that had running back Troy Hambrick losing five yards on two carries and the ol' Flozell Adams false start to push it third-and-20 for good measure.
The Cowboys quickly recovered as receiver Zuriel Smith returned a Matt Bryant kickoff to the Dallas 47-line. Maybe they weren't a bad team after all, because the Cowboys turned the good field position into a touchdown seven plays later when Carter rushed for an 8-yard touchdown to even the score 7-7 with 3:06 in the first quarter.
On the ensuing series, defensive end Greg Ellis forced a fumble of running back Tiki Barber that linebacker Dat Nguyen fell on to give the Cowboys a free possession at the New York 35. Dallas couldn't get anything going and had to settle for a 37-yard Billy Cundiff field goal and a 10-7 lead. Cundiff would add another field goal, this one of 49 yards, with 7:41 to go on the Cowboys' next drive to extend the lead 13-7.
If the Cowboys offense couldn't get anything going, as their next possession was a three-and-out, then the defense would. With 3:05 to go until halftime, linebacker Alshermond Singleton, a free agent acquisition who came over from the Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers, returned a Kerry Collins interception 41 yards for a score to give the Cowboys a 20-7 lead to take into halftime. The defensive touchdown was part of a 10-point swing for the Cowboys as Cundiff added a 42-yard field goal with 11:00 in the third quarter to conclude the opening drive of the second half.
Dallas had been kicking field goals the whole time. However, the Giants are firing up and started to score touchdowns. The comfortable 23-7 lead looked a little tight when Collins connected with receiver Ike Hilliard for a 5-yard touchdown on the following Giants' drive.
Again, the Giants were scoring touchdowns while the Cowboys were kicking field goals. Dallas added a 21-yard field goal on the next drive because Carter's pass to running back Aveion Cason went for eight yards on third-and-goal from the 10. As such, the Cowboys led 26-14 with 4:53 in the third quarter.
When Dallas turned the Giants three-and-out on the ensuing drive, the Cowboys offense again stalled once they penetrated the initial edges of the red zone, and had to settle for a 36-yard field goal with 12:43 to play and Dallas leading 29-14.
Seemingly, the field goals instead of touchdowns didn't seem to matter on third-and-9 from the New York 32 with 11:59 in the game. Defensive back Randal Williams forced receiver Amani Toomer to fumble and safety Darren Woodson recovered at their own 48-yard line. If Dallas kicked another field goal, it would be a three-possession game instead of two.
However, defensive tackle Daleroy Stewart was offside and cost the Cowboys their takeaway. The drive continued, and Collins found Jeremy Shockey, who was supposed to be the next greatest tight end in the NFC East, for a 1-yard touchdown with 9:54 to play and New York down 29-21.
Dallas went three-and-out the next drive, and New York got the ball back at their own 36-yard line. In three plays, aided by a 38-yard Hilliard catch, the Giants scored a touchdown with 6:20 to play thanks to Toomer's 20-yard touchdown reception. On the two-point conversion, Hilliard couldn't come up with the catch, but rookie cornerback Pete Hunter committed pass interference and bailed out the Giants. On the redo, Collins connected with Shockey to tie the game 29-29.
It isn't bad enough that Dallas had a three-and-out on the next possession. It's that they had two straight three-and-outs on their following drives. That allowed the Giants, who in reality were a seasoned team that had made the playoffs the previous season and were 1-0 on the year, a chance to win the game. Things looked as though it was going to be a replay of the Nov. 4, 2001 encounter when the Cowboys led by as much as 24-7 at halftime and blew the lead to lose 27-24 in overtime.
However, this one didn't appear to need overtime; New York could win it in regulation as Collins drove the Giants offense down to the Dallas 12-yard line. The Giants positioned the line of scrimmage just right to allow kicker Matt Bryant to boot a 30-yard field goal with 11 seconds in the game and New York leading 32-29.
Smith may have had five kickoff returns for 120 yards on the night, but it was the one he didn't return that was arguably his best play of the game. The sixth-round rookie from Hampton allowed Bryant's kick to go out of bounds and gave the Cowboys first-and-10 at their own 40-yard line.
They had a shot, and it wasn't like Carter had never mounted a game-winning drive. To his credit, he had four by this point in his career along with two fourth quarter comebacks.
Carter did his part when he connected with receiver Antonio Bryant for a 26-yard gain up to the New York 34. After the Cowboys' final timeout, Cundiff drove a 52-yard field goal through the uprights to tie the game 32-32 and send the game to overtime.
Overtime rules were still sudden death with the team that scored first winning. All Dallas needed was a field goal. They got as far as second-and-6 at the Giants' 37, but Hambrick lost four yards on the carry — not exactly what the guy he backed up in 2002 did on Jan. 2, 1994, in the same venue in overtime with one shoulder — and the Cowboys were forced to punt.
The Dallas defense coordinated by Mike Zimmer was stellar and turned the Giants three-and-out, and the Cowboys got the ball back at their own 43.
While the Cowboys took nibbles out of the Giants with Carter rushing for six yards here, receiver Terry Glenn catching an 8-yard pass there, and Hambrick slashing for nine yards there, it really wasn't until Carter found former Giants tight end Dan Campbell, the man Shockey drove out of New York and now Campbell was starting ahead of some third-round rookie for the Cowboys named Jason Witten, caught a 23-yard pass on third-and-1 that the Giants' goose was cooked.
With the ball at the Giants' 6-yard line, Carter positioned the ball where holder Toby Gowin and Cundiff liked it. Then, Cundiff joined fellow Dallas kicker Chris Boniol for most field goals made in a single game with seven — also achieved on a Monday night — when he nailed a 25-yard field goal to send the Cowboys to 1-1 with a 35-32 win over the Giants.
Monday night, Nov. 4, 2019, doesn't look to have the same level of narrative excitement as the last Monday nighter in the Meadowlands, but that is what makes divisional games so magical. Sometimes they end up a battle to remember.
What are your favorite memories from the Bill Parcells' era of Cowboys football? Share ‘em with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.
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