Giants Head To Playoffs With 31-14 Win

Victor Cruz (Star-Ledger/US Presswire)

The Giants left no doubt as to who is king of the NFC East in a powerful, 31-14 victory over the Cowboys. The Giants will now face No. 5 seeded Atlanta in next week's Wildcard Weekend.

They go to the playoffs now, ready for next week's showdown with Atlanta thanks to a 31-14 domination of the Cowboys in one of the biggest games the Giants' franchise has ever played.

It was in 1943 that they last ended a regular season with a winner-take-all matchup, and they lost that to the Redskins. But Sunday night, they made few mistakes in vanquishing the 8-8 Cowboys and advancing to their first postseason since 2008.

Now, it appears the Giants are peaking at the right time. The offense got off to a fast start, thanks to Eli Manning's accuracy and Victor Cruz' big-play ability. The defense put pressure on the wounded Tony Romo, held the rushing attack to 49 yards on 16 carries, and took the Cowboys' main receivers all but out of the game.

For Manning, who finished 24-of-33 for 346 yards and three touchdowns to cap his greatest statistical season as a pro, it was all about finishing.

"We talked about finishing," Manning said. "We did finish in the fourth quarter. We knew we had to finish the season, and that's what we did."

They did it with two final nails, one a 43-yard throw to MetLife's newest folk-hero, Victor Cruz, that set up a Lawrence Tynes field goal in the fourth quarter. And then a 4-yard fade to Hakeem Nicks put the final nail in the Cowboys' season.

That throw to Nicks was Manning's 15th fourth-quarter touchdown pass, breaking the record held by Johnny Unitas and big brother Peyton Manning.

One wonders now if the Giants have finally gotten it together and whether another magical playoff run like 2007's awaits.

Here's the good and bad of the game.

THE GOOD:

VICTOR CRUZ: Sure, he didn't deserve a Pro Bowl spot at all, unless you're a member of the Ryan family. Last week, his 99-yard reception helped beat Rex's Jets. Last night, his first-quarter, 74-yard touchdown catch-and-run where he ran past Terrance Newman on a third-and-1 opened the scoring against Rob Ryan's Cowboys defense. And let's not forget the 43-yarder he grabbed as Manning uncorked a prayer downfield under heavy pressure in the fourth quarter, setting up Lawrence Tynes' field goal to make it a two-score game. He finished with six catches for 178 yards and a touchdown, his team-record sixth 100-yard game of the season. Add to the fact that he went into the game with the Giants' single-season receiving yardage record. Yeah, he's not a Pro Bowler.

Bear Pascoe: He set up Cruz' big play with an athletic move against Newman on third-and-9 deep inside Giants territory. His spin move allowed him to get the three extra yards and more for the first down.

ELI MANNING: Can't say enough about him in a 15-of-20, 199-yard, two touchdown first half that for once got the Giants off to their fastest first half of the year, a 21-0 lead. Missing tight end Jake Ballard again, he made great use of fullback Henry Hynoski in the passing game, and his overall accuracy was much the reason the Giants converted 5-of-7 third down situations. He scrambled out of several major pressures, and hit Cruz on that 43-yarder in the fourth quarter. Final stats: 24-of-33, 346 yards, three TDs, no INTs. Not bad, considering he had 400 yards the first time around against the Cowboys.

HAKEEM NICKS: It went almost unnoticed, but the block on the beleaguered Newman in the second quarter allowed Ahmad Bradshaw to score the touchdown that put the Giants up 14-0. He doesn't have the downfield speed because of his nagging hamstring, but he can still do the dirty work. He was still mobile enough, though, to catch five passes for 76 yards and the Giants' final touchdown on a beautifully thrown fade.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Their run-blocking broke Bradshaw for a huge first-half rush, and their pass protection gave Manning all sorts of time to pick out a receiver. They blocked the backfield to 106 rushing yards, 29 of which came on Ahmad Bradshaw's great second-quarter run that set up the third touchdown of the first half. One of their best performances of the season.

Antrel Rolle: For all the talking he's done this year, he came through big in the third quarter with an interception in Dallas territory, his second pick of the season.

TOTAL DEFENSE: Aside from some rockiness in the third and early fourth quarters, the defense put together a good game. They pressured Romo for six sacks, and the secondary basically took Dez Bryant and Miles Austin out of the game. They did give up a pair of touchdowns to Laurent Robinson, but overall it marked one of their strongest outings of the season.

THE BAD:

LAWRENCE TYNES: He's been reliable all season, but his 38-yard miss in the second quarter kept the Giants from going up 17-0. He made up for that with a game-clinching, fourth-quarter kick from 28 yards.

Devin Thomas: With the Giants up by 14 in the fourth quarter, Thomas picked up a bad unnecessary roughness penalty on a punt that Dez Bryant returned to the Giants' 46, allowing them even better field position at the 31.

THIRD-QUARTER OFFENSE: Manning and the entire offense dropped dead as Dallas increased their pressure. In the meantime, Tony Romo brought his team back with a succession of throws against what was always a suspect secondary.

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