Spot On: Top 3 Season Openers: Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants
By Brandon Fazzolari
Special to Pro Football Guru
For the 11th time in their histories, the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants will open their seasons against one another. Incredibly, Dallas has won nine of the previous 10 meetings, most recently in 2017. Nevertheless, the teams have given us some lasting memories in these match-ups. Let’s take a look back at the three best season openers from this epic series.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
3. Cowboys 31, Giants 28 (1986)
Both teams were eliminated from the 1985 postseason by getting shut out in the divisional round. The Cowboys, coached by the legendary Tom Landry, had made it to the playoffs 19 out of the previous 20 seasons while the Giants were a club on the rise under Bill Parcells. Thus, the scene was set for a Monday night masterpiece at Texas Stadium.
This thrilling game featured a storybook ending for Herschel Walker. Walker made his National Football League debut in this one and did not disappoint. With just 76 seconds left in the contest, he scored on a 10-yard trap play to put the Cowboys ahead to stay, 31-28.
After a scoreless first quarter, things got exciting in the second. Veteran Tony Dorsett received a pass from Danny White on a third-and-20 and swept down the sideline for the touchdown. After a Phil Simms’ fumble that Randy White recovered on the Giants’ two, Walker punched it in for a 14-0 lead. New York struck back as Simms threw touchdown passes to Bobby Johnson and Stacy Robinson late in the half.
Simms tossed a third touchdown pass to put the Giants ahead, 28-24 with just a few minutes left. But, after the teams exchanged punts, White led Dallas downfield for the winning score.
Interestingly, it would be the Giants who had the stellar season. Joe Morris, Mark Bavaro and Lawrence Taylor were key in the Giants rallying to their first Super Bowl championship, a 39-20 victory in Super Bowl XXI in Pasadena over the Denver Broncos.
2. Giants 20, Cowboys 19 (2016)
Thirty years and seven world championships later, the Cowboys and Giants each opened the 2016 season with high expectations. After the successful Tom Coughlin Era, Ben McAdoo began his stint as New York’s head man. He was called on to wake up the dreadful Giants defense which finished dead last in 2015. As for Dallas, they expected to have a healthy Tony Romo whose injuries were the major culprit of the disastrous campaign. Unfortunately for Romo, he was reinjured in the preseason. Therefore, it was Mississippi State rookie Dak Prescott’s job to lead America’s Team in 2016.
Unlike many of the Tony Romo-Eli Manning matchups of the era, this game was mostly a defensive battle. Prescott did a fine job moving his team, but once Dallas got into or near the red zone, their drives usually stalled. On other hand, New York only moved the ball well three different times on the afternoon. But those drives ended in six with Manning hitting tight end Larry Donnell and rookie wideout Sterling Shepherd in the first half to give the Giants a 13-9 halftime lead.
Early in the third, the Cowboys showed what they were to be during the entirety of the 2016 season as the relied on rookie sensation Ezekiel Elliott and an offensive line which featured three All-Pros. Elliott scored to give the Cowboys the lead on an eight-yard run. Kicker Dan Bailey added to that lead with his fourth field goal and second 50-yarder of the day. With the score 19-13, Manning struck back finding Victor Cruz for the go-ahead score. It was Cruz’s first game action in two years.
Dallas had one final drive to get back into Bailey’s field goal range. With time running very low, Prescott completed a pass to Terrance Williams at New York’s 40-yard-line. When Williams turned inside rather than go out of bounds, the clock ran out giving the Giants the big win.
1. Cowboys 27, Giants 26 (2015)
The best opening game ever played between the Giants and Cowboys occurred one season earlier. The Giants came into the 2015 season off a subpar 6-10 campaign while the Cowboys looked to continue their success under Jason Garrett. Dallas lost in the 2014 postseason in controversial fashion at Green Bay when a fourth-down pass from Tony Romo to Dez Bryant was ruled incomplete in the late going. Dallas very much looked forward to putting that disappointment behind them in this nationally-televised Sunday night matchup with the G-Men.
The Cowboys dominated time of possession in the first half, but trailed as the opportunistic Giants seemed to get every bounce. The Cowboys made two critical errors, the first of which was a Cole Beasley fumble that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie scooped up and returned 57 yards for the score. Moments later, Romo had a pass deflect off Jason Witten’s hand and into the waiting arms of Uani Unga. Somehow, New York was ahead 13-6 at the break.
The bad news continued for the Cowboys when the polarizing Dez Bryant broke his foot. Trailing 16-6 late in the third quarter, the Cowboys finally scored a touchdown when Romo lobbed a throw to Gavin Escobar along the back of the end zone. The Giants came right back with a strong rushing game. The featured back of the time was Rashard Jennings. His score from the one-yard-line recaptured the 10-point margin.
After Dallas cut the lead back to a field goal on a Witten touchdown, Manning put together his best drive. On a third and 14, he found Odell Beckham at the four. Things were bleak for the Cowboys. But, on third down, Coughlin inexplicably called a Manning roll out and unbelievably, Manning tossed an incompletion stopping the clock at 1:41 with Dallas out of timeouts. A Giants’ field goal gave them a 26-20 lead, but the ending was already written in the stars so visible around the massive Arlington Stadium. Romo, Witten and Lance Dunbar made multiple chunk plays and then scored with 13 seconds remaining. It was Romo to the future Hall of Famer Witten for the game-winner.
Brandon Fazzolari (@spot_bills) is a lifelong Buffalo Bills fan and a Vegas sports reporter for Vegas the Network.