The New York Giants won, and then they waited — hoping for a big win from a bitter rival.
“We'll be pulling for Philly, no doubt,” quarterback Daniel Jones said.
Far from .500 but still full of hope, the six-win Giants got to the brink of an unprecedented playoff berth with a 23-19 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, locking things up when rookie Xavier McKinney intercepted Andy Dalton in the end zone with 1:15 remaining.
New York’s postseason chances hang on the Philadelphia Eagles, who play Washington on Sunday night. Washington would claim the NFC East with a win or tie. Otherwise, the Giants will take it for the first time since 2011 and host Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a wild-card round game next week.
“I won’t be caught dead in an Eagles hat," said receiver Sterling Shepard, the only player left from New York's last playoff appearance in 2016. “But I will be rooting for them.”
The Giants (6-10) would be the first team to qualify for the playoffs with six victories in a 16-game regular season and the first to do so after starting 1-7. Hardly how first-year coach Joe Judge planned it, but there were no complaints about extending the season for at least a few more hours.
“I’m going to go back to the office right now and start watching Tampa,” Judge said.
Dallas (6-10) nearly ripped that satisfaction away. Dalton rallied the Cowboys with a bloody left hand after being stepped on by defensive tackle Leonard Williams in the third quarter, and he had Dallas on the doorstep when Williams got close again.
Dalton scrambled around on a broken play, avoided being sacked by Williams for a fourth time, but ended up floating one into the middle of the end zone. McKinney caught it easily, his first career interception.
Jones was efficient and surprisingly mobile after slumping with left ankle and right hamstring injuries during a three-game losing streak. He was 17-of-25 passing for 229 yards and two touchdowns, ending Dallas' seven-game winning streak in the rivalry.
Dalton was 29 of 47 for 243 yards and had a gash on his hand stitched up after the game. He was sacked six times, and the Cowboys ended a three-game winning streak that nearly propelled them to the playoffs despite star quarterback Dak Prescott's season-ending injury in Week 5.
“It’s been obviously a year of a lot of ups and downs,” first-year coach Mike McCarthy said. “Trials and tribulations. In some ways, this game’s a bit of a microcosm of our season.”
Dalton and the Dallas offense had just 34 total yards midway through the second quarter but began moving the ball just before halftime. They drove 56 yards in the third quarter to set up Ezekiel Elliott's 1-yard TD run, and Dalton overcame the hand injury on the next drive to set up Greg Zuerlein's 36-yard field goal that trimmed New York's lead to 20-19.
Graham Gano made a 50-yard field goal for the Giants on the next possession. Gano passed Josh Brown for the franchise record with his 30th consecutive made field goal.
Limited to 26 points over its previous three games, the Giants' 31st-ranked offense busted out with 239 yards and 20 points in the first half. Jones had TD passes of 10 yards to Shepard and 33 yards to Dante Pettis.
Shepard also scored his first career rushing TD, a 23-yard reverse on the game's opening drive. After grinding through injury to practice this week, he finished with eight catches for 112 yards.
Dalton and the Dallas offense were a mess early but got in position for a pair of second-quarter field goals by Zuerlein, including a 57-yarder on the half's final play.
New York’s Wayne Gallman Jr. appeared to fumble after picking up a game-clinching first down in the final minute, but officials ruled he was down before the ball came loose. The ruling was upheld via replay.
“I’m sorry I caused drama,” Gallman said.
Elliott gained 42 yards on 14 carriers and finished the season with 979 yards, short of 1,000 for the second time in his five NFL seasons. Elliott has dealt with hamstring issues this season, and he said he strained a quad in practice this week, too.
“We’re upset that we didn’t do what we needed to to put ourselves in a situation to get in,” he said. “Upset with the outcome of this game.”
ODDS AND ENDS
Cowboys: Dallas forced two turnovers and had 12 takeaways in its final four games. It had 11 over the first 12 games. ... Zuerlein made four field goals and has 34 for the season, tying Richie Cunningham’s franchise record from 1997.
Giants: Williams had seven tackles, three sacks and hit the quarterback five times. He finished the season with 11 1/2 sacks. ... Shepard had two touchdowns all season before Sunday.
Cowboys: WR Noah Brown was ruled out at halftime with a back injury. TE Blake Bell left in the third quarter with a stinger and was probable to return.
Giants: LB Blake Martinez left the game briefly after appearing to injure his left ankle or foot in the third quarter.
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