EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) – Jason Witten was supposed to stay home. Kevin Ogletree was supposed to be a bit player.
And the replacement officials were supposed to be a fiasco.
Instead, Witten provided the inspiration by playing weeks after lacerating his spleen, third wideout Ogletree made the big plays, and the officials had a mostly quiet night in the NFL’s season opener.
The Cowboys waited all year for another shot at the New York Giants, and when they got it Wednesday night, they were relentless in a 24-17 victory that really wasn’t that close.
“We executed on offense and defense when we needed to,” Tony Romo said after throwing for three touchdowns and 307 yards. “We put them in a hole. Our job was to keep the pedal down, to not let up because you know what kind of team they have over there.”
Not a good enough team this night as the Giants lost for the first time since Game 15 of last season. Part of their six-game winning streak that earned them a fourth Super Bowl title last winter was a win over Dallas on New Year’s Day to take the NFC East. New York did everything right back then, and very little right in becoming the first NFL champion to lose the now-traditional midweek kickoff game in its nine-year existence.
“I don’t think we played up to our potential at all,” defensive end Osi Umenyiora said. “Obviously they were prepared and they fought, and all the credit in the world goes to that team. They played a very good game today.”
And the field officials did their part. It was feared they would be a big factor with the league’s lockout of the regulars. But there were no controversies, no blatant mistakes or rampant confusion.
“No problems, just as we said there wouldn’t be,” league executive Ray Anderson said at halftime. Nothing changed in the second half.
Many Cowboys credited Witten’s presence with lifting their spirits and their performance.
“Sometimes you don’t care about yourself, you go out and play for the guys,” DeMarcus Ware said. “It was emotional. We were all behind him when he said he would play.”
Witten, who had two catches for 10 yards, didn’t think it was such a big deal.
“I think and hope every other player on our team would do the same thing,” he said. “At this point in your career, you want that mentality to leave it all out there.”
DeMarco Murray rushed for 129 yards and the defense sacked Eli Manning three times.
For Ogletree, the night was a special homecoming.
“I felt really good when I woke up this morning, I had great meetings, got to go see my brother,” said Ogletree, who grew up in the New York borough of Queens. “Really good vibes today.”
When the Cowboys were threatened late — a spot in which they often have folded against the Giants — Romo hit Ogletree for 15 yards on third down to clinch it. That gave Ogletree 114 yards on eight catches; he had 25 receptions for 294 yards and no scores entering the game.
“I’m close to home, so it’s a good feeling,” Ogletree said. “But Dallas is my home now.”
On his 40-yard TD, Ogletree broke free by thoroughly fooling New York’s top cornerback, Corey Webster to start the second half — the kind of big play the Cowboys couldn’t make enough of in that Jan. 1 showdown that ended their season. And they got another huge play from Murray, who broke two tackles in the backfield, scooted down the right sideline for 48 yards, and set up Dan Bailey’s 33-yard field goal for a 17-10 lead through three quarters.
After Manning connected with former Cowboys tight end Martellus Bennett for a 9-yard touchdown with 2:36 remaining, Dallas never gave the ball back.
“Take a bite out of humble pie, that’s basically what it is,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “It brings you right back down to earth.”
Ahmad Bradshaw, scored on a 10-yard run for New York after receiver Domenik Hixon made a spectacular leaping grab for 39 yards over two defenders.
Romo hit Bryant in stride over Webster down the right sideline for a 38-yard gain on third down in the second quarter. Two plays later, he sidestepped the pass rush and lobbed to a wide-open Ogletree for a 10-yard score that made it 7-3 at halftime.
“We’re judged by winning and losing,” Romo said, “so the best thing was going on the road and getting a win. Not only a win, but it was against a division rival and obviously against the world champs. I don’t know how many times teams go in and beat them in that first game of the year. It’s a tough atmosphere, a tough game. Our team grinded it out and did good.”
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