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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — With the halfway point in the season approaching, the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants need to get going to have a shot at the playoffs.
The Cowboys (2-3) have lost three in a row since quarterback Tony Romo fractured his collarbone in the second game of the season. They are heading into their contest with the Giants (3-3) at MetLife Stadium on Sunday with a new quarterback, veteran Matt Cassel.
While the Giants had a three-game winning streak snapped in a loss to the Eagles on Monday night, it was their worst game of the season. It also brought back memories of their debacle in Philadelphia last season, the one that sent them on a seven-game losing streak in missing the playoffs for the third straight year.
What’s obvious to both teams is that the NFC East is wide open. The Giants and Eagles are tied for first place. The Cowboys, who hope to get Romo back by Nov. 22, are a half-game back, and a half in front of Washington (2-4).
“I don’t think we’ve got to worry about anything that happened in the past so far,” said Cassel, who is replacing Brandon Weeden. “We’ve got to go out and we’ve got a big-time division rival that is coming up, and hopefully we can go out there and get a win, because that puts us right back in the driver’s seat in the division.”
The Giants need this game as much as the Cowboys. Dallas beat New York on a late touchdown pass from Romo to tight end Jason Witten in the season opener. It is going to be tough for Tom Coughlin’s team to win the NFC East with either a bad division record — it’s 1-2 at the point — or losing both games to Dallas.
Giants placekicker Josh Brown is willing to throw out Monday night’s mess against the Eagles, saying it was the only game the Giants did not have a chance to win in the closing minutes.
“It didn’t look like us out there,” he said. “You can make up whatever reason as to why it all went down. But to answer your question, I don’t think it’s going to be a mountain that we can’t climb. I really don’t. We made a bigger deal of the deficit during the game than it was. We made a hole out of a divot when we didn’t have to climb out of anything. We just needed to settle down. We beat ourselves, pretty badly.”
If either of these teams wants back in the race, the mistakes have to stop.
Here are some things to watch for in Sunday’s game:
GIANTS OFFENSIVE LINE: Eli Manning took a beating against the Eagles. He was sacked three times and hit seven times. The line needs to improve, and New York’s receivers have to get open earlier or else the Cowboys will get to Manning. They sacked Tom Brady five times in their last game.
WATCHING WITTEN: Witten has killed the Giants in the last five games. He’s caught 26 passes for 224 yards and seven touchdowns, with two scores coming in the final 5:08 of Dallas’ stunning comeback in the opener. The Giants just can’t cover him: Witten’s 26 receptions have come on 33 targeted passes, a roughly 78 percent completion rate.
BECKHAM FACTOR: Mention Odell Beckham Jr., and the Cowboys and almost everyone thinks about the phenomenal one-handed catch the rookie made for a touchdown last season with Brandon Carr guarding him. Heading to this game, Beckham is bothered by a hamstring injury for the second straight week. He also is under scrutiny for failing to catch a pass in the second half as the Eagles doubled him on almost every play. The Giants need their playmaker more involved.
DIRECT FROM HARDY: Greg Hardy, who missed practice Thursday because of an illness, will play his second game since ending a four-game suspension for his role in a domestic violence case. He had two sacks in his debut against New England. Asked how best to disrupt Manning, Hardy said, “Hit him in the mouth.”
He didn’t stop.
“The best thing for any team is to make the quarterback feel pain,” Hardy said of quarterback hits. “You’ve got to be respectful of the rules of the game and honestly you don’t want to hurt anybody, but to make him feel you is to bring his eyes down. You don’t want a quarterback like Eli Manning looking down the field, ever. Ever, ever, ever.”
PAYBACK: The Giants have lost five in a row to Dallas; the last one really hurt the most, coming on an 11-yard pass from Romo to Jason Witten with :07 to play. Dallas had a chance because the Giants messed up a first-and-goal a minute earlier with bad decisions and clock management by Manning. “We definitely didn’t like the way the first game ended,” rookie tackle Ereck Flowers said. “There’s a lot of motivation going into this game. We’re a lot of hungry dudes right now ready for this game.”
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