EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - In his four seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, Dwayne Harris had a combined 164 punt and kickoff returns, and only 33 receptions. So on March 11, he left Dallas and signed with the Giants for one very important reason.
"The Giants told me they'd give a chance to play receiver and they kept their word," Harris said. "That was the main reason I came here."
Harris has been an active wideout; his 15 receptions are just two shy of his career high, and nine games still remain. But on Sunday evening, Harris made the biggest play of his brief Giants career – and it was a kickoff return to beat his former team.
Harris' 100-yard runback with 7:01 remaining – just 13 seconds after Dallas tied the score – accounted for the game-winning points in the Giants' 27-20 victory over the Cowboys. The Giants' fourth victory in five games improved their record to 4-3. Dallas lost its fourth consecutive game and fell to 2-4.
"It felt great, especially my first kickoff return (touchdown) in the NFL," Harris said. "It felt great to do it against my old teammates."
"To get the kickoff return at that point and time was really exciting and, of course, Dwayne's been waiting for that for the previous six games, and he reminded me of that," coach Tom Coughlin said.
Harris' 100-yard return tied the franchise record, set by Emlen Tunnell on Nov. 4, 1951 and Clarence Childs on Dec. 6, 1964. Before giving his new team a victory over his old team, Harris' longest return was 90 yards on Oct. 13, 2013 against Washington (he was tackled at the 15-yard line), and his longest this year was 41 yards against Atlanta.
Coughlin was asked about removing Harris from Dallas' roster, and adding him to the Giants' team.
"Tonight's the night when that works, obviously," Coughlin said. "He's played well from the receiver standpoint. He's made strong contributions offensively and, of course, punt return, kickoff return, we haven't had much before tonight, and tonight's kickoff return was outstanding."
"We've been overdue for a long time, always one block away, one man away," Harris said. "Tonight, it was blocked perfectly, anybody could have run through the hole that was made. It was a good return by everybody, and it was good blocking upfront. It
was just blocked perfectly."
Harris was part of an unlikely trio of touchdown scorers for the Giants. Running back Orleans Darkwa, who had zero rushing attempts this season entering the game, scored on a 15-yard run, part of a 48-yard night. And cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie intercepted a Matt Cassel pass and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown. Josh Brown added field goals of 47 and 34 yards.
The Giants needed all of those scoring contributions, because they were dominated statistically. Dallas held advantages of 460-289 in total yards, 27-13 in first downs, and 38:04-21:56 in time of possession. The Cowboys scored on Darren McFadden's one-yard run, Cassel's 25-yard pass to Devin Street, and Dan Bailey field goals of 39 and 48 yards.
But the Giants forced four turnovers, and did not give away the ball once.
Darkwa scored the Giants' first touchdown with 11:02 remaining in the second quarter, when he took a handoff out of shotgun from Eli Manning, and bulled his way up the middle. Safety Barry Church wrapped his arms around Darkwa's legs at the three, but the second-year back reached the ball over the goal line. Darkwa accounted for 41 of the Giants' 79 yards on the seven-play drive that gave the Giants their first lead at 7-3.
"Darkwa ran the ball for us tonight and he certainly did look good out there," Coughlin said. "We planned on having an opportunity with him as well and he did come through for
"He broke some tackles,' Manning said. "He's a downhill kind of one-cut runner and he ran well in preseason for us. Last year, when he had to play for us, he ran well, so it was good to get him in the action and make some plays and had some great runs and that was a big drive for us going down there getting the touchdown."
The Giants trailed again, 13-7. When Rodgers-Cromartie picked off Cassel's pass for Terrance Williams right in front of the Giants' bench and returned it for his seventh career touchdown (sixth via interception), and second of the season (he had a 57-yard fumble return in the opener in Dallas). DRC later had another interception, and safety Brandon Meriweather had the Giants' third pick of the night.
"It was an out-breaking route and I knew they were coming there, because it was open a little bit," DRC said. "I said to myself, 'If they do it, just take a chance and go.'
"Once I saw the release of it, it was outside and I had outside leverage. I didn't know if it was going for six, but I knew I was going to have a chance to get it."
DRC held the ball aloft for the last 30 yard or so, which didn't endear him to Coughlin.
"I can't be holding the ball like that and don't celebrate, get in the end zone first," he said. "He gave it to me a little bit."
Despite the big plays, the victory wasn't secured until Cole Beasley muffed Brad Wing's punt. Myles White, the game's final surprise contributor, fell on it with 1:26 remaining, and the suspense ended there.
"In my head, I'm thinking about how I can secure the tackle," White said. "He must have made a technique error and dropped the ball and I just reacted. I saw the ball in the air and I went and got it.
"It's big, man. I'm just happy to be a part this team, part of this organization. And to put your mark on a game is pretty big."
He'll get no argument from his teammates and coaches.
Photos from Sunday's matchup against the Cowboys