Antrel Rolle didn't require a visual aid to recall the details of the Giants' opening-night loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
"I remember that game quite well," Rolle said this week. "I don't need the film to remember those games. It just wasn't a good game. I think the first half we came out pretty good and the second half, we just stunk up the whole entire second half. So we definitely need to change as a defensive unit and we will."
They'll get the opportunity for payback Sunday afternoon, when they meet Dallas in the rematch in Cowboys Stadium. This is the first time since 1990 the Giants and Cowboys will conclude their season series before November 1. Despite the early date, this is a critical game that will almost certainly have implications in the NFC East race in December.
At 5-2, the Giants lead the division by 1.5 games over both Dallas and Philadelphia. But the advantage is not as great as it appears, because the Giants lost to both the Cowboys and Eagles in September. They did defeat Washington last week for their first NFC East victory. But with head-to-head matchups and division records so important in determining tiebreakers, the Giants can afford neither another loss to Dallas nor one in the larger division picture.
"(The game is) very important," coach Tom Coughlin said. "It's an opportunity, of course, to win in the division, to go back to 2-2 in the division, to give ourselves an opportunity last week against Washington and this week against Dallas to get back in good standing."
"It's a big opportunity for us to take over the division," said tight end and former Cowboy Martellus Bennett. "That's the number one thing for us trying to create a path for ourselves to get to where we want to be, which the ultimate goal is the Super Bowl. So this is a big step. They're in the way, so we've got to go down there and go through them and make sure we come back with a win."
The Giants obviously pointed toward defeating the Cowboys in their prime time opener on Sept. 5, but it was Dallas that seized the moment. The Giants had a 3-0 lead before the visitors took the lead for good on Kevin Ogletree's 10-yard touchdown reception a minute before halftime. Ogletree caught eight passes for 114 yards and two scores. Tony Romo threw for 307 yards and three scores.
In 14 career games against the Giants, Romo has completed 67 percent of his throws and tossed 26 touchdown passes against only 12 interceptions.
"He's a great quarterback," said defensive end Osi Umenyiora. "Obviously, he did some good things against us that day that he might not have done in the past. But he's played well against us before, too. That wasn't the first time. Since then, obviously his receivers have dropped some balls and sometimes they bounced off the receivers' hands, which have caused them to have more turnovers than he's accustomed to. It hasn't all been him. I think he's still a very good quarterback."
"I think he had a really good game against us in the first ballgame," said defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. "He made some plays with his feet, which is classic Tony, and stayed alive. I thought he and Dez (Bryant) hooked up and did a good job, and he brought Ogletree in the game and he did a good job against us. I think that they had a good plan and they executed their plan better than we played."
Now, 7½ weeks later, the Giants need to even the score or possibly suffer the consequences late in the season.
"When you have the opportunity to play a team again, you want to go out there and have a better performance, since you lost," quarterback Eli Manning said. "We feel that we can play better than we did the first time. We know they're talented. If we're going to move the ball and score points, we're going to have to earn everything. We're going to have to make plays and block up their talented front seven. They have a good secondary. They have good players all over the field, and we've just got to execute better than we did the last time.
"I think we've been playing better football than we did in that first game. You've got to give credit to Dallas. They had a good game plan. For the majority of the game, they kept two safeties high and challenged us to run the ball. We didn't run the ball as well as we needed to (82 yards, including a 33-yard run), and we didn't force them to change up their defense much. We've got to make sure that we run the ball better. That'll get them to mix up their coverages, and see if we can get that to open up the play-action to get the ball down the field."
The Cowboys are coming off a 19-14 victory last week at Carolina. They have not won consecutive games since their four-game winning streak from Nov. 6-24 last season. Providing them with further incentive is the Giants' 3-0 record in the Cowboys' new billion-dollar stadium, including a last-second victory in the first regular-season game in 2009.
"I wouldn't call it a home away from home," linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said. "I would say that it's a tough team that we know we have to see twice a year and whenever we go in there, we know we have to bring our best game."
Last Dec. 11, the Giants' good fortune in Dallas seemed as if it was about to come to an end. After Romo threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Bryant, Dallas led, 34-22, with less than six minutes left. But Manning led one of his patented late-game rallies and led the Giants to two touchdowns in the final 3:13, including Brandon Jacobs' game-winner on a one-yard run with 46 seconds remaining.
That victory put the Giants in the driver's seat in the division race. Three weeks later, they clinched the title with a 31-14 rout of the Cowboys in the final regular-season game.
No one can be certain what's in store when the 52-year-old rivalry resumes on Sunday, but with the high stakes and the revenge incentive on both sides, it should be a lot of fun to watch.
"I don't think it's all about payback," guard Kevin Boothe said. "I just know that it's a division game and it's a good chance to get to 2-2 in the division, so it's very important. We know that in order to get where we want to go, we have to win our divisional games. We've fallen behind, but we got one last week and we're going to try our hardest to get another this week."
"It's always a big game," Manning said. "It's usually a close game. We've had a great history since I've been here. You've got to get excited, we've got to prepare well, and we've got to go out there and play our best football, if we expect to win."
*Linebacker Jacquian Williams (knee) did not practice again and was declared out of the game for the second week in a row.
Safety Kenny Phillips (knee) and defensive tackle Rocky Bernard (quadriceps) are doubtful.
Running back Ahmad Bradshaw, limited in practice because of his sore foot, is questionable.
Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (foot/knee) and center David Baas (ankle) are questionable.