EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The 1999 Philadelphia Eagles finished 5-11 and in last place in the NFC East. But at least one fan came away with some satisfaction because one of the victories was a 13-10 triumph against the Dallas Cowboys, who were an 8-8 playoff team that year.
“I remember when I was in Philly, I was putting my trash out one morning early my first year, and we weren’t very good,” said Shurmur, who was then in his first NFL season as Philadelphia’s tight ends coach. “It was early in the morning, and I was surprised by this person. They said to me, ‘Listen, you can go 2-14 if you beat Dallas twice.’ So, that was Philly’s take on it. I don’t have the full feel here, I understand it’s important to beat everyone and, certainly, Dallas is our next one.”
The Giants-Cowboys rivalry, one of the NFL’s best, resumes tomorrow night with a prime time game in AT&T Stadium. Both teams lost on Kickoff Weekend, the Giants at home to Jacksonville, and the Cowboys at Carolina. The teams will meet for the 14th time on Sunday Night Football, the most frequently-contested matchup in the prime time series history. Dallas leads, 7-6.
Shurmur is new to the rivalry, but these two teams have disliked each other since Dallas’ inaugural season in 1960 – when their 31-31 tie with the Giants was the only game they didn’t lose that year.
But the players on both sides respect each other, and there’s a special feeling to every Giants-Cowboys game.
“You just know the personnel well,” quarterback Eli Manning said. “You know a lot of the players. You play them twice a year for a number of years. You know they’re always a good team. They’re in the division. They’re going to have you all scouted, just because you’re used to playing them for so many years. It comes down to you have to execute and going out there and making plays in critical moments.”
“It is a big game,” said wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., who missed both meetings with the Cowboys last season because of injury. “It’s Sunday night, and all those things. It’s the Cowboys. It’s Jerry’s World, all that, but it’s like, you’ve been there. You’ve been there before. You’ve played against them a few times. Not to say that it’s going to be any different. I just think you got to watch your emotions and just know that I’m going to be excited just to be back on the field, period. Whether it’s Sunday night, 1:00 (p.m.), 10:00 a.m., in London, wherever we’re at, I’m excited about playing.”
Shurmur coached 13 seasons in two stints in Philadelphia, so he is well aware of how intense NFC East matchups are.
“Any division game means a great deal,” he said. “Week 2 in Dallas, we’re certainly looking forward to it, and we understand what it means. I do think they all count, so it’s important that we put all our focus on Dallas and worry about beating Dallas on Sunday night, this Sunday night, before we move on to anything else.
“I’ve always enjoyed the NFC East rivalries. All the teams have great tradition, after last year now all the teams have Super Bowl trophies, and this is one of the tougher divisions year in and year out. I really feel like all the teams have quarterbacks, all the teams can play defense, all the teams have running games, and so it makes for very competitive games.”
*Manning is 14-14 against Dallas, including one postseason victory. His 918 passes, 568 completions, 6,674 yards and 49 touchdown passes are all records by an opponent against the Cowboys.
*The Giants opened their season last week against Jacksonville, the NFL’s No. 1 rushing team in 2017. Tomorrow night, they will face a Cowboys team that finished second, with 135.6 yards a game. Both teams feature standout running backs who were chosen fourth overall in their respective drafts, Leonard Fournette for the Jaguars (2017) and Ezekiel Elliott for Dallas.
“They definitely do some of the same stuff in their run game, but they’re different players,” linebacker Alec Ogletree said. “You got to take into account of who you’re going against, your matchups, what you think you can win at. They’re both good teams and they both like to run the ball and what better team to work on your run defense and stuff like that than to face the number one and number two back-to-back. We’re definitely looking forward to the challenge and it’ll be a good time, for sure.”
Fournette rushed for 41 yards on nine carries before leaving last week’s game with a hamstring injury. In three career games vs. the Giants, Elliott has rushed for 262 yards on 68 attempts (3.9-yard avg.) and one touchdown.
“They’re pretty similar,” defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson said. “The way they shift and their cuts are slightly different. They’re still aggressive coming down the hill. Zeke’s got a little bit more leaky yardage falling forward and stuff like that. We have to be aware of that, too.
“It’s always a challenge to stop the run, that’s why we play D-line and I’m looking forward to it. Zeke’s a great running back and I’m looking forward to stopping him.”
*The Giants swept the season series in 2016, while the Cowboys won both meetings last year. Dallas leads the regular-season series, 64-45-2.