EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – They did what was necessary to live another day, but for the Giants' season to continue they need help from the Philadelphia Eagles tonight.
The Giants concluded their regular season Sunday with a wire-to-wire 23-19 victory against the Dallas Cowboys in chilly and damp MetLife Stadium. The triumph, which broke a three-game losing streak and was their first against Dallas in eight meetings, improved their record to 6-10.
That will be good enough to win the NFC East championship if the Washington Football Team loses tonight to the Eagles in Lincoln Financial Field. Should that happen, the Giants will be the first six-win playoff team in NFL history, earn their first division title since 2011 and first postseason berth since 2016 and host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an NFC Wild Card Game next week.
And if it doesn't, the Giants will still feel good about their season.
"My words for the team at the end of the day was how proud I was that they kept playing," said coach Joe Judge, who led the team out of 0-5 and 1-7 starts. "What they've been able to do, sticking together as a team, all the progress we've made. And ultimately, whatever happens tonight, just be ready to come into work tomorrow and do whatever we have to do. Make the right decisions tonight, make sure we're prepared that if something goes our way, that we're ready to go ahead and play next week. But we'll let tonight take care of itself. We had opportunities for 16 weeks. We came in today, it was a meaningful game, put us in position to have a chance, our guys went out and took care of business, so we'll see what happens in the other game."
"Regardless of what happens tonight, I feel like we won the division," safety Logan Ryan said. "I feel like we swept Washington. I feel like at the first Cowboys game (a 37-34 loss), they had a great play at the end of the game to get them in field goal range and we kind of let that happen. We came back and avenged that with a great play on our end (today). The Philly game, it was a similar thing; we failed in a dramatic fashion in the end. Our two-minute defense was being questioned. Our third-down defense was being questioned, and we came back and pretty much handled Philly the second time. I can't talk too bad about Philly because I'm a Philly fan today. I need all my South Jersey people to flap their wings tonight, so I won't beat up Philly too bad. Other than that, I feel like we're the best team in the division. We definitely deserve to represent the NFC East. We controlled what we could control today."
The Giants will spend the evening monitoring the Washington-Philadelphia game. Judge said he would do so in his office while watching tape of Tampa Bay, which defeated the Giants here two months ago, 25-23. Ryan said in his postgame interview he had already texted Bucs quarterback Tom Brady, his former teammate in New England. Everyone will be cheering for the Eagles, but some have their limits.
"I won't be caught dead in an Eagles hat, but I will be rooting for them," wide receiver Sterling Shepard said. "I'll be with my family at home watching the game. However it shakes out, I'm proud of this team. We did what we had to do today to give ourselves a chance to win this thing. Whatever happens, happens from here."
Shepard was one of many Giants who made significant contributions to the victory. He scored the game's first two touchdowns on a 23-yard reverse and a 10-yard reception – the first two-score game of his career – and caught eight passes for a season-high 112 yards. Shepard had eight of the Giants' 17 receptions.
For the first time since the 1970 merger, the Giants won despite failing to convert a third down attempt. They did so in part because they rushed for 125 yards and averaged 4.5 yards a carry. Wayne Gallman led the way with 65 yards on 11 attempts.
Quarterback Daniel Jones finished with a season-high 106.9 passer rating. He completed 17 of 25 passes for 229 yards, two touchdowns – the other was a 33-yarder to Dante Pettis – and his first interception since Nov. 2, on a throw that went off tight end Evan Engram's hands.
The day really belonged to the defense. Dallas had averaged 36 points in winning their three previous games and scored 37 in the teams' first meeting in October. But the Cowboys managed just one touchdown Sunday, on Ezekiel Elliott's third-quarter, one-yard run, which was set up by Donovan Wilson's interception of Jones. They also got four field goals from Greg Zuerlein.
The Giants sacked Andy Dalton six times, including three by Leonard Williams, who finished the season with 11.5 sacks – 4.5 more than his previous high total. Dalvin Tomlinson, Blake Martinez and Kyler Fackrell – who returned to action after missing the previous four games – had the other sacks.
"I think this was a great season, one of my favorite seasons of my career not just for the way I played, but for the guys around me," Williams said. "I mean, playing with incredible guys on this defense, playing with incredible coaches, overall team just overcoming adversity and finishing strong right here in a division game and winning like we did and controlling what we can control. I don't know what's going to happen tonight, but we did what we can control. I think whether it happens tonight or not, I think it was a good way to close the season for this team."
The Giants took a 6-0 lead just 3:14 into the game on Shepard's 23-yard run, the first rushing touchdown by a Giants wide receiver since Jerrel Jernigan's 49-yarder in the 2013 season finale vs. Washington. Graham Gano's extra point try was wide left.
Zuerlein's 38-yarder made it 6-3. Midway through the second quarter, Shepard caught a short pass from Jones at the seven-yard line and forced his way into the end zone. Zuerlein again countered with a field goal.
The Giants then took possession at their 25-yard line with 2:13 remaining in the half. Shepard's 18-yard catch helped set up Jones' 33-yard pass to Pettis, who scored his first NFL touchdown in his second game with the Giants.
As time expired in the quarter, Zuerlein kicked a 57-yard field goal, tied for the second-longest in Giants history.
Elliott's touchdown in the third quarter and Zuerlein's 36-yard field goal on the second play of the fourth lifted the Cowboys to within 20-19. Gano's 50-yard field goal gave the Giants a four-point cushion with 6:27 remaining.
But anxious moments remained for the Giants. Dallas ran 17 plays and advanced as far as the Giants' seven-yard line on their next possession. But Williams' sack moved them back 10 yards and on third-and-goal from the 17, Dalton, under more pressure from Williams, floated a pass into the end zone that was picked off by rookie Xavier McKinney for his first career interception.
The Giants took over at their 20 with just 1:15 remaining – and still had to endure a final scare. On second down, Wayne Gallman fumbled the ball. He also recovered it, but a wild scramble ensued and the final decision on the play was upheld after a replay review.
"I sat on the ball first and then I picked the ball up and then I put it in my arms on the ground," Gallman said. "I had the opportunity to break and pretty much take it to the one-yard line. At that time, situation-wise, I have to go down. I have to be better. It's something that you work on each and every day at practice. I'll do better."
The Giants will learn tonight if he – and they – will have an opportunity to do that next week.
"Obviously, we'll be watching closely and anxiously seeing what happens in the game," Jones said. "Every single one of us wants to be back to work tomorrow and back out on the field next week, so we'll be pulling for Philly no doubt. We were focused on what we were doing this week and giving ourselves an opportunity if Philly wins, so we'll certainly be watching closely."
If the game goes their way, the 2020 Giants will live at least another week.