EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The largest halftime lead the Dallas Cowboys have enjoyed on the New York Giants caused CBS to lose interest yesterday, sending the Atlanta Falcons-Washington Redskins game into markets that had been watching Dallas-New York.
Somewhere in the third quarter, the Cowboys wandered off, too, mentally if not physically. And with three minutes and 80 yards to go, the Giants were looking to stage the greatest comeback in NFL history. No team has rallied from more than 28 points down to win, but the Giants had sliced a 34-point margin to six and had the ball.
But four plays later, the Giants punted and never regained possession. Emmitt Smith ran for one first down, and Michael Irvin caught a big third-and-seven pass for 12 yards with 1 minute, 40 seconds to play. The Giants were out of timeouts and out of time, and the Cowboys fled for cover with a 34-28 victory tucked away, their first win at Giants Stadium since 1987.
"It's just a relief to get out of New York alive with this one," said coach Jimmy Johnson, who is 2-0 for the first time as an NFL coach. "This tells you how young a team we have. We had a big lead and didn't know how to react."
Big lead isn't the half of it. After James Washington's interception less than one minute into the second half set up Troy Aikman's 27-yard touchdown pass to Michael Irvin, Dallas was on top, 34-0. And the Giants Stadium crowd of 76,430 was chanting, "Ray Must Go," with renewed fervor.
Ultimately, Ray Handley went nowhere, but his Giants went all over the place. A team that had managed two first downs while Dallas was registering 34 points suddenly broke loose on touchdown drives of 80, 80, 62 and 55 yards.
"A good team always fights back," said tight end Howard Cross, whose 2-yard touchdown catch from Phil Simms made it a 34-28 game with 6:52 remaining. "We did that, so that must say something about us."
Said Johnson: "When Simms got hot and their receivers started catching everything and we started missing tackles, they got back in it. They're to be commended for getting back in the game. By the same token, our guys have to be commended for coming through in a true character test."
It became a test because while the defense fell apart, the Cowboys' offense managed only 103 yards in the second half. After taking the 34-0 lead, Dallas gained only three first downs on its next four possessions, punting on each occasion.
"I'd hate for anybody to think that we let up," Aikman said. "But the thing we didn't do offensively is sense the urgency of each drive."
Simms passed for 227 yards and three touchdowns in the second half, but he couldn't move the team for a first down on its final possession after scoring four straight touchdowns. Trailing, with 3:42 to play, New York took over at its 18-yard line. But after one incompletion downfield, Simms twice threw to running backs, hoping they could break open a big play. Instead, Hampton was tackled by Kenneth Gant and Tony Casillas after a yard gain, and Dave Meggett was wrapped up by Bill Bates and Darren Woodson after no gain, forcing New York to punt.
"I get very little satisfaction out of the fact that we scored 28 points and got the ball back," Simms said.
After the punt, Dallas ran out the clock.
"The first half was depressing," Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor said. "You look up and they've scored 27 points, and your mind starts wondering, 'How high can they go?' You have to pull yourself up."
"It's the first time we've been 2-0 since I've been here," Aikman said. "It's a great feeling. Last year, we were 1-2 after three games, and it seemed like all we ever had after that were must-win situations. I think we're going to find out a lot about this football team."