EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Team of the '90s is now a team in limbo.
And after the New York Giants defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 15-10, yesterday at Giants Stadium, even some members of the two-time defending champions are concerned about which team will show up in postseason play.
Cowboys coach Barry Switzer seemed pretty relaxed. His star running back was healing, his starting quarterback was healthy and his team has two weeks to prepare for its next opponent.
But only a few feet away, Cowboys defensive end Jim Jeffcoat was shaking his head in disgust. Three-peat was just a word.
"Usually at this time, we're a machine down the stretch," Jeffcoat said of the Cowboys, who finished the regular season at 11-5 and lost their first NFC East game since the Washington Redskins beat them in the 1993 opener. "We're usually marching off 80-yard drives and dominating on defense. But we haven't been able to find the groove yet this season.
"I'm just hoping the guys realize that it's a one-game season now. I'm concerned, and so are some other players."
Maybe the Cowboys lacked intensity because Switzer held out running back Emmitt Smith (hamstring), who, except for a contract holdout, hadn't missed any of his previous 85 pro games. Or because Switzer pulled starting quarterback Troy Aikman from the game with 4:49 left in the half.
But that was the Cowboys' first-team defense out there getting pushed around for 127 rushing yards, which led to 38- and 30-yard field goals from Brad Daluiso and a 49-yard touchdown reception by Mike Sherrard early in the second quarter.
"The important thing is that we came out healthy," Switzer said. "When we have Troy and Emmitt in there, we're a much different team. We have a chance to do something no other team has
done before [win three straight Super Bowls], and when the time comes, I think we'll show our commitment."
Said Cowboys defensive end Charles Haley: "We had nothing to play for. We played OK. Don't worry. In crunch time, we'll show up."
The Giants never will get to that point. They had to beat Dallas yesterday and then have the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeat the Green Bay Packers.
Green Bay won, 34-19, ruining the Giants' chance to become the first team in NFL history to lose seven straight and still make the playoffs. The Giants ended the season with a six-game winning streak and a 9-7 record.
"We took care of what we had to take care of," said Giants coach Dan Reeves. "We are sorry that our season is over, and we're disappointed."
Reeves tried to keep track of the Tampa Bay-Green Bay score as his game was being played.
"They certainly didn't put up any scores," said Reeves, referring to the scoreboard. "I don't know whose decision it was, but it wasn't mine. Finally in the third quarter I asked the coaches upstairs, 'Have you seen a score anywhere? Am I missing it or what? What is happening?' "
Dallas wide receiver Alvin Harper had some questions, too.
"I think you need momentum and that intensity going into the playoffs, and it's just not there for us," Harper said. "The defense has carried us the last couple of weeks, but they had their problems today. In two weeks, we've got to find that old magic. I don't know where it is."
Aikman completed nine of 11 passes for 62 yards before he was replaced by Rodney Peete, and that was about all the offense Dallas mounted.
The Cowboys' only touchdown came on a 1-yard run by Blair Thomas with 11:01 left in the third quarter to tie the score at 10-10, but that was set up by a 52-yard punt return from Kevin Williams.
After the touchdown, New York took control of the game. Peete was sacked by linebacker Jessie Armstead and fumbled out of the end zone to give the Giants a safety and a 12-10 lead with 4:37 left in the third quarter.
On their next possession, the Giants got a 30-yard field goal fromDaluiso with 13:55 left in the game to finish a 10-play, 41-yard drive.
The Giants ended the game at the Cowboys' 11 with a 16-play, 74-yard drive that lasted 9:18.
The Giants led 10-3 at the half basically because of two big plays. With Dallas ahead 3-0, thanks to a 37-yard field goal from Chris Boniol with 4:42 left in the first quarter, Sherrard caught a short crossing pass over the middle and ran 40 yards down the right sideline for a 49-yard touchdown to give the Giants a 7-3 lead with 14:44 left in the second quarter.
The second big play for the Giants came 46 seconds later when Aikman fumbled the snap from Mark Stepnoski and linebacker Michael Brooks recovered at the Dallas 25.
New York went only 4 yards in the next three plays, but Daluiso kicked the 38-yard field goal to put New York ahead 10-3 with 12:03 remaining.
Dallas went 46 yards to the New York 20 on its next possession, but Boniol's 37-yard field-goal attempt hit the left upright, as the Giants went into the halftime with a seven-point lead.