IRVING, Texas - Eli Manning and the New York Giants knocked Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys into the off-season Sunday.
Having to wait out long, slow drives by Dallas, Manning made his few chances count, throwing two touchdown passes to Amani Toomer and getting a one-yard touchdown run from Brandon Jacobs for a 21-17 victory that put New York into the NFC championship game for the first time since the 2000 season.
Cornerback R.W. McQuarters intercepted a pass into the end zone with nine seconds left, ending the Cowboys' final drive and marking Romo's second straight last-minute goof to cost Dallas a playoff game. His flubbed hold of a short field goal in Seattle ended the Cowboys' season last year.
Manning is heading to his first NFC championship game, at Green Bay next Sunday. Manning had a much better day than his brother, Peyton, whose Indianapolis Colts were stunned by the San Diego Chargers.
Dallas' failure is huge, much bigger than last season's flop in Seattle when Romo botched the hold on a go-ahead field goal in the final minutes.
The Cowboys just wasted a 13-3 season, which matched the best in team history. They're the first No. 1 seed in the NFC to lose in this round since the NFL went to the 12-team playoff format in 1990. They also became the seventh team to lose a playoff game against a team they'd beaten twice in the regular season - joining Dallas' 1998 club.
Worst of all is the extension of all the skids: Romo now 0-2 in the playoffs, coach Wade Phillips 0-4 and the team 0-for-the-post-season since winning a wild-card game in 1996. The Cowboys have dropped five games since then.
The Cowboys might be headed into a stormy off-season. Team owner Jerry Jones said Thursday he would keep Phillips regardless of what happened in the playoffs. Now that will be tested, especially with highly valued assistant coaches Jason Garrett and Tony Sparano interviewing for jobs elsewhere.
Critics may point to Romo's trip to Mexico last weekend with his latest celebrity girlfriend as a disruption, but the problems went a lot deeper. There were all kinds of penalties that hurt Dallas drives and helped New York's, sloppy tackling on defence and special teams, dropped passes and wasted timeouts.
The Giants loved every bit of it.
New York gave up 45 and 31 points in the first two meetings, in part because the defensive front that produced an NFL-best 53 sacks went hard after Romo but missed and wound up allowing big plays. This time, the Giants were content to give up short yardage, and the Cowboys accepted the invitation.
Their first three scoring drives took nine, 20 and 14 plays, burning a total of 23:32 off the clock. Dallas converted eight straight third downs in that stretch, yet came away leading only 17-14 midway through the second quarter.
Toomer turned a short pass into a 52-yard touchdown on the game-opening drive, breaking free from two tackles and running away from everyone else. New York hardly had the ball the rest of the first half, but got it back at its 29 with 47 seconds left and Manning turned it into another touchdown to Toomer, a four-yarder on a drive helped along by a 15-yard face mask penalty.
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