The Cowboys might not have made the most exciting play of the night.
But they made enough of the ordinary ones enough times to get by.
Again powered by their offensive line, the Cowboys mauled their way to a 31-28 win over the Giants on Sunday Night Football.
The blockers paved the way for DeMarco Murray to run for 121 yards, the 10th time in 11 games he’s topped 100 yards.
That’s the backbeat of what Dallas has done this year, and the reason they’re 8-3 and stable-looking for a change.
While their image is built on style over substance in past years, they’ve built an offensive line with three first-round picks, and that lends itself to being slump-proof. By locking up left tackle Tyron Smith and using their first-rounder on guard Zack Martin instead of say, Johnny Manziel, the Cowboys have the pieces in place to break out of their perpetual 8-8 rut.
But beyond the rushing yards and physical tone they set, the impressive part was the way that group has protected quarterback Tony Romo. He looked far more comfortable than he did in London, when he was playing with the cracked bones in his back. He stood in the pocket forever late in the game, giving him plenty of time to survey his targets and find them.
That was the difference, as the Giants couldn’t get enough pressure to matter.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. It wasn’t just the catch, even though it might deserve to be known as “The Catch.”
But it’s no accident that once the Giants started figuring out how to harness rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., things started getting better.
His one-handed (actually three-fingered) catch will get all the run on all the highlight shows, and it should. But it’s just part of what Beckham has shown recently, that he could be a star in the making.
The Giants are starting to find multiple ways to get the ball in his hands, which they should, because he’s amazing. His stop-and-start ability makes him a mismatch for most corners, and they’re developing more ways to use it.
Beckham had eight catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, finishing with 10 for 146. He had 21 catches for 357 yards in his previous three November games, evidence that he’s getting the hang of this thing.
While hamstring injuries were a concern early, he came back from a back injury to finish the game, which answers another question.
2. The reaction from Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant after each of his touchdowns made it clear it was not just an ordinary game for him.
With new representative Jay Z walking the field pre-game, on the biggest stage in the league, it was a good opportunity to show the Cowboys exactly what they’re about to have to pay.
Jay Z spent some time on the field pre-game with owner Jerry Jones, and it’s probably safe to assume they weren’t discussing lyrics for a new album.
3. For all the attention given the Cowboys’ offensive line this year (and rightly so), the Giants are starting to see the dividends from one of their offseason moves.
Free agent pickup Geoff Schwartz got his first start of the year, adding some stability. He was one of their first and biggest moves of the offseason, though they envisioned him playing guard when they signed him to a four-year, $16.8 million contract at the start of free agency.
But he was at right tackle Sunday, replacing the injured Justin Pugh. They also replaced rookie Weston Richburg with Adam Snyder at left guard, and they looked more solid than they had previously. Before a toe injury that landed him on IR/designated for return, Schwartz was penciled into the lineup at left guard.
Schwartz is a physical blocker, who may be better suited inside. But he’s also experienced enough (26 starts with the Panthers and Chiefs) to slide outside comfortably, and the difference in the Giants offense was evident.
4. The Cowboys defense, much maligned for their lack of talent last year, have bounced back admirably.
After allowing three touchdowns in three drives early, they were able to slow the Giants on the next five, either forcing punts or turnovers.
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli doesn’t have a wealth of talent to work with, but there’s a little bit of an edge about this bunch that is noticeable.
5. In addition to Beckham, the Giants seem to have found a keeper in rookie running back Andre Williams.
The fourth-rounder got the benefit of a hazy review in the first half, but scored later, and appears to have given them at least a steady complement to veteran Rashad Jennings.
That’s a boost for Giants General Manager Jerry Reese, who has come under scrutiny for the team’s slide in recent years.
They’re still well off where they had hoped, but they appear to have offensive contributors locked up on cheap rookie deals, which gives them a good foundation.