Maybe the best way to illustrate the difference between the Giants being in command of the NFC East instead of slipping back to the pack because of a historically bad letdown is this: Open a small space between your thumb and index finger and look at the space.
Two inches. Maybe three.
That's the difference between 6-2 and comfortably ahead of the 3-4 Eagles, the 3-4 Cowboys and the 3-5 Redskins, and 5-3, a half-game ahead of Dallas -- and with a whole bunch of doubts about a team that blew a 23-point lead before recording a 29-24 win.
With the benefit of instant replay, a dramatic last-minute touchdown by Dez Bryant was nullified because part of his right hand landed inches out of the end zone before he came down with the ball. If Bryant had stayed inbounds . . . the Giants don't even want to think about it.
Even with the win, they were beating themselves up over letting the Cowboys back in it after building what seemed like a comfortable lead. They can only imagine what it would have been like to try to explain away one of the most gut-wrenching losses in franchise history.
"It's a sickening feeling, because we almost let one get away," defensive tackle Chris Canty said. "It felt like we let the game get away. It didn't have to be that kind of game for us. We could have put our foot on the gas there in the second quarter and kept going. It would have been closed. But we let them stay around, we let them hang around, and most of the time you let teams hang around in this league, it costs you."
It nearly cost the Giants. Had it not been for that tiniest of margins by which Bryant missed being the hero, the defending Super Bowl champions would have let a terrific opportunity to extend their NFC East lead slip away. Especially on a day when the Redskins and Eagles had lost and the Giants were stepping on the Cowboys' throats early on.
You want to call it luck? Fine. Justin Tuck wasn't about to argue the point.
"We are [lucky]," the defensive end said. "I don't mind luck. But I also say that the lucky are the ones who are prepared. You make your own luck. I don't mind luck at all. I'd rather be lucky than unlucky any day. I'm sure a lot of Cowboys fans will say they were unlucky, so take your pick at which one you want to be."
The Giants were more than happy to side with the lucky.
"Sometimes you have to win games by an inch or two, and this one's literally by an inch," Giants president and co-owner John Mara said. "This would have been a brutal ride home had that call not been reversed . . . And it still may be a brutal ride home."
The Giants returned to the stormy New York area with their sixth win in the last seven games, a hot streak that began after a dispiriting loss to the Cowboys on opening night at MetLife Stadium. Since then, the Giants have done enough to retain the top spot in the NFC East race. Sometimes they have looked every bit the defending Super Bowl champions they are, as they did in dominant wins over the 49ers and Panthers. Other times, including Sunday, they looked much less certain.
The defense was brilliant early, forcing Tony Romo into three first-half interceptions and returning one for a TD on the way to a 23-0 lead. Even so, the Giants' inability to convert the turnovers into touchdowns came back to haunt them.
Romo got into a groove in the second half, rallying the Cowboys with 14 points in the third quarter to take a 24-23 lead into the fourth. A decidedly average Eli Manning helped the Giants retake the lead with a pair of fourth-quarter field-goal drives, but Romo and Bryant nearly pulled off the miracle comeback. Bryant got past cornerback Corey Webster, made a dazzling catch and looked as if he'd won the game.
"No. Incomplete pass. Long fly ball," Webster said. "You know you hit those balls at the park and they go the other side of the little yellow pole? It looked like a home run, but he's gotta stay up there and keep batting."
Three more cracks from Romo, and the Cowboys couldn't score. The Giants won and retained control of the NFC East. And the distance between your thumb and index finger was all the difference.