ARLINGTON, Texas - Eli Manning's autograph is no longer on the wall in the visitors' locker room at Jerry Jones' $1.2-billion palace, nor is the inscription he left behind after Manning's Giants got the best of the Cowboys in the first game at the stadium in 2009.
"They got rid of it. They cleared the wall," Manning said with a grin this past week as the Giants prepared for Sunday's important NFC East game against the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium -- otherwise known as "Jerry's World."
Back then, Manning was asked by a locker room attendant to sign the wall, a tradition also done in other stadiums around the NFL. But in this case, Manning's name became a sore subject in Dallas after he wrote his name, followed by the score and a kicker: "33-31. First win in the new stadium."
Manning insists he wasn't trying to rub it in, but the Cowboys took umbrage. And the Giants' quarterback noticed on a recent trip that his name no longer was there.
"The last two years, it hasn't been there," Manning said. "I was asked to sign the wall by a locker room [attendant]. Other players . . . from other teams were signing this little wall. But they painted over it."
Manning now hopes to deliver another signature performance at a time when the Giants need it most. Coming off a 27-0 loss in Philadelphia, one of the worst beatings in the Manning-Tom Coughlin era, the Giants badly need a win to make up some of the ground they lost from last Sunday night's embarrassment. The Eagles and Cowboys share the NFC East lead at 5-1 and the Giants (3-3) -- now in the midst of a torturous stretch of games against quality opponents -- can ill afford to slip further behind.
It's not a must-win scenario, mathematically speaking. But with all the Giants went through in losing to the Eagles, not the least of which was seeing Victor Cruz go down for the season with a knee injury, this may be as close as they get to must-win at this point of the season.
And it's Manning who will be on the spot to deliver. He essentially was helpless against the Eagles because of Philadelphia's fierce pass rush. Manning was sacked six times and hurried at least that many. The Giants' defense was just as culpable, failing to stop a relentless Eagles offense that produced 203 rushing yards.
It doesn't help that Manning is going against a rejuvenated Cowboys defense, among the worst in the game in 2013 but among the best this season under new coordinator Rod Marinelli.
"Their defense is playing fast, they run to the ball, they're making plays," Manning said. "Not many teams are scoring a lot of points on them. They're finding ways to win games, so you've got to give them a lot of credit. They've got a good team and their players are playing well."
Manning has faced these kinds of situations before, sometimes coming out of them with a championship -- as he did after the 2007 and 2011 seasons -- and sometimes missing the playoffs altogether, including the last two seasons.
After the Giants put together a three-game winning streak to answer their season-opening two-game losing streak, the possibilities looked enticing, especially on offense. Manning had grown much more comfortable in the West Coast system, he was spreading the ball effectively and effortlessly, and things seemed just fine.
But in the turn-on-a-dime world of the NFL, in which one devastating loss can send a team into a tailspin, the Giants now face a critical moment against a long-standing rival. The Cowboys have won five straight after a season-opening loss to the 49ers and quarterback Tony Romo has been playing some of the best football of his career to complement the improved defense.
Manning often has gotten the best of Romo since his first Super Bowl year, including that win in the stadium opener in 2009. He needs another big effort Sunday, especially considering the Giants' treacherous schedule in the near term. After a bye week following Sunday's game, the Giants face the Colts, Seahawks, 49ers and the Cowboys again.
Manning said there's nothing special about playing against the Cowboys or in Dallas, ascribing his moments of brilliance in Big D to "just coincidence."
"We've had some good battles and some high-scoring games, where you have to score some and make some comebacks,'' he said. "But you never know what the next game's going to be like, and you just play to the circumstances."
The circumstances are huge for the Giants. A win here and the Giants can help erase the nightmare of a week ago. Another loss and this could mushroom into crisis mode. It's another tough spot for the quarterback.
"Yeah, this is a big one," Manning said. "We're already two games behind in the division, we've dug ourselves into a little hole, and this is a huge game for us. We've got to go out there and play well."
Especially Manning, and especially his offense that no longer has its best playmaking receiver.
Is it too much to ask, even for a quarterback with plenty of big games on his resume, especially in Dallas? He'll need another signature performance here.