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This time, chalk up a victory for Tony Romo over Eli Manning

Tony Romo throws a pass against the Giants

Tony Romo throws a pass against the Giants at MetLife Stadium. (Sept. 5, 2012) Credit: Jim McIsaac

The quarterback pelts on Eli Manning's postseason wall famously include Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady (twice!) and, a few years back, a frustrated Cowboy named Tony Romo.

All of which might someday land the Giants' offensive leader in the Hall of Fame. But as the team experienced the hard way Wednesday night, every season is a new one and sometimes ghosts of playoff runs past come back to haunt you.

So there was Romo at MetLife Stadium for the gala NFL opener, and darned if he was not the best quarterback on the field, at least for one frustrating regular-season night.

"He played well,'' Manning said of his counterpart, who often ran away from a Giants pass rush that has bedeviled him in recent games to make big plays, and baffled the Giants on a series of backbreaking slant routes.

"He's a great competitor and a good quarterback and he made some great throws, buying time, running around, so he played well enough to win the game.''

Romo finished 22-for-29 for 307 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 129.5.

Manning, meanwhile, labored behind porous protection, endured several key drops (especially by 2011 fan darling Victor Cruz) and missed on some throws himself, ending 21-for-32 for 213 yards and one TD. He was sacked thrice.

Not horrendous, but not good enough against a tough divisional opponent determined to make a statement.

"He had tremendous pressure,'' coach Tom Coughlin said. "We didn't do enough in terms of really solidifying and allowing him to step up and throw.

"Certainly he'd be the first one to tell you we certainly want more, expect more, hope to certainly have more. But we have to do a better job of protecting.''

Manning, true to form, downplayed the havoc wreaked by the Cowboys' rush, saying that while Dallas's front is loaded with talent, "I don't know if it disrupted a whole lot.''

He said there were times when the blocking was good but the coverage by the Dallas secondary ruined plays. And there were times when other things went wrong.

On a third-and-goal from the 4 in the second quarter, Coughlin, Manning and Cruz all thought Cruz was held near the goal line, which should have resulted in a first down. No such luck.

With 3:51 left in the fourth and the Giants down by 14, Manning had Domenik Hixon alone down the middle for what should have been a 22-yard scoring play, but he overthrew him.

"Just put a little bit too much on it,'' Manning said. "I think I might have thrown it just a touch early . . . Obviously we would have scored with a little bit more time on the clock.''

The Giants did score eventually to cut their deficit to seven points, but by then only 2:36 remained, and the Cowboys soon got the first down they needed to run out the clock.

No one in blue was in a panic over how the team or its starting quarterback performed as it became the first Super Bowl champ to lose in one of these weeknight, season-opening NFL specials.

Manning has built up far much goodwill for such concerns at this stage. But if Romo keeps this up, even with a vintage season Manning and his teammates might have a divisional opponent to contend with deep into autumn.

And perhaps winter.

New York Sports