When the Giants were 0-6, it was the defense that picked the team up and lifted it out of the NFL gutter. The defense that gave up only two offensive touchdowns in four straight wins that put the Giants in MetLife Stadium on Sunday with a chance to beat the Cowboys and climb all the way to 5-6 and tie for second in the NFC East.
And when an Eli Manning touchdown pass and a two-point conversion tied the game at 21 with 4:45 left to play, the game was right there for the Giants' defense to win or lose. Given the reputation of Dallas quarterback Tony Romo for blowing big games, it seemed like a good place to be.
But an injury that sidelined cornerback Trumaine McBride and forced safety Antrel Rolle to move to nickel back covering the slot receiver was the thread that allowed all that hard work over the previous four games to unravel. Appearing to target Rolle on four big completions in the final drive, Romo marched the Cowboys 64 yards to set up a 35-yard Dan Bailey field goal for a 24-21 victory.
Asked if he felt Romo was looking his way, Rolle grimaced and said: "I don't know. Maybe they were finding me. If I was the quarterback, I would do the same thing, knowing that I haven't been down there [in the slot], knowing that we're playing some man-to-man coverage. Tony is a smart quarterback, and more important, I think he made some great throws because I was on tight coverage on a few of those plays. You've got to give him credit."
McBride missed the Cowboys' last three possessions because of an injury to his left hip and groin area. "Who knows if it would have made a difference?" he said.
Defensive end Justin Tuck added: "We put a lot of pressure on 'Trel. He's playing safety; he's playing corner, he's playing nickel. That's a lot of adjusting for him."
Conversely, it could be said the defensive line didn't put enough pressure on Romo on that final drive. But if anyone could handle moving around, you figure it would be Rolle, who picked off Romo early in the game, and it was Rolle who also delivered a personal foul that positioned the Cowboys for the TD that gave them a 21-6 lead.
On the final drive, Romo completed a third-and-7 pass to Dez Bryant for 19 yards, a third-and-5 to Bryant for 8 yards, a second-and-10 to Miles Austin for 17 yards, and finally, a third-and-10 pass to Cole Beasley for 13 yards to the Giants' 15 to set up the field goal. All were against Rolle.
"There were a couple of times we were right there," Rolle said. "A couple of times Tony Romo just put the ball in places where I was able to hit the ball, but it didn't come loose. You've got to take your hat off to them. Tony made some exceptional throws. And more important, Dez did a great job of holding onto the ball when I was punching at it."