Throughout his career, some of the best and worst games from Eli Manning have come against the Cowboys. Whether it was the playoff game, what has become the unofficial annual opener for a number of seasons, or those late-season contests that always seemed to have postseason implications for one if not both teams, Manning’s years usually were measured by — and reflected through — how he performed against this particular NFC East opponent.
Manning has thrown 53 touchdown passes against Dallas, more than any other opponent.
Whenever Manning faced Dallas, win or lose, it felt memorable. His first start against them was his rookie season in 2004, when he engineered a game-winning drive in the season finale for his first career victory. His overall record against the Cowboys is 14-17.
But that rivalry no longer exists. At least not on a personal level.
Pretty weird? “It will be, it will be,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of no longer seeing Number 10 in these bi-annual meetings.
Monday’s game, therefore, will feel a little like when a new actor plays a familiar character.
The Giants have a new James Bond.
Welcome to the rodeo, Daniel Jones.
The Giants’ rookie quarterback will make the seventh start of his career on Monday night, but perhaps more importantly, it will be his first against the Cowboys. He did face them sparingly in a mop-up role late in the blowout loss in Week 1, but this will be Jones’ official introduction to the team that is always circled — twice — on the Giants’ schedule.
Part of what has made the Giants-Cowboys series so intriguing over the decades has been the quarterback play by both teams. The two franchises are generally identified by the players at that position, especially against each other.
Manning and Tony Romo were always compared with each other. Troy Aikman always stood out against the Giants’ void of a franchise quarterback through most of the 1990s.
More recently, in his last three games against the Giants, Dak Prescott has thrown for 1,053 yards and nine touchdowns without an interception. He’s basically defined the latest chapters of the rivalry.
“Ouch,” Pat Shurmur said when those stats were relayed to him. “We have to get that fixed.”
Especially when it’s a division quarterback doing it against the Giants. Especially when he has a star on his helmet.
Now Jones becomes part of that quarterback tradition.
“It is a rivalry, these two teams,” Jones said. “It’s a divisional game, it’s an important game, it’s a big game, and I realize that there’s a rivalry element to the two teams playing, just in that they’ve been in the division and played for a long time. So I’m excited to be part of that. Yeah, I think I realize it’s a big game.”
It’s also a chance to lay some groundwork for what could be a decade or more of meetings. For however long Jones wears a Giants uniform as the starting quarterback, he’ll be facing the Cowboys twice a year every year.
“[Jones] has played against the Redskins, a division foe, and he’s played against some really outstanding defenses along the way here,” Shurmur said. “He’s played on the road, he’s played at home. He’s just clicking them all off. This just happens to be the first time he’s [starting] against the Cowboys.”
But Shurmur also admitted it has significance.
“It is important,” he said.
Not just for Monday, but for the duration of Jones’ Giants tenure.
Just as it became for Manning, how Jones plays against the Cowboys likely will become a bellwether for his seasons to come and a measuring stick for his career.