he walked to the Giants' bus. He had changed from his uniform into a
cream-colored suit, but the ball was still in his arms.
"Not letting go. No way," he said with a 10,000-watt grin. McQuarters came
down with that ball in the end zone on fourth down with nine seconds left,
sealing the Giants' 21-17 win over the top-seeded Cowboys.
The Giants, winners of an NFL-record nine straight road games, will head to
the frozen north and Lambeau Field for Sunday's NFC Championship Game. They
made it despite the Cowboys running 71 plays to their 44, gaining 336 yards to
their 230 and chewing up enormous chunks of clock and yards on first-half
scoring drives of 96 and 90 yards, when it seemed the home side could not be
But with an efficient offense, run without flaw again by Eli Manning, and a
defense that needed some unlikely help and went down to its last breath in the
final seconds, the Giants held on to reach their first conference championship
since they smothered the Vikings, 41-0, at Giants Stadium seven years ago.
"What I think you're seeing is the team concept to the nth degree, and
that's what our guys lean on," Tom Coughlin said. "They know all their
teammates are right there to support them."
Thanks to a short field off a 25-yard punt return by McQuarters, the Giants
scored the go-ahead touchdown on Brandon Jacobs' 1-yard run with 13:29 left.
Romo throwing for 82 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown pass to Terrell Owens
and Barber rushing for 101 yards and the other Dallas score. But that tandem
was hit and harassed throughout the second half, so even the yards the Cowboys
were able to pile up went for naught.
"I think we were trying to be too different in the first half," Giants
linebacker Kawika Mitchell said. "We weren't sound, we were missing tackles. We
weren't having fun. We just came out in the second half and got after it."
They got after Romo, hitting him 10 times and disrupting him the way the
team a chance, squirming free to deliver a shovel pass to Jason Witten for 18
yards to the Giants' 22 with 31 seconds to play.
The Cowboys had three cracks from the Giants' 23 after a penalty and a
4-yard pass to Witten. But a makeshift secondary that featured Geoffrey Pope,
who was on the Giants' practice squad all year but was pressed into service
(dislocated shoulder) injured in the game, as well as McQuarters and Corey
Webster, shut down the Cowboys' passing attack. The Giants finished it with
McQuarters picking off Romo right in front of Terry Glenn.
"I was just thinking, 'Everybody has to be perfect in what they do,'"
Gibril Wilson said. "We were gassed, but at the end, we just let it all go."
Manning and the Giants took a 7-0 lead when Amani Toomer broke free from
Anthony Henry and raced 52 yards for a score just 3:10 into the game.
But Romo and Barber marched the Cowboys 96 yards, finishing with Owens'
catch over Webster four seconds into the second quarter. Dallas then engaged a
20-play, 90-yard drive that finished with Barber plunging in from the 1 with
just 53 seconds left in the half.
But Manning and the Giants answered the Cowboys' 10-minute, 28-second drive
with a 40-second sprint to tie the score.
"That was the biggest drive of the game, for sure," said rookie receiver
Steve Smith, who had two big catches on that drive and two more on the go-ahead
drive in the third-fourth quarters. Rookie tight end Kevin Boss also made a
big catch on third-and-10 from the Dallas 23, a 19-yard grab going out of
bounds to set up Toomer's second touchdown catch with seven seconds left in the
"Some big-time plays by our guys," said Manning, who was 12-for-18 for 163
yards. "We just had a bunch of big plays throughout the game. It wasn't fancy."
They are not the fancy team, not the vogue pick. They relish the underdog
label so much that even their coach looks for ways that the Giants get
disrespected - he found it before the game, when Coughlin told his team that
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had already distributed player tickets for an assumed
NFC Championship Game here Sunday.
"Everybody keeps picking us to lose," Osi Umenyiora said. "I hope it
continues all the way to the Super Bowl."
GIANTS AT PACKERS
6:30 p.m. TV: Ch. 5
Radio: WFAN (660)
Latest line: Packers by 7
Giants 21, Dallas 17
San Diego 28, Indianapolis 24
Green Bay 42, Seattle 20
New England 31, Jacksonville 20
San Diego at New England,
3 p.m., Ch. 2
Giants at Green Bay, 6:30 p.m., Ch. 5
SUPER BOWL XLII
Sunday, Feb. 3, at Glendale, Ariz., 6:18 p.m., Ch. 5