TODAY'S PAPER
Good Afternoon
Good Afternoon
Sports

NFL PLAYOFFS: GIANTS VS COWBOYS

IRVING, Texas - R.W. McQuarters cradled the football as

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

stopped.

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.

Tony Romo and Marion Barber had taken their shots in the opening half, with

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

defense disrupted Jeff Garcia in Tampa the week prior. But Romo still gave his

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

with Sam Madison (stomach) and Kevin Dockery (hip) out and Aaron Ross

(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

half.

"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."

SUNDAY

GIANTS AT PACKERS

6:30 p.m. TV: Ch. 5

Radio: WFAN (660)

Latest line: Packers by 7

NFL POSTSEASON

DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS

Yesterday's results

Giants 21, Dallas 17

San Diego 28, Indianapolis 24

Saturday's results

Green Bay 42, Seattle 20

New England 31, Jacksonville 20

SUNDAY'S GAMES

AFC

San Diego at New England,

3 p.m., Ch. 2

NFC

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

New York Sports