Cowboys handle Giants, inch closer toward capturing NFC East crown

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Mike McCarthy had interrupted a reporter on Thursday.

“Hate to cut you off,” the Cowboys coach said. But “you have to get to 10 wins before you talk about it.”

McCarthy was referring to playoff scenarios and his longstanding philosophy that his team first secure 10 wins and only afterward discuss playoffs.

But with a 21-6 road victory against the Giants on Sunday afternoon, the Cowboys hit that 10-win precipice. Several scenarios in later Sunday games could allow them to clinch a postseason berth by Week 15’s end.

The Cowboys extended one recent club theme in their win: a plethora of takeaways. Granted, they have played three straight games against opponents without their 2021 starting quarterback. Nonetheless, an opportunistic group of defenders facing quarterback Mike Glennon after contests against Taysom Hill in New Orleans and Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen at Washington has now snagged four takeaways in each of the last three contests. The Cowboys’ three-game streak of four takeaways was the club’s best mark since 1994.

Dallas Cowboys safety Malik Hooker (28) celebrates with teammates after intercepting a pass against the New York Giants during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021, in East Rutherford, N.J.

Dallas Cowboys safety Malik Hooker (28) celebrates with teammates after intercepting a pass against the New York Giants during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021, in East Rutherford, N.J.

Sunday’s spurt began with defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence knocking both Glennon and the ball, cornerback Jourdan Lewis securing the interception and returning it 18 yards to set up the Cowboys’ first touchdown.

Lawrence also forced the first lost fumble of Saquon Barkley’s career, defensive tackle Carlos Watkins recovering the fumble. Safety Malik Hooker grabbed a deep prayer from Glennon for the Cowboy defense’s third takeaway of the day. And then, to seal what was trending toward an established outcome, cornerback Trevon Diggs leapt for a Glennon end-zone heave to secure his league-leading 10th interception.

The Cowboys flipped early takeaway-gifted possessions into 9 points on a day when the Giants managed 6 total.

The Giants flashed talent at moments, including with a seemingly gravity-defying, one-handed grab by running back Saquon Barkley and two impressive bursts by Booker. Booker raced down the right sideline for 28 tackle-breaking yards in the first quarter to set up the Giants’ initial field goal. He ripped off 31 down the left sideline in the third quarter.

But New York managed zero passes of 20 yards or greater until Glennon was benched for Jake Fromm, and their defense struggled to stop a running attack from injured duo Ezekiel Elliott (knee) and Tony Pollard (torn plantar fascia). Elliott and Pollard combined for 126 yards, including more than 100 in the first half. The Cowboys still stalled at times in the red zone, but improved from 1-of-6 at Washington last week to 2-of-5 vs. the Giants.

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, whose completion percentage had fallen 10 points since an Oct. 17 calf injury, returned to clean and efficient play on a 28-of-37 day in which he threw for 217 yards and a touchdown. He was stripped on one late play that gave the Giants a glimmer of hope—until two plays later, when Diggs responded with the end zone interception.

The Cowboys will clinch the NFC East if Washington doesn’t beat Philadelphia on Tuesday. If the Saints or 49ers lose later Sunday, 10-4 Dallas will clinch an NFC berth.

But perhaps more encouraging for the Cowboys, now that Dallas has hit McCarthy’s threshold of 10 wins: The offense appeared to rediscover some of the rhythm that had eluded it in the second half of the season. Prescott had told his weapons in a game-planning meeting that the time to perform was now.

Cowboys tight end Dalton Schutz led all receivers with 67 yards and a touchdown, catching all eight targets intended for him. Pollard, returning from a game missed with a torn plantar fascia, raced to 74 yards on just 12 carries (6.2 average) while fellow back Elliott went for 52 on 16 touches.

Glennon completed 13 of 24 pass attempts for 99 yards and three interceptions as the Giants fell to 4-10.

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dallas Cowboys handle Giants, inch closer toward clinching NFC East



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