EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Nothing against Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys, but the New York Giants defense just feels it is in a better place to face their NFC East rivals this time.
The Cowboys (3-3) embarrassed the defending Super Bowl champions 24-17 in the NFL kickoff Sept. 5, and the host Giants (5-2) readily admit it.
Dallas dominated after intermission, scoring on its first three possessions while using the fourth to run out the clock. Seemingly everything the road team tried worked.
Romo and company had the ball for 17:30 and scored on drives of 80, 65 and 82 yards, with the last one covering 112 yards because penalties added an extra 30.
"We didn't play our best ball obviously, but they have a lot to do with that," Giants defensive captain Justin Tuck said. "They played pretty good. They skinned us pretty good. They found something that worked against us and kept going to it in the right situations."
To start with, the Cowboys protected Romo especially well. New York had only two sacks and none was provided by the trio of talented defensive ends — Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora.
If there was a key, Romo got rid of the ball quickly time after time and burned the secondary and linebackers repeatedly on little slant patterns.
"They executed better than us and won the game," Pierre-Paul said. "They beat us. It always comes down to who executes better in a division games. They were the more physical team and they came out to win."
This time, though, the Giants are healthier, the secondary is solid and the defense is jelling. They're also back in first place.
The big key might be the secondary. New York went into the game with only one tested cornerback, Corey Webster, a couple of journeymen and one rookie, Jayron Hosley.
Michael Coe notched the start with Terrell Thomas on injured reserve and Prince Amukamara out with an ankle injury. By the end of the game, Justin Tryon was playing after Coe injured his hamstring late. That led to Dallas' final touchdown on a 34-yard pass to Miles Austin on a first-and-30 play.
Amukamara is back now, though, starting and playing well. Hosley has developed into a nickel back. Webster, who was burned in the opener, has also settled in.
"When you've got guys getting healthy, getting back on the field, that's always a plus," said Webster, who was beaten for a 40-yard touchdown by Dallas wideout Kevin Ogletree early in the second half. "You always like to go to war with all your troops, but you know, the situation we have, we couldn't do that at the beginning of the season. Now we're getting guys coming back."
The defensive line is also a little stronger with defensive tackle and former Cowboy Chris Canty back in the lineup. He was on the physically unable to perform list for the first six games, recovering from offseason knee surgery.
Canty can be a force in the middle against the run and the Giants didn't have that in the second half of the opener when DeMarco Murray gained 111 of his 131 yards rushing.
"Definitely I'm looking forward to being a part of it," Canty said Wednesday. "It was tough for me to sit back and watch the first game and see the first game against a division rival, and now to have an opportunity to be a part of this, having a chance to face my old football team. This is another big division game for us.
"As coach said, once you win big games, the games after that just become bigger. This is another big game for our football team."
Linebacker Michael Boley was annoyed thinking about the season opener.
"It wasn't what they did, it was what we did," Boley said. "We shot ourselves in the foot that game. I wouldn't say it was anything they did. It was us not playing gap-sound football, not playing with our leverages. We're definitely different than we were then, overall. It will definitely be a different game."
Romo felt the Giants played well in the opener.
"We just made a few plays that allowed us to win the game," he said. "If you look at it, the game sometimes comes down to a play or two. If your team makes that play, you have a great opportunity to win. The last couple of weeks are a great example for us. In Baltimore, the game comes down to a kick. If you make a kick, you did a lot of good things well that week. If you don't, then you didn't.
"That's why it's a team game."
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL