EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Victor Cruz and Eli Manning have the New York Giants dancing in the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Manning threw three touchdown passes, including a 74-yarder to Cruz early, and the Giants (9-7) won an all-or-nothing game to claim the final spot in the NFL playoffs, beating the Dallas Cowboys, 31-14, last night.
The loss left Jerry Jones’s Cowboys (8-8) out of the playoffs for the second straight year.
New York won three of its final four games for 65-year-old coach Tom Coughlin and earned a wild-card home game Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons (10-6).
The Cowboys lost four of their final five games in their first full season under coach Jason Garrett.
Dallas (8-8) was its own worst enemy in a game with the season on the line. They missed tackles on all three of the Giants’ first-half touchdowns, failed to recover two fumbles within their grasp in the half, and failed to convert on a Tony Romo sneak on fourth and 1 at the Giants’ 10 while trailing, 21-7.
Romo, who played with a bruised right hand, moved the Cowboys in the second half but all he could generate were touchdown passes of 34 and 6 yards to Laurent Robinson, the last one getting Dallas to within 21-14 with 10:15 to play.
Cruz, however, had a 44-yard third-down catch and another for 20 yards to set up a 28-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes, and Manning iced the game with a 4-yard TD pass to Hakeem Nicks with 3:41 to play.
Manning finished 24 of 33 for 346 yards and no interceptions as the Giants beat the Cowboys for the second time in four games and ended a regular season marked by inconsistency on a high note. Cruz, who set a Giants season record for yards receiving, finished with six catches for 178 yards, and of course he did his touchdown salsa dance after the first score.
Romo was 29 of 37 for 289 yards but he was sacked six times, including twice by Osi Umenyiora, who returned to the lineup for the first time since spraining an ankle late last month. Dallas’s final possession ended with Romo being sacked by Justin Tuck and losing a fumble.
Coming off a 29-14 win over the rival Jets last week in what might have been the Giants’ best game of the season, Coughlin’s team put together another outstanding 30 minutes in jumping to a 21-0 halftime lead.
Cruz, who sparked the win over the Jets with a team-record 99-yard touchdown, made another monster play on the Giants’ second offensive series, turning a short pass into points.
Cruz caught a short square-out, eluded a tackle by Terence Newman, turned the corner after getting a seal block from Nicks, and outraced two defenders down the sideline in front of the Giants bench for a 7-0 lead.
Dallas went three-and-out but had a chance to get right back into the game when Will Blackmon muffed a punt near his 30-yard line and Alan Ball failed to recover.
Manning made Dallas pay. Manning hit Nicks for 18 yards and Devin Thomas for 14 during a 68-yard yard drive that Bradshaw capped with his 5-yard run. Safety Abram Elam had a chance to tackle Bradshaw in the backfield but Bradshaw scooted into the end zone after he missed.
Manning had passes of 14 and 12 yards to rookie fullback Henry Hynoski in an 80-yard touchdown drive just before the half. Bradshaw broke a tackle by linebacker Bradie James on a 10-yard swing pass for a 21-0 lead.
The Giants had chances to put the game away in the third quarter. They moved to the Dallas 42 on the opening possession of the second half and elected to punt.
Romo then drove the Cowboys 94 yards with a no-huddle offense, hitting Robinson on a 34-yard go-pattern down the right sideline.
An interception by Antrel Rolle gave New York the ball in Dallas territory but it failed to convert a fourth-and-1 at the Dallas 35 and the Cowboys came right back to cut the deficit to 7.