To the New York Giants, this was just another division game, one they had to win. And they did - dramatically.
Lawrence Tynes kicked a 37-yard field goal as time expired, giving the Giants a 33-31 victory over turnover-prone Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night, sending home the largest regular-season crowd in NFL history muttering about what might've been.
Former President George W. Bush, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and LeBron James were among a packed house of 105,121 that saw eight lead changes, with neither team ever ahead by more than six. The lead switched three times in the final quarter and had a doubly exciting finish because after Tynes made the kick, he had to do it again; Dallas had called a timeout just before the snap.
His second try was even better than the first and all those fans got awfully quiet.
"People were talking about this like it was the Super Bowl in the second week of the season," said Pierce, a Giants linebacker. "We just came here to win a football game."
Eli Manning was 25 of 38 for 330 yards with 22-yard touchdowns to Mario Manningham and Steve Smith. Each caught 10 passes, with Manningham's covering 150 yards and Smith's going for 134. It was quite a way for the Giants to end a 13-game stretch without a single 100-yard receiver.
"The whole team did a good job of gutting it out," Manning said. "This is a good thing to build from."
New York relied on Manning's arm because Dallas limited Brandon Jacobs to 58 yards and Ahmad Bradshaw to 37. However the Giants did it, the reigning NFC East champions are now 2-0 with both wins against division foes.
"Everybody makes a big deal because we spoiled their little party," said defensive end Justin Tuck, who hurt a shoulder and missed the second half. "Every other game we play in the NFC East will be just as big."
The Cowboys (1-1) went ahead for the final time 31-30 on a 7-yard touchdown run by Felix Jones with 3:40 left.
It turned out to be plenty of time for Manning. He got out of a first-and-20 at his own 15 and kept it going with two third-down conversions, the second coming on a tipped pass caught by Manningham.
"Well, we just knew we had to go and get in field goal range," Manning said. "We had enough time, we had timeouts."
In one of the biggest settings of his career, Romo turned in one of his worst outings: 13 of 29 for 127 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions, all of which resulted in New York touchdowns.
Romo's first interception was returned for a TD, the second was a bit of a fluke (it bounced up off Jason Witten's shoe) and the third was a punt-like heave into double coverage.
"I'm sorry that I wasn't able to play up to the level the rest of the other guys did," Romo said. "I have to get better at the mistakes I made and I will."
Between Romo's pickoffs and a fumble by Felix Jones that turned into a field goal, Dallas helped New York score 24 points. The Giants' only other scores were field goals on their first drive and their last two.
"We lost by a short margin," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. "If we cut (turnovers) down certainly and certainly make some more on defense, we can win those kind of games. We can see that."
Romo had never thrown for so few yards in a full game and his passer rating of 29.6 was the second-lowest of his career. It also was a dramatic reversal from the opener, when he showed the poise and patience he supposedly worked on all offseason and didn't have a turnover. Even worse was that it came against a New York defense that already was missing two injured starters in the secondary before Tuck got hurt.
The Cowboys stayed in it thanks to their running game. Marion Barber ran for 124 yards and the stadium's first touchdown, and Jones added 96. Barber had 51 of his yards on Dallas' final drive. Dallas' 251 yards rushing was its most since 1993.
Months of hype led up to quite a pregame scene: Fans streaming in four hours before kickoff, especially the 30,000 or so who were looking for places to stand; the roof and end-zone doors sliding open with about 90 minutes to go; an unveiling of midfield logo after a cartoon showed the blue star emblem being transferred from Texas Stadium via outer space. After video clips comparing this place to the Egyptian Pyramids and the Roman Colosseum, a flag was unfurled that covered the entire field.
Bush and his wife, Laura, handled the coin toss, then watched from a luxury suite that also included Goodell, John Madden and Pat Summerall. Roger Staubach, Bob Lilly, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin were among those taking part in a halftime ceremony to unveil the new Ring of Honor.
The total number of tickets distributed for Sunday night's New York/Dallas game was 105,121…