IRVING, Texas - Eli Manning needed only 46 seconds to demoralize the Dallas Cowboys and get the New York Giants on the road to their first NFC Championship game in seven years.
Those 46 seconds in the final minute of the first half didn’t produce a game-winning touchdown, but it was the next best thing for the Giants.
The seven-play, 71-yard march that Manning capped with a 4-yard touchdown toss to Amani Toomer allowed New York to leave the field at halftime tied at 14. It also seemed to take all the momentum away from Dallas.
“That was a big momentum swing right there,” guard Chris Snee said. “To get down the field the way we did, it gave us a completely different feeling coming in here. We were expecting field goal, but a touchdown is a hell of a drive.
“It was an unbelievable part of the game.”
What made the drive so memorable is that Dallas seemed to suck the life out of the Giants (12-6) on the previous series. The Cowboys marched 90 yards in 20 plays and took a 14-7 lead on a 1-yard touchdown run by Marion Barber with 53 seconds left in the half.
Tony Romo and the Cowboys converted six third-down plays on the drive that left the Giants’ defense walking off the field with their hands on their hips.
After a 13-yard kickoff return by rookie Ahmad Bradshaw, Manning misfired on his first pass. He then hit Steve Smith on consecutive passes for 22 and 11 yards and picked up another 15 when Jacques Reeves was called for a facemask penalty.
Manning missed Plaxico Burress deep on the next play and then had a pass knocked down by Cowboys lineman Chris Canty. On third-and-10 from the Dallas 23, he found rookie tight end Kevin Boss for 19 yards to the 4. The TD pass to Toomer over the middle came with 7 seconds left in the half.
“They were expecting us to roll over,” said Toomer, who had four catches for 80 yards and two TDs. “If we went three-and-out or knelt down, then they would have came out in the second half with the ball and they would have thought everything was going to go smoothly.
“I think they underestimated us,” Toomer added. “They didn’t respect us. That’s one thing you don’t want to do in this league. Everybody can play. They beat us twice and if you do that, you feel like you own them. I don’t think they’ll admit it.”
Middle linebacker Antonio Pierce said the drive changed the game and paved the way to the Giants’ ninth straight road win.
“That’s our quarterback right there,” Pierce said of Manning. “He takes all the heat in the world. He takes more criticism than the president, but that shows you a lot about that guy. We had our heads down after that long drive and they (the offense) came right down and answered.”
Manning said the drive woke up the Giants again.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Even after Dallas took a 17-14 lead on the opening series of the second half, the Giants wouldn’t go away. After a drive fizzled at the Dallas 40, the defense forced a punt and R.W. McQuarters returned it 25 yards to the Cowboys 37.
Manning, who was 12-of-18 for 163 yards and no interceptions, completed passes of 13 yards to Toomer and 11 to Steve Smith eventually setting up Brandon Jacobs’ game-winning TD run, one which he accentuated by slamming the ball of the play clock.
After that it was up to the Giants’ defense.
Dallas would get the ball three times after Jacobs’ scored the go-ahead touchdown.
CSN: The Super Bowl's golden anniversary will be held in the Golden State. The new stadium, which opens in 2014, in Santa Clara will host Super Bowl L two years later, the NFL announced Tuesday.
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N.Y. Giants 21, Dallas 17