Cowboys try to get out of Giant shadow in season opener

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Bill Parcells coached on both sides of the frenzied Dallas Cowboys-New York Giants NFC East feud.

He guided the Giants to two Super Bowl titles from 1983 to 1990. But he failed to recapture that Lombardi Trophy glory during his 2003-06 Cowboys stint. He left coaching after quarterback Tony Romo, serving as the holder for a field goal attempt, failed to catch the snap on a chip-shot, potential winning kick with 1:19 remaining on the clock in a 21-20 wild-card loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Asked for his thoughts on flamboyant Cowboys owner Jerry Jones telling fans at a July training camp pep rally to "watch us beat the Giants' (butts)," Parcells told USA TODAY Sports, "All that verbal stuff, I don't pay much attention to."

Maybe he doesn't, but the Giants do. And they wanted to point out they have won seven of the last nine games against the Cowboys, including both games late last season. Giants linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka fired back at the outspoken owner in a WFAN radio interview Aug 30: "The Giants have been whupping his (butt) for a long time. It's got to be tough on the outside looking in on all these championships lately."

In other words, the rivalry hasn't been much of a rivalry the last few seasons.

Later that day, Jones told USA TODAY Sports, "I agree with him, and the only thing I'm saying is I'll never get used to it. The Giants are the standard we look to.

"I don't back off from saying, 'Hey, guys, you've got what I would have liked to have had.' I want to do whatever we can do to try and get some of it."

The Cowboys and Giants kick off the 2012 season today at MetLife Stadium, with the Cowboys feeling inferior and the defending Super Bowl champions feeling disrespected - not just by Jones but also by the local and national news media giving the New York Jets more attention after they added ultra-popular Tim Tebow.

"It's very similar to what happened last year, if I recall," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said. "There were some teams already fitting their fingers for rings before they even played a football game.

"It doesn't look like people learned too much from last year. We relish having the opportunity to defend the title. And do it with people thinking we can't."

Jones is doing everything to spur on his team, insisting the window might be closing on the Cowboys veterans after they missed the playoffs for the third time in the last four seasons.

"We recognize where some of our key players are in their careers, more from the standpoint they are at the potentially most productive they will be," Jones said. "And we need to take advantage, not waste that. When you get a guy like Tony Romo, who's at the level Tony is right now, then you've got a chance."

The Giants beat the Cowboys 31-14 in what amounted to an NFC East championship game on New Year's night. The Cowboys' last victory against the Giants was 33-20 on Nov. 14, 2010, at Giants Stadium.

Parcells famously said, "You judge a quarterback by his jewelry," fitting since this rivalry's biggest disparity starts at the game's most important position.

Whereas two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning, 31, could be a spokesman for Tiffany's - the Giants received their Super Bowl XLVI rings in June - Romo, 32, is widely considered the game's best quarterback without a ring.

While Manning hopes to join Hall of Famer and former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman and Super Bowl rival Tom Brady of the New England Patriots with three rings, Romo enters his seventh season as starter with one playoff victory.

"Eli and Tony are accomplished quarterbacks," Parcells said. "Obviously, Eli has put together some tremendous clutch performances on several occasions in his career that have resulted in two Super Bowl championships.

"Tony is a good quarterback. There's just something that has been holding them back a little bit. They've had an explosive offense with him from time to time. They just haven't managed to get over the hump for whatever reason. I can't tell you why. I wish I could."

Romo is coming off a career season during which he passed for 4,184 yards and 31 touchdowns vs. 10 interceptions. He played through a broken rib and punctured lung in Week 2 and a severe bruise to his throwing hand in Week 16, never missing a game.

Still, he enters the season arguably under the most pressure of any player, considering the Cowboys haven't won a Super Bowl since the 1995 season.

Aikman says Romo "will win a Super Bowl before he is done playing."

Manning led the 9-7 Giants to seven fourth-quarter comebacks, capped by their 21-17 Super Bowl XLVI win against the Patriots. The Cowboys lost five games in the fourth quarter in which they held the lead last year, including 37-34 on Dec. 11 at home to the Giants when defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul blocked a potential tying field goal.

"People focus on what we haven't accomplished," Romo says in an ad for Starter sports apparel. "They focus on mistakes, the near missing, the heartbreaks. People say we haven't succeeded. People say we haven't won a championship. People critique our lives. People say we get too much praise.

"People are focused on what we haven't done. That's what I'm focused on, too."

Yet consider some Giants championship-template advantages Manning has enjoyed:

•The Giants boast a deeper, more relentless pass rush. Third-year pro Pierre-Paul is a defensive player of the year front-runner after ringing up 16½ of the Giants' 48 sacks last season. And Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Kiwanuka are healthy in defensive coordinator Perry Fewell's "NASCAR" speed package of four defensive ends.

In contrast, DeMarcus Ware, with 19½ of the Cowboys' 42 sacks last season, still lacks a consistent complement to reduce double-team pressure.

•New York's duo of slot receiver Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks combined for 158 receptions, 2,728 yards and 16 of Manning's 29 touchdown passes. Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin has been sidelined for much of this preseason by a hamstring (he had similar problems in 2011), and Jones imposed "Dez Bryant Rules" on the big-play but troubled receiver.

Bryant and tight end Jason Witten combined for 142 receptions for 1,870 yards and 14 touchdowns. Laurent Robinson took his team-best 11 touchdown catches to the Jacksonville Jaguars, signing a five-year, $32.5 million free agent deal.

•Tom Coughlin, 66, the oldest head coach in the NFL, is 81-57 with two Lombardi trophies in eight seasons with the Giants. Jason Garrett, one of the league's youngest coaches, is 13-11 with Dallas.

"The Giants are a great example to us. I have the kind of respect I have for them because of Tom Coughlin," Jones said. "He was at our training camp when Bill was here. It's inspirational, because I feel like that we can do that. Eli Manning is the same way.

"My great friend Al Davis always preached to me, 'Matchups, matchups, matchups.' So what I did see, apart from saying, 'Boy, that could be us with our quarterback playing as well as he is,' was we weren't matching up in the secondary."

So Jones signed free agent cornerback Brandon Carr away from the Kansas City Chiefs to a five-year, $50 million deal and traded up to select LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne with the sixth pick in the 2012 draft.

Including a 21-17 win vs. the Cowboys in the divisional round of the 2007 playoffs on their way to the Super Bowl title, the Giants have dominated their bitter NFC East rival, going 7-2.

"It always seems like it's the biggest game of the year when we play against Dallas," Giants co-owner John Mara says. "We were fortunate last year to win both games. They've been a very good team for a long time. It's a rivalry game players get up for."

So a new season begins with the Giants out to prove they're better than last year's 9-7 regular season and Jones likening the opener to an NFC Championship Game.

Jones is happy to remind us that since the Washington Redskins won Super Bowl XVII, the NFC East has produced 10 of the last 30 Super Bowl winners.

"It's a privilege to be a part of this one," Jones said.

The Giants, however, don't need Jones to fire them up.

"Walking around New Jersey, whenever we play the Cowboys, we always hear Giants fans say, 'No matter what this season, beat the Cowboys!' " Giants tackle David Diehl said.

"We have a bull's-eye on our backs as defending Super Bowl champs. We want to come out of the gate strong by starting the way we finished last season."


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