ARLINGTON, Texas - They broke.
After a night in which the Giants' defense bent and bent and bent some more and still managed to hold on to the lead into the final minute, the Cowboys were able to march down the field on a six-play, 72-yard drive in the final 1:29 to earn a 27-26 victory. Tony Romo hit Jason Witten on a 11-yard pass with seven seconds left to win it.
It was the second quick-strike touchdown drive of the fourth quarter for the Cowboys, who trailed 23-13 with 8:01 left. But the real bust for the Giants wasn't their undermanned, no-frills defense, but the offense that was supposed to carry them. It had to settle for four field goals and managed only one touchdown.
Odell Beckham Jr. was a statistical non-factor for most of the game. Eli Manning's most exciting play was a block on a broken running play. The Giants had to settle for two field goals and a punt after Preston Parker, playing for injured Victor Cruz, dropped three third-down passes.
The Giants have lost five in a row to the Cowboys and their last five opening games.
Even the Giants' only offensive touchdown came as a result of the defense. Brandon Meriweather popped receiver Devin Street to force him to cough the ball up to Trumaine McBride, who returned the interception 27 yards to the 1. That was close enough for Rashad Jennings to leap into the end zone on first-and-goal and give the Giants a 23-13 lead with 8:01 left.
Perhaps the most significant offensive play for the Giants was a 5-yard completion to Beckham on third-and-2 from the Giants' 28 with just under four minutes remaining. That allowed them to keep the ball away from the Cowboys, who had just marched for a touchdown to cut the Giants' lead to 23-20. A play later, Jennings ran 26 yards behind the left side of the line, and then Beckham made a sliding 20-yard grab on third-and-14.
But they couldn't get in on third-and-goal from the 1, settling for a field goal after an incomplete pass. If they had run on that third down, it would left the Cowboys with about 50 seconds for the final drive instead of 1:29.
Then they watched the Cowboys march to victory.
For all the high-wattage offensive star power on the field for both teams, it was cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie who scored the only touchdown of a first half that ended with the Giants ahead 13-6.
Rodgers-Cromartie recovered a fumble by receiver Cole Beasley that was forced by Jonathan Casillas and McBride, and he returned it 57 yards to give the Giants a 10-6 lead with 56 seconds left in the half.
Dallas turned the ball over again on its next snap, with Witten bobbling a pass thrown behind him that was picked off by Uani' Unga to set up a field goal with 14 seconds left.
The Giants' defense, believed to be the team's weakness, played a solid first half. Sure, it allowed a 17-play, 10:27 drive to open the game, but the Cowboys had to settle for a field goal. They did the same on another monster drive in the second quarter, using up 5:22 and nine plays to go ahead 6-3 after Dez Bryant dropped a wide-open pass on third down.
The Giants' defense played disciplined and scrappy, the kind of performance a unit must have when it is without dynamic players such as Jason Pierre-Paul and Jon Beason (for whom Unga started).
The Giants opened the second half with their best drive of the game, but it ended when Parker made his second drop, on third-and-2 from the 12. That led to Josh Brown's third field goal, which made it 16-6.
Parker also dropped a third-down pass right before the field goal at the end of the half. Those lost opportunities were made more glaring when the Cowboys scored the game's first offensive TD on Romo's 2-yard pass to Gavin Escobar.
It was set up by a questionable pass-interference call against Rodgers-Cromartie on Terrance Williams at the 2 on a third-and-4 play. The corner appeared to bat the ball away cleanly.
Notes & quotes: Rookie LT Ereck Flowers suffered an ankle injury in the first half but stayed in the game . . . Bryant left the game for part of the first half to be treated for dehydration. He went to the locker room midway through the fourth quarter and didn't return. . . Giants DT Markus Kuhn suffered a knee sprain in the third quarter.