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Giants NFC East hopes stay alive with bizarre triumph over Cowboys

New York Giants safety Xavier McKinney (29) celebrates an interception against the Dallas Cowboys in the second half at MetLife Stadium.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

A questionable catch, a late defensive stand, and a heart-stopping, nearly-cataclysmic untouched fumble, and the New York Giants earned the right to wait and see if they win the NFC East and go to the playoffs.

The Giants outlasted the Dallas Cowboys 23-19 on Sunday afternoon to momentarily move into a first-place tie atop the division, ending their season at 6-10. Should the Philadelphia Eagles defeat the Washington Football Team on Sunday night, the Giants are in the playoffs. Should Washington win, New York’s season is over.

Yet again, the Giants defense fueled by three Leonard Williams sacks secured the win, intercepting Andy Dalton in the end zone with just over a minute remaining to hold onto that four-point lead, which was created by a field goal set up by a completion that really wasn’t — as a catch by Dante Pettis hit the ground.

But that wasn’t nearly the most dramatic part of the day as Giants running back Wayne Gallman, who streaked past the Dallas defense for the game-clinching first down with 1:09 remaining, dropped the ball all on his own. In the chaotic scrum, he managed to regain possession and keep Big Blue’s hopes alive for at least a few more hours.

New York Giants running back Wayne Gallman (22) reaches for a fumble with Dallas Cowboys free safety Xavier Woods (25) in the second half at MetLife Stadium.Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

He posted 65 yards on the day, supporting a Giants offense that had its best outing in weeks. Daniel Jones completed 17-of-25 passes for 229 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. Sterling Shepard accounted for 112 of those yards on eight catches, posting a receiving and rushing touchdown.

A sputtering Giants offense that had scored just 26 points in its previous three games combined got off to a flying start against one of the worst defenses in the league, going 78 yards on six plays to find the end zone. Shepard picked up his third touchdown of the season on a 23-yard rush off a reverse to cap things off.

After Graham Gano shanked the extra-point, the Giants continued to feed the Cowboys chances when Gallman fumbled it away deep in New York territory. But the Giants defense held the Cowboys — featuring another Williams sack — to just a field goal.

Sparked by questionable Cowboys antics, including an unnecessary roughness penalty on Randy Gregory — the second such infraction committed by Dallas in the first half — the Giants extended their lead with 6:42 to go in the second quarter when Jones hit Shepard for a 10-yard score to go up 10.

All the while, the Giants’ defense held the Cowboys to a measly average of one-hand-a-half yards per play.

After Dallas worked out a field goal to cut it down to a field goal, the Giants answered with another touchdown just 45 seconds before the half. Jones hit Pettis — making just his second start for the Giants — literally for a 33-yard score. The pinpoint throw from Jones through traffic hit Pettis in the facemask first and then was corralled by the receiver before stumbling into the end zone to go up 14. The lead would shrink to 11 as the half expired following a Greg Zuerlein 57-yard field goal.

Evan Engram opened the door for the Cowboys to get back into things even further to start the second half. Following a Dallas punt, Jones looked to hit the tight end on an open slant, but the ball went through Engram’s hands, off his helmet, and into the arms of Cowboys safety Donovan Wilson.

Ezekiel Elliott, who dealt with injury issues throughout the afternoon, muscled through for a one-yard score to get Dallas within four.

With the Giants driving near midfield in an attempt at a quick response, a mystifying crackback block on Shepard derailed progress, opening the door for the Cowboys to cut it to a one-point game following Zuerlein’s fourth field goal of the day.

Graham Gano put the Giants back up four with a 50-yard field goal with 6:32 to go, his 30th-straight made attempt for a franchise record, which was set up by a questionable reception by Pettis on a 3rd-&-16 that gave New York the necessary yards for the try. Jones underthrew the receiver, who had to range and dive to get his hands on the ball, but the reception was supported by the ground.

The Cowboys unleashed a methodical, mammoth drive to get down into Giants territory inside two minutes remaining. But Williams’ third sack of the day on Dalton, raising his season total to 11.5, on the seven-yard-line for a loss of 10 yards led to a desperate 3rd-down heave — with pressure from Williams — that was intercepted by Xavier McKinney.

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