By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 14, 2010; 9:30 PM
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - A new coach made all the difference for the Dallas Cowboys, at least for one game, and the NFC East race tightened as a result. Quarterback Jon Kitna threw three touchdown passes here Sunday as the Cowboys made Jason Garrett's coaching debut a success by beating the New York Giants, 33-20, at New Meadowlands Stadium.
"I'm so proud they responded to the coaches," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "That's what the fans expect. It's a great feeling. With the last few weeks we've had, this feels great."
The Cowboys, after a 1-7 start that led to Wade Phillips being dismissed as their coach, ended their five-game losing streak and finally resembled the sort of team they were supposed to be all season. Kitna completed 13 of 22 passes for 327 yards. He threw an interception but had touchdown passes to tailback Felix Jones and wide receivers Dez Bryant and Miles Austin.
"It feels great," Garrett said. "We got together on Wednesday morning and said, 'Hey, it starts now.' . . . It was a hard week from a transition standpoint."
Rookie cornerback Bryan McCann added a touchdown on a 101-yard return of an interception. The Cowboys were unyielding in a game that included two power outages during the third quarter. The game was delayed for about seven minutes when the lights went out momentarily at the first-year stadium that is shared by the Giants and New York Jets. Some of the lights went out earlier in the quarter but the game continued with only a minor disruption at that point.
The Giants (6-3) played much of the game as if they were in the dark. They fell behind, 26-6, in the third quarter. They trailed, 33-20, in the fourth quarter when quarterback Eli Manning threw an apparent touchdown pass to wide receiver Hakeem Nicks that could have gotten the Giants back in the game, but the touchdown was nullified by a holding penalty on guard Kevin Boothe and the Cowboys recovered a fumbled snap on the next play. The Giants' following drive ended with Manning throwing an interception.
"We were prepared," Manning said. "I thought we pass protected well for as many times as we threw the ball. . . . We moved the ball about as well as we could. We just didn't finish."
Manning connected on 33 of 48 passes for 373 yards for the Giants, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The Giants had their five-game winning streak ended. Their lead in the NFC East was reduced to a half-game over the second-place Philadelphia Eagles and 11/2 games over the third-place Washington Redskins. The Eagles and Redskins play Monday night at FedEx Field.
Jerry Jones fired Phillips as the team's coach last Monday, one day after a 45-7 loss at Green Bay. Jones said he had been reluctant to make a coaching change during the season but he watched the team's play reach the point at which he felt such a move was necessary. Jones promoted Garrett from offensive coordinator to head coach and elevated Paul Pasqualoni from defensive line coach to defensive coordinator, and made it clear that both appointments were made on an interim basis.
The Cowboys' losing streak included a 41-35 defeat at home to the Giants 20 days earlier in which quarterback Tony Romo suffered a fractured left clavicle.
Jones said last week that Garrett, once the Cowboys' backup quarterback to Troy Aikman, would be given a chance to keep the job beyond this season. But he didn't guarantee it, so Garrett apparently will have to earn the job.
"He didn't have an entire offseason to prepare for this," Cowboys linebacker Keith Brooking said of Garrett. "He had a couple days. . . . I think it's a good start. We've got to continue it."
The Cowboys wasted little time making their new coach look good. Garrett started Felix Jones at tailback instead of Marion Barber, who entered on the Cowboys' second offensive play. On their second drive of the game, just after the Giants grabbed the lead with a 43-yard field goal by place kicker Lawrence Tynes, the Cowboys moved into scoring position with a 45-yard catch by Bryant. Kitna lobbed a pass toward the end zone and Bryant made a juggling catch for a 13-yard touchdown, with Garrett using a successful instant replay challenge to overturn the initial ruling of an incompletion.
The extra point was blocked, but the Cowboys kept going. They got a 22-yard field goal by kicker David Buehler after Kitna was tripped and fell on a third-and-goal play from New York's 1-yard line. The Giants drove to the Dallas 2, and Manning threw a pass in the direction of Nicks on a third-down play. But Nicks appeared to halt his slant pattern and began moving back toward the sideline, then stumbled. Manning's pass went directly to McCann, who sprinted to the opposite end zone.
"If you're looking for one play that kind of changes things, that's the play," Garrett said.
Manning teamed with tight end Kevin Boss for a 35-yard touchdown to get New York within 33-20 with 5 minutes 19 seconds left in the third. But Giants Coach Tom Coughlin opted against a fourth-and-one gamble later in the quarter, choosing to punt the ball away, and the Cowboys stopped a fourth-and-one rushing attempt by tailback Brandon Jacobs for no gain early in the fourth quarter.