On what he called "the worst kicking day I've ever had," Joe Danelo booted the Washington Redskins out of the playoff race today and gave the New York Giants an excellent chance to qualify for postseason play for the first time in 18 years.
After missing short field goals on the Giants' first two possessions, Danelo kicked a 40-yarder with 25 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to tie the game, then made a 35-yarder with 6:19 elapsed in the overtime period to provide New York a 13-10 triumph over Dallas.
"I really don't deserve the credit," Danelo said, unable to hold back his tears. "I'm just so proud of my teammates. They were working so hard. I'm just thankful they gave me another opportunity.
"I'm very, very disappointed in the way I kicked," he went on, his voice cracking with emotion. "It was the worst kicking day I've ever had. The way the defense was playing, I was just hoping to get another chance. You don't often get five chances in one day."
The victory gave the Giants a 9-7 record. They will be the host team in the wild-card game next week if either Philadelphia or Green Bay loses Sunday. If the Eagles beat St. Louis and the Packers upset the Jets, Danelo's heroics will be for naught.
The Redskins are out because the Giants and Philadelphia can finish no worse than 9-7. If the Redskins beat the Rams Sunday, they will finish 8-8.
"This is Jet country now," quarterback Scott Brunner said with a laugh. "I never thought it would come to this, to be rooting for the Jets. But they need to win to get into the playoffs and for us to get in, too."
Although Danelo scored the last six points of this extremely physical game before 73,009 at blustery Giants Stadium, the Giant defense opened the way for the team's most important victory since l963 when the Giants finished 11-3.
Linebackers Harry Carson, Brian Kelley, Lawrence Taylor and Byron Hunt contained the Cowboys' running attack. Dallas penetrated the 50 only three times.
Tony Dorsett, in quest of his first NFL rushing title, was limited to 39 yards in 21 carries. The five-year veteran, who finished the season with 1,646 yards, fumbled to set up Danelo's tying field goal and dropped another pitchback on the Cowboys' first possession of the overtime to kill their only threat.
"Both times the wind caught the ball," Dorsett explained. "It made it like a knuckle ball, but I still could have caught them. The wind is no excuse."
The swirling 15 to 23 mph wind was a major factor that both coaches considered heavily. When the Giants won the opening toss, they elected to take the wind at their backs. To start the overtime, Dallas also gave up the choice of receiving and took the wind at its back.
"Sure, the wind was swirling, but that's no reason to miss those two short ones," said Danelo, who had a 21-yarder sail wide to the left, then saw his 32-yard attempt hit the right upright.
After missing several opportunities in the scoreless first half, the Giants finally went in front on a 20-yard pass from Brunner to tight end John Mistler, who made a brilliant diving catch between Mike Hegman and Michael Downs in the right front corner of the end zone.
Dallas came back with its only sustained drive, marching 80 yards in 11 plays. Danny White (17 of 33 for 200 yards), looped a pass to tight end Doug Cosbie deep in the end zone for the final three yards.
The Cowboys took the lead on their next possession, set up by Downs' interception at the Giants 47. After reaching the 17, two passes failed and Rafael Septien kicked a 36-yard field goal to make it 10-7 with 9:12 to play.
Even after Dorsett's fumble gave them life at the Dallas 45 with 2:08 left, it seemed as if the Giants' playoff hopes were doomed until Brunner connected with Mistler for a 22-yard gain to the 26 on fourth and 13. Four plays later, Danelo made his first pressure kick.
Danelo had a chance to win it after Dorsett's second fumble, but the wind caught his 33-yarder and pushed it into the right upright. Three plays later, Hunt intercepted a pass over the middle. A third-down pass to Mistler moved the ball to the 18 and when Danelo put this attempt right between the uprights, his teammates mobbed him and the fans roared. All was forgiven.