On a day when he had little zip on his passes, threw two interceptions and threw to the wrong receiver countless times, Dallas quarterback Danny White was on target enough for a team record five touchdown passes today as the Cowboys defeated the inept New York Giants, 38-20, at Giants Stadium.

The victory assured the Cowboys (8-1) of retaining first place in the NFC East regardless of the outcome of Monday night's game between the Washington Redskins (6-2) and the Chargers in San Diego. The Giants are 2-6-1 and last in the division.

"Danny was up and down," said Dallas Coach Tom Landry. "He made some great throws and then some that weren't so great."

White completed 15 of 33 passes for 304 yards and threw two touchdown passes to Tony Hill and one each to Tony Dorsett, Doug Cosbie and Drew Pearson. It was the most touchdown passes he has thrown in a game and equaled the high for the NFL this year.

"I don't feel I did anything spectacular today," said White. "I know I made some bad decisions, but I made some good ones, too."

White's up-and-down day was best illustrated on a 58-yard touchdown pass to Hill in the fourth quarter. Hill was three yards behind cornerback Terry Jackson when White heaved the ball toward him. It wobbled and was about 10 yards short. Hill stopped, turned completely around, came back to make the catch, then danced around Jackson and trotted into the end zone.

"Those kinds of things happen when you have great receivers," said White.

His counterpart on the Giants, Jeff Rutledge, had a forgettable day. He threw for 325 yards on only 14 completions in 29 attempts and had two touchdown passes, but he was sacked six times and committed six turnovers: three interceptions and three lost fumbles.

Rutledge was forced from the game late in the final period with a kneecap dislocated by Randy White's sack. It is uncertain how long he will be unable to play.

Landry was pleased with the victory, but not with his team's tackling, or lack thereof, which turned a number of routine plays for New York into big gainers.

"I think if we're going to the Super Bowl, we're going to have to tighten up some things, and our tackling is certainly one of them," he said.

The Giants were still very much in this game midway through the third period when Ali Haji-Sheikh kicked a 27-yard field goal to tie the score at 17-17.

The Cowboys responded with an 87-yard drive in four plays. The touchdown came on a 61-yard pass from White to a wide-open Cosbie. The tight end had beaten linebacker Brian Kelley by 10 yards, and White lofted the ball to him at the 30. There still was nobody close to Cosbie when he crossed the goal line.

"We were in our one-back spread offense and they (the Giants) tried to play that formation with a double zone," said White. "They brought both their safeties up close, which left Cosbie on a linebacker."

Butch Woolfolk, who gained 135 yards on four pass receptions, broke three tackles with a short pass and turned it into a 44-yard gain that put the ball at the Dallas 11 on the Giants' following possession. But they had to settle for another field goal by Haji-Sheikh and trailed, 24-20.

White then took the Cowboys on a 76-yard drive in 10 plays. He got the touchdown on a seven-yard pass to Pearson four seconds into the final quarter.

Rutledge was intercepted on each of New York's next three possessions and the Cowboys ended the scoring on White's long pass to Hill with nine minutes remaining.

The Giants tried all sorts of things to try to get into the end zone, including a fake field goal that failed.

"We tried to open it up more, especially against their man coverage, but we had some metal errors and a few dropped balls that hurt," said Coach Bill Parcells. "We just couldn't stop them, though. That was the biggest problem."

The Giants haven't won a game since they beat Green Bay, 27-3, six weeks ago.

The Cowboys were able to control the ball on the ground as Dorsett rushed for 94 yards and Ron Springs got 76. Dallas outgained New York rushing, 197 yards to 94, and totalled 485 yards.

"We know our offense can make the big plays and all we tried to do was get them the ball as often and as quickly as possible," said defensive end Ed (Too Tall) Jones.

Said White, "We play hot and cold, that's our nature, I guess, and today we were more hot than cold."