It was a night when the black cat that made its way across the field at MetLife Stadium, temporarily halting play during the second quarter, brought more bad luck to the New York Giants. The Dallas Cowboys escaped the jinx, and now they clearly are the team to beat in the NFC East entering the second half of the season.

The Cowboys trounced the Giants, 37-18, on Monday night. It’s a two-team race in the division with perhaps a single playoff spot at stake, given how things are shaping up in the highly competitive NFC. And the Cowboys, by improving to 5-3, kept themselves ahead of the second-place Philadelphia Eagles.

“We’ve just got to continue to get better, continue to improve in each and every aspect of this game, get better at starting faster and finishing the way that we’ve been finishing,” Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott told ESPN after the game. “We control our own destiny. We’ve put ourselves in a good spot.”

The Cowboys are a half-game ahead of the Eagles, who are 5-4 after their win Sunday over the Chicago Bears. And the Cowboys own the tiebreaker advantage after their convincing triumph over the Eagles before their bye.

Look around the NFC. There are five teams (the Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams) that have winning records and aren’t in first place. There are only two wild-card playoff spots available. So some good teams are going to be left out of the NFC postseason field this season. The loser of the Cowboys-Eagles duel in the NFC East cannot count on reaching the playoffs. The Cowboys took another step Monday night toward being the team that isn’t excluded.

Prescott threw three touchdown passes, and tailback Ezekiel Elliott ran for 139 yards. The Giants, mired in another cursed season, saw a first-half lead disappear amid their mistakes.

“I’m disappointed we didn’t do enough things to win the game,” Giants Coach Pat Shurmur said at his postgame news conference.

The Cowboys returned to the Meadowlands after suffering an embarrassing defeat to the stadium’s other resident, the New York Jets, last month. That remains the Jets’ lone win of the season and was the exclamation point on a three-game losing streak for the Cowboys.

Their Meadowlands misery ended against the Giants, but only after the Cowboys overcame their own early blunders and a 12-3 Giants lead. Prescott threw an interception on the game’s first play from scrimmage, leading to a Giants field goal. Wide receiver Randall Cobb halted a Dallas drive by losing a fumble.

“Another slow start,” Prescott said. “But we were able to turn this thing around, get going, get the run game going. Credit goes to the offensive line. That opened up the pass game. We were able to do what we want in the back half of the game.”

The Giants more than returned the favor with a series of blunders. Kicker Aldrick Rosas missed a first-half extra point, sending the football off the right upright. The New York defense left Cowboys tight end Blake Jarwin uncovered on a catch and run for a 45-yard touchdown to help Dallas score 10 points in the final 52 seconds of the first half. Giants rookie quarterback Daniel Jones threw an interception and lost two fumbles, the second of which was returned for a touchdown by the Cowboys in the game’s final seconds.

Jones has lost eight fumbles and thrown eight interceptions this season. The Giants dropped to 2-7 with their fifth straight loss since Jones won his first two NFL starts after taking over for Eli Manning.

“Any time you turn the ball over it’s costly to the team,” Jones said. “I’ve got to work on that and making sure I’m securing the ball.”

The Giants should have known their fate was sealed when the cat ran across the field late in the first half, eluding stadium personnel until finally exiting through a tunnel. Social media took notice and the game’s official play-by-play sheet read: “The game has been suspended. Cat on the field.”

Stadium officials later said in a written statement: “The black cat ran off the field and disappeared under a seating section. Once we locate and safely capture the cat, we will take it to a veterinarian for examination.”

The night clearly was about the cat. But the Cowboys did what they could to share the spotlight. Prescott threw fourth-quarter touchdown passes to wide receivers Michael Gallup, who performed a flip into the end zone, and Amari Cooper. Prescott finished with 257 yards on 22-for-35 passing. The Dallas defense limited Giants tailback Saquon Barkley to 28 rushing yards, although Barkley did turn a fourth-quarter screen pass into an eye-catching 65-yard gain.

“We had no doubt that we were going to finish this game and we were going to finish it the right way,” Prescott said. “So it was just about going out there and executing plays and executing plays when it mattered the most. That’s what we did in the fourth quarter and it’s great to get another win.”

In-game updates

4th Quarter

Prescott hits Cooper for TD: The Cowboys perhaps have put the game away with a 45-yard touchdown strike from Dak Prescott to wide receiver Amari Cooper. Prescott found Cooper, who returned to the game after limping off the field in the first half with an ailing left knee, with an on-target throw across the middle around the New York 25-yard line, and Cooper raced to the end zone. It was Prescott’s third touchdown pass of the night. (Cowboys 30, Giants 18 with 7:56 left in the 4th quarter)

Giants get FG: A 65-yard catch and run by tailback Saquon Barkley with a screen pass set up the fourth field goal of the night for Giants kicker Aldrick Rosas, from 29 yards. Giants Coach Pat Shurmur wasted a timeout during the drive with a failed instant replay challenge of a pass interference non-call. Shurmur should know by now that only a missed interference call of the magnitude of Rams vs. Saints is going to be overturned. (Cowboys 23, Giants 18 with 11:50 left in the 4th quarter)

Prescott-to-Gallup increases lead: The Cowboys upped their lead as Dak Prescott threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Michael Gallup, who somehow managed to remain in bounds along the right sideline and performed a flip into the end zone. (Cowboys 23, Giants 15 with 12:40 left in the 4th quarter)

3rd Quarter

Giants reply with FG: The Giants got back to within a point with a 26-yard field goal by kicker Aldrick Rosas. The Giants’ field goal drive was aided by a questionable taunting penalty called on Cowboys safety Xavier Woods. He had a confrontation with Giants players near the sideline after shoving quarterback Daniel Jones out of bounds on a scramble. It was a legal hit by Woods and Jones was unhurt after crashing into a sideline worker. (Cowboys 16, Giants 15 with 27 seconds left in the 3rd quarter)

Cowboys extend lead after Jones’s fumble: Make it 13 straight points for the Cowboys as kicker Brett Maher connected on his third field goal of the night, this time a 28-yarder. The kick was set up by a fumble lost by Giants rookie quarterback Daniel Jones. It was the seventh lost fumble of the season for Jones, tied for most in the NFL. The Cowboys took possession at the New York 49-yard line and got a 19-yard run by tailback Ezekiel Elliott, putting him above 100 rushing yards on the night, but couldn’t get into the end zone. (Cowboys 16, Giants 12 with 4:43 left in the 3rd quarter)

Halftime

Halftime at the Meadowlands: It was a first half at MetLife Stadium notable mostly for Cowboys’ mistakes and a second-quarter cat delay. But the Cowboys rebounded from their sloppy start to score 10 points, aided by Giants’ gaffes, in the final 52 seconds of the half to lead, 13-12. Quarterback Dak Prescott escaped from the Giants’ pass rush and slipped a short pass to tight end Blake Jarwin, who was left uncovered by the New York defense along the right sideline and ran the final 33 yards to the end zone for a 42-yard touchdown. Then Giants quarterback Daniel Jones threw an interception to Cowboys safety Xavier Woods and Dallas cashed in with a 52-yard field goal by kicker Brett Maher as time expired in the half. That final flurry enabled the Cowboys, who are attempting to remain ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles for first place in the NFC East, to overcome a 12-3 deficit. Prescott threw an interception on the game’s first play from scrimmage, leading to a Giants’ field goal. Wide receiver Randall Cobb lost a fumble to halt a promising Dallas drive. Jones threw a second-quarter touchdown pass to wide receiver Cody Latimer for the Giants, who then missed the extra point. Second-year tailback Saquon Barkley had only 21 first-half rushing yards for the Giants. The highlight of the night, by far, came when play was halted temporarily during the second quarter while a black cat ran across the field. Attempts by stadium personnel to nab the cat were unsuccessful, and it finally exited through a tunnel. The game’s official play-by-play sheet read: “The game has been suspended. Cat on the field.” (Cowboys 13, Giants 12 at halftime)

2nd Quarter

Cowboys get TD on Giants’ defensive lapse: The Cowboys got back into the game on a Giants’ defensive lapse that allowed a 42-yard catch and run for a touchdown by tight end Blake Jarwin. Dak Prescott escaped the Giants’ pass rush, moved out of the pocket to his right and got the football to Jarwin, who was left uncovered along the right sideline around the 33-yard line and then ran the rest of the way to the end zone. (Giants 12, Cowboys 10 with 52 seconds left in the 2nd quarter)

Cat delay, then Giants add to lead: The Giants ended a cat-marred drive with a 25-yard field goal by kicker Aldrick Rosas to add to their lead. The game was halted temporarily while a black cat ran across the field. Security personnel at MetLife Stadium tried but failed to corral the cat, which finally exited by running through a tunnel. (Giants 12, Cowboys 3 with 2:50 left in the 2nd quarter)

Cooper hurt, Cobb fumbles: It has been a frustrating night so far for the Cowboys. Their top wide receiver, Amari Cooper, limped off the field and was examined on the sideline by the team’s medical staff. Meanwhile, fellow wideout Randall Cobb lost a fumble after a catch to halt a promising drive. (Giants 9, Cowboys 3 with 9:16 left in the 2nd quarter)

Giants reach end zone: The Giants put together their first good drive of the night and made it count by reaching the end zone via a one-yard touchdown pass from Daniel Jones to wide receiver Cody Latimer. The big play was a 17-yard completion from Jones to wideout Golden Tate on third and 14. Jones threw what amounted to a jump ball between Tate and Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones, and Tate made a superb catch at the Dallas 1-yard line. It took the Giants three plays from there to cash in on the Jones-to-Latimer touchdown. Kicker Aldrick Rosas missed the extra point, with the football clanging off the right upright. (Giants 9, Cowboys 3 with 11:55 left in the 2nd quarter)

1st quarter

Long-distance miss for Maher: The Cowboys’ Brett Maher is one of the best long-distance kickers in NFL history, with a record three successful field goals of 60 or more yards. But he was wide left with a 54-yard try and the Cowboys remained tied with the Giants. (Cowboys 3, Giants 3 with 2:09 left in the 1st quarter)

Cowboys draw even: The Cowboys tied the game at 3 on a 35-yard field goal by kicker Brett Maher. They had a touchdown pass from Dak Prescott to wide receiver Randall Cobb negated by offsetting penalties, a holding call on the Cowboys and a roughing-the-passer infraction by the Giants. (Cowboys 3, Giants 3 with 8:19 left in the 1st quarter)

Giants have early lead: The Giants have the early lead over the Cowboys but could have had more, since they were able to convert an interception thrown by Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott into only a field goal. Prescott, aiming for wide receiver Michael Gallup on a slant pattern, threw the ball directly to Giants safety Antoine Bethea on the game’s first play from scrimmage. The Giants took over at the Dallas 8-yard line but, after two runs by Saquon Barkley and an incompletion thrown by quarterback Daniel Jones, could manage only a 21-yard field goal by Aldrick Rosas. (Giants 3, Cowboys 0 with 13:23 left in the 1st quarter)

Preview

The Dallas Cowboys, so far, have been the best team in a mediocre NFC East. They’ll try to keep it that way Monday night when they face the New York Giants in East Rutherford, N.J.

The Cowboys have a record of 4-3 and will attempt to remain in first place ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles, who upped their mark to 5-4 with a victory Sunday over the Chicago Bears. The Cowboys are returning from their bye week, which came on the heels of a 37-10 triumph at home Oct. 20 over the Eagles.

It has been a season of stops and starts for the Cowboys. It began with Super Bowl aspirations after owner Jerry Jones handed out a series of lucrative contract extensions to tailback Ezekiel Elliott and other players. The Cowboys opened the season with a 35-17 win at home over the Giants on their way to a 3-0 beginning. Quarterback Dak Prescott looked like a league MVP contender and the Cowboys were in the conversation as the NFC’s top team.

But that was followed by a three-game losing streak that culminated with an embarrassing defeat in the Meadowlands to the New York Jets. That remains the Jets’ only victory of the season, as their record dropped to 1-7 with Sunday’s loss to the supposedly tanking Miami Dolphins. Now the Cowboys return to MetLife Stadium to try to continue reassembling their season.

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