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Giants-Cowboys is a study in contrast

By Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times –

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Giants, eager to pick up where they left off last season, have adopted the slogan “Build the Bridge” in hopes of making another march to the Super Bowl.

The Dallas Cowboys should consider a different motto:

Dig the Tunnel.

The Cowboys have been imprisoned by the Giants in recent years, losing seven of nine meetings since early 2008. Over that span, the Giants have won two rings — in both cases using victories over Dallas as springboards for their championship runs.

At the end of last season, the Giants beat the Cowboys twice in three weeks. First, New York overcame a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to win at Dallas. Then, in a prime-time season finale with the NFC East title up for grabs, the Giants delivered a 31-14 knockout punch.

In five of the Cowboys’ eight losses last season, the team blew fourth-quarter leads.

The message to his players from Cowboys Coach Jason Garrett this summer: No excuses — get the job done. Escape from New York.

“You can talk about … we were close, or they were close, or we would’ve done this, or would’ve done that,” Garrett said. “That’s not how it works. It’s a bottom-line business. Make sure you take care of the bottom line.”

To take care of the bottom line in Wednesday’s season opener, the Cowboys will need to buck a trend. Since 2004, when the NFL began the tradition of the defending Super Bowl champion playing host to the NFL kickoff game, every visiting team has been sent home at 0-1.

That began with consecutive debut victories by New England in 2004 and 2005, then, in order, season-opening home victories by Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, the Giants, Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Green Bay.

This year, the game was moved from Thursday to Wednesday night so it wouldn’t conflict with President Barack Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. For the first time since 2001, the NFL will use replacement officials. The regulars have been locked out since June, and a last-ditch effort to negotiate a labor settlement ended Saturday when neither the NFL nor NFL Referees Association budged from their positions.

The Giants are looking to become the fifth franchise in NFL history to win at least three Super Bowls in a six-season span, the most recent being the Patriots from 2001 to 2004.

“We’re trying to make a mark for ourselves,” safety Antrel Rolle said.

Some teams experience a Super Bowl hangover. The last time they were defending a title, the Giants roared out of the gates and were the league’s best team through three-quarters of the season, going 11-1 before receiver Plaxico Burress accidentally shot himself in the leg and the season imploded. That team was one and done in the playoffs.

This time, with an older and more experienced Eli Manning, and a more mature team around him, the Giants are confident they can be the first in team history to win consecutive Super Bowls.

“There’s no doubt in my mind we can repeat,” linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said.

The Giants have the personnel to get them where they want to go, starting with Manning, a two-time Super Bowl most valuable player. He has one of the league’s most dangerous receiving tandems in Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. On defense, the Giants have a star-studded line that includes three of the best pass rushers in football: Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, and Justin Tuck.

“They said it was a fluke to get to the Super Bowl and us getting to the playoffs,” Pierre-Paul told reporters this week. “But when it was all said and done … nobody could defeat us.”

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