EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Once they stopped beating themselves with penalties, the Dallas Cowboys took command of the NFC East by riding their biggest stars: Tony Romo and Terrell Owens.
Romo hit Owens on two of his four touchdown passes and Dallas opened a big lead in the division by ending the Giants’ six-game winning streak with a 31-20 victory on Sunday.
“If you want to call it swagger, yes we have the confidence that we know we can go out and beat teams,” said Owens, who broke the game open with second-half TD catches of 25 and 50 yards. Owens finished with six catches for 125 yards, his third straight 100-yard game.
“Obviously today, we had more penalties than we would like and we have to eliminate those,” T.O. added. “That was everybody’s emotions running high. There was a little trash-talking by them. We came here, the game was played and I feel like we made a statement.”
With the win, the Cowboys (8-1) opened a two-game lead over the Giants (6-3), a three-game edge on Washington (5-4) and a four-game margin on Philadelphia (4-5). Dallas also swept the season series with New York, so it has the tiebreaker should they finished tied.
“It’s another step along the journey that we’re trying to go through to get where we want to go,” said Romo, who completed 20-of-28 for 247 yards. “A win like tonight just adds to your confidence. When you do something like this, you have a chance to do something special.”
The last time the Cowboys started a season at 8-1 was 1995, the last time they won the Super Bowl.
With seven games left, the Cowboys also are tied with Green Bay for the best record in the conference. The two will play in Dallas on Nov. 29.
For the Giants, their best hopes for a playoff berth seemingly are a wild-card spot.
“It does put us behind the 8-ball,” defensive end Justin Tuck said. “If you ever play pool, I’ve seen people make shots from behind that 8-ball. That’s what we are looking at.”
Romo also threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Tony Curtis in the first quarter and a 20-yarder to Patrick Crayton just before halftime, starting a string of three straight touchdown drives.
Nick Folk added a 44-yard field goal.
Eli Manning threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Shockey, who tied his career high with 12 catches for 129 yards. Reuben Droughns scored on a 1-yard run and Lawrence Tynes kicked field goals of 40 and 26 yards.
The second field goal came after New York had Brandon Jacobs’ potential tying touchdown run early in the fourth quarter nullified by a questionable holding penalty on guard Chris Snee against Roy Williams.
“I didn’t think I held him, but you have to go with the call,” said Snee, who originally thought Dallas was being called for a penalty.
Until that point, the Cowboys were the ones hurting themselves with undisciplined errors. Four penalties in the first half gave New York 10 points and had Dallas heading to the locker room tied at 17.
The Cowboys were called for three penalties on the Giants’ opening TD drive. The one everyone will remember was a taunting call against linebacker Kevin Burnett with the Cowboys ahead 17-14 in the waning seconds.
Jacobs had just been stuffed on a run from his 35 and Burnett yapped at him. The 15-yard walkoff moved the ball to the 50 with 12 seconds to go. Manning found Shockey for 29 yards to set up a 40-yard field goal by Tynes that tied the game.
“Once it’s over, you have to learn from your mistakes,” Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. “We couldn’t harp on that. We just told them it was nothing-nothing. We’ve done it all year. The second half is ours.”
The Cowboys’ defense, which sacked Manning five times and intercepted him twice, stopped the Giants on the opening possession of the half and then Romo and company took over.
The go-ahead 25-yard touchdown pass came on a play where T.O. ran past cornerback Sam Madison and was wide open.
Owens ran by safety Gibril Wilson on the long pass.
“If he gets moving, he’s tough to catch up to,” Romo said. “I just tried to give him some air and let him go get it.”