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Cowboys crumble in playoffs again; Giants headed to Green Bay
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IRVING, Texas (AP) _ Beaten at Dallas and trounced by Green Bay, the New York Giants seemed headed to a lost season after only two games.
Well, guess what? Eli Manning and the guys are a game away from the Super Bowl now, following a path filled with vengeance. Having ousted the Cowboys 21-17 on Sunday, the Giants are headed to Lambeau Field aiming to knock off Brett Favre and the Packers in the NFC championship game.
"We stay with it," linebacker Antonio Pierce said. "When everybody jumped on our backs after the first two games we didn't fold. I don't know what the team would have done in years past, but this year we didn't."
Maybe because Manning didn't let them. And, yes, we're talking about Eli, not Peyton.
A few hours after reigning Super Bowl MVP Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts were eliminated from the playoffs, the less-heralded, often-criticized member of football's most famous family got the biggest victory of his career. Eli threw two touchdown passes to Amani Toomer and led another scoring drive early in the fourth quarter to give New York its ninth straight road victory.
It's the furthest New York has advanced since the 2000 season - and it's a huge disappointment for a Dallas team that tied a club record with 13 regular-season wins.
"I was a little nervous," said Eli, who was 12-of-18 for 163 yards. "I know (Peyton) was watching and rooting for me."
The Giants are a rare No. 5 seed to make the NFC title game - mainly because those clubs usually wind up playing the No. 1 seed. And the top teams in the NFC had been never lost a division-round game under the current playoff format, which began in 1990.
"No one's given us much credit and probably still won't," Manning said. "But that's OK. We like it that way."
Next up for New York is a chance to show Green Bay how much it has improved since a 35-13 loss at Giants Stadium on Sept. 16. The Packers led 14-13 going into the fourth quarter, then ran away with the game, sending New York to its first 0-2 start since 1996.
No wonder Pierce said the Giants have been playing with a chip on their shoulder ever since.
"That chip ain't going nowhere," Pierce said. "We got that chip going to Green Bay. Ain't nothing changed because we beat Dallas. We gave Dallas all the praise in the world throughout the week but, like I said, we had to come play at 3:30 and we played at 3:30."
New York went ahead quickly on a 52-yard touchdown to Amani Toomer, then didn't lead again until a 1-yard run by Brandon Jacobs early in the fourth quarter. That one held up, in part because Tony Romo wasn't able to pull off a late rally, ending the game with an interception. It marked his second straight disappointing finish to a playoff game, following his flubbed hold of a short field goal in Seattle a year ago.
"It hurts," said Romo, 18-of-36 for 201 yards with a touchdown and a sack on each of the final two drives. "It's tough right now."
This one is huge because "America's Team" seemed pointed toward a ninth trip to the Super Bowl, maybe even a sixth championship.
Dallas tied an NFL record with its sixth straight playoff loss. Romo fell to 0-2 and coach Wade Phillips finished his first year with the Cowboys by falling to 0-4 in his playoff career.
There are other dubious footnotes, like being the first No. 1 seed in the NFC to lose in this round since the NFL went to the 12-team playoff format in 1990 and being the seventh team to lose a playoff game against a team they'd beaten twice in the regular season; the '98 Cowboys did it, too.
Romo came in looking to make up for last season's finish, to prove his sluggish December was no big deal and to quiet everyone who accused him of mixed-up priorities for joining girlfriend Jessica Simpson on the beach in Mexico last weekend.
He couldn't do it, but it wasn't all his fault.
The offense stopped drives with penalties, while the defense kept New York drives alive by drawing more flags. There also was sloppy tackling on defense and special teams, dropped passes and wasted timeouts.
Still, Romo is the marquee man and the most likely to be blamed, though not by Terrell Owens.
Owens, who made good on his vow to return from a high ankle sprain sustained three weeks ago, cried behind dark sunglasses with a quivering bottom lip while declaring, "You can point the finger at him, you can talk about the vacation, and if you do that, it's really unfair. That's my teammate. ... We lost as a team."
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Thursday he would keep Phillips regardless of what happened in the playoffs, and said it again in the dreary locker room. There are bound to be changes, though, especially with highly valued assistant coaches Jason Garrett and Tony Sparano interviewing for jobs elsewhere.
Dallas used a slow-go game plan, churning out long scoring drives. Yet the Cowboys only led 17-14 midway through the third quarter. They had three drives after New York went ahead, but couldn't score.
Marion "The Barbarian" Barber - who made the Pro Bowler as a backup, but joined the starting lineup for the first time - ran for 101 yards but finished with 129.
Owens had four catches for 49 yards. Glenn, who missed the first 15 games following two knee surgeries, caught two passes for 30 yards.
The Giants rushed for 90 yards, with Jacobs getting 54. Toomer had four catches for 80 yards.
"I'm so proud of our players," New York coach Tom Coughlin said. "They really rose up."

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