It's been 365 days since the Dallas Cowboys hosted the New York Giants in the 2016 season opener. At the time, no one knew what to expect from Dak Prescott , who only found himself on the field because Tony Romo was sidelined with a back injury. We know how this ends -- Prescott Wally Pipp'd Romo, who retired after the season to become a broadcaster.
But on Sept. 11, 2016, Prescott actually lost his first NFL start -- something that happened just three times during the regular season. On Sunday night, Prescott looked every bit the Cowboys' franchise quarterback and did what he couldn't do a year ago: beat the Giants in the regular-season opener, 19-3.
Of course, the Giants' offense didn't put up much of a fight. As was made painfully clear in the preseason, New York's offensive line is in shambles, the running game is suspect, and without Odell Beckham Jr. setting the tone, there was no guarantee that Brandon Marshall or Sterling Shepard or Evan Engram or even Eli Manning would be able to pick up the slack.
In the first half on Sunday night, Manning was 8 of 12 for a paltry 33 yards. Shepard had just three catches for 17 yards, and Engram and Marshall combined for exactly one catch for three yards. The Giants had the ball for just 9 minutes and 22 seconds, managed two first downs, were 0 for 5 on third downs and had 50 net yards. This goes a long way in explaining how the Cowboys jumped out to a 16-0 at the half and cruised to a 19-3 final score.
The flip side, of course, is that the Cowboys looked pretty good. And while we already knew about the offense -- Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott , Dez Bryant , Jason Witten and the league's best offensive line -- it was the defense that looked like a completely different unit.
This one play succinctly sums up Manning's evening
Manning was sacked on the Giants' first series:
CBSSports.com's R.J. White summed things up nicely: "Eli's lineman do a better job blocking with their intros than blocking pass rushers."
Manning spent the rest of the evening trying to side-step would-be pass rushers, and when he was able to avoid getting hit, he was rushing throws to receivers who struggled to get open. Yes, it's only one week, and no, we shouldn't overreact to one bad game. But the warning signs were there during the preseason, and they were exacerbated Sunday night by the absence of Beckham.
Here's your silver lining, Giants fans
This defense is going to be very, very good. The problem is that unless the offense improves, it may not matter much. But New York's defensive line is a nightmare for opposing offenses, and if not for Prescott's mobility, the outcome may have been different (or, at the very least, the score closer).
Like, how do you defend against this?
And in the secondary there's Dez Bryant's Kryptonite -- cornerback Janoris Jenkins -- and 2016 Pro Bowl safety Landon Collins . The problem, and we saw this with the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl, is that when the defense can't get off the field, they get tired. And when they get tired, they give up big plays. And by the fourth quarter, Elliott, who had been contained for much of the game, started finding holes, moving the chains and running time off the clock.
What does this win say about the Cowboys?
First things first: The Cowboys were our preseason pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, ahead of the Green Bay Packers , the Seattle Seahawks and the Giants, who some folks liked to win the NFC East. And while it's too early to anoint them conference champs, there's no reason to change our minds, either.
One of the talking points heading into the season was whether Prescott would fall victim to the age-old sports writer's crutch: the sophomore slump. We never bought into it with Prescott, who was mature beyond his years in 2016 and will only be better this season.
And if this offense is even slightly better than it was last year -- the unit ranked No. 3 (second in rushing, third in passing), according to Football Outsiders, behind only the Falcons and New England Patriots -- they have to be favorites to repeat in the division. A big part of that success is due to Elliott, the 2016 first-round pick, though there is no guarantee that he plays the entire season.
What's the latest with Elliott's eligibility?
Good news: Elliott, who was suspended by the league for six games, Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio that the league could decide as soon as Monday about whether it will pursue an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit., which means he can play. For how long is the question. A source tells
"The goal would be to overturn the ruling from Judge Amos L. Mazzant III blocking the suspension as soon as possible," Florio writes. "That would mean, if the appeal is filed and if it succeeds quickly, Elliott's suspension could be reinstated by Week 2, when the Cowboys play the Denver Broncos ."
A Week 2 suspension seems unlikely, but even if it comes in the weeks that follow, the Cowboys should be fine. They'll face the Arizona Cardinals , Los Angeles Rams , Packers and 49ers over the next month, and it's reasonable to think that Dallas should be favored in three of those games whether Elliott's in the backfield or not. Put another way: Prescott and the rest of the offense, plus what looks to be a revamped defense, should be more than enough to keep the Cowboys among the NFC's best.
The Cowboys' other playmakers
We know about Prescott and Elliott and Bryant, who only had two catches for 43 yards against Jenkins and the Giants. But that's one of the many differences between Dallas' and New York's offense: The former has more than one option. And this brings us to Cole Beasley , to convert a huge third-down play early in the fourth quarter.
No big deal, y'all.
That would be Michael Irvin in the rearview
Meanwhile, 15-year vet Jason Witten keeps on keepin' on.
I believe this list automatically qualifies Witten for first-ballot Hall of Fame status
This is ... not great
CBS Sports studio analyst Boomer Esiason sent this tweet during halftime, when the Giants trailed 16-0, and hours after the New York Jets fell to the Buffalo Bills , 21-12.
The tweet still held by the time the the Giants-Cowboys game ended; the Yankees outscored the two New York football teams on Sunday, 16-15. And this brings us to the most important question facing the Giants right now ...
When can we expect the return of Odell Beckham?
This is probably the most important question facing a Giants team that is currently without a legit difference-maker. Yes, Engram, the first-round pick, can be that guy, and Marshall is a complementary playmaker at this point in his career. But if the Giants can't protect Manning, and Beckham isn't there to relieve the pressure, this team will have to rely on its defense to score points.
This is not ideal.
Beckham worked out before Sunday night's game, and he didn't look bad running routes. But cameras appeared to show him grimacing, perhaps indicating that he wasn't yet able to do the things that makes him Odell Beckham.
So for now we wait. New York hosts Detroit next Monday night, and even if Beckham isn't 100 percent, it might make sense to use him as a decoy, at least early, to create opportunities for others. Because this offense is going nowhere without Beckham -- in some form -- on the field.
Whatever happens in the coming days, remember this: The Cowboys lost their season opener to the Giants last year but both teams ended up in the playoffs. Don't read too much into one week, even if New York looked like one of the worst offenses in football.