ARLINGTON, Texas – Tony Romo threw the pass, then didn't have a chance. Linebacker Michael Boley was coming right at him, unblocked and going full speed.
The hit was so hard that when Romo landed on his left shoulder, Boley heard him "let out a little scream." All Romo remembers was how much trouble he had breathing.
It was probably the last gasp for the 2010 Dallas Cowboys, too.
Romo broke his left collarbone on the play, turning a promising start in Monday night's game against the New York Giants into yet another loss. The Cowboys went through a funk after losing their quarterback and Eli Manning took advantage, powering New York from a 13-point deficit to a 41-35 victory that put the Giants a full game ahead of the NFC East and tied for the most wins in the conference.
Manning led New York (5-2) on five straight scoring drives over the middle two quarters, posting 31 points. He bounced back from interceptions on his first two drives of the night to match his career best with four touchdown passes, Brandon Jacobs ran 30 yards for a touchdown and Lawrence Tynes kicked a career-best 53-yard field goal, just some of their many highlights.
"The way we started the game tonight, to be able to come back from that and show the mental toughness was big," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he was told Romo would miss about 6 to 8 weeks. More tests that are scheduled for Tuesday should help set a timetable. But it might not matter much. Dallas is 1-5, so there may not be any reason to rush back. The 1970 Bengals are the only 1-5 team ever to make the playoffs.
"I'm staying optimistic," Romo said. "This football team has a lot of high-character guys, a lot of competitive individuals who aren't going to give in to a tough situation."
Tough? Put it this way: The historically woebegone Texas Rangers could win more games in October and November than the five-time Super Bowl champion Cowboys. And with the Super Bowl coming to Cowboys Stadium in February, it's all but certain the host team won't be playing. Worse still, this once-promising season is now linked to 1989 — the year Jones bought the team, Jimmy Johnson took over as coach and the Cowboys went 1-15; that was the last time Dallas started 1-5. At least back then everyone knew the team was lousy.
"There are a lot of teams in this league that have had to step in and do a different direction at quarterback," Jones said. "We've got to be able to play without Romo."
This was the fourth straight win for the Giants. The really stunning number is five; that's how many quarterbacks they have injured this season.
Even in a week where the NFL is scrutinizing hard hits, Boley didn't draw a flag. It was a clean play, just a textbook example of a hard hit.
"The guard didn't see me," Boley said. "I came in scot-free. ... I didn't think he was going to lay down. I thought it was a normal hit. After I got up and started running, I looked back and saw he was down."
X-rays showed the break before halftime. Romo was back on the sideline for the second half, his arm in a sling and covered by a jacket. He wore a headset and tried encouraging teammates, but there wasn't much to cheer about.
The Cowboys actually were up only 10-7 when Romo left and stretched it to 20-7. Then came New York's scoring flurry, which sent home much of the crowd by the middle of the third quarter and prompted chants of "Let's go Rangers!"
The Giants were already ahead by the time Romo's injury was diagnosed.
Dallas backup Jon Kitna hadn't played since Oct. 5, 2008, when he was part of Detroit's winless season. Whether it was the long layoff, being 38 or both, he sure looked rusty.
His first and third passes were tipped. The next time he dropped back, he was sacked for a 10-yard loss, forcing Dallas to punt from its own end zone. The Giants took advantage of the short field to score the go-ahead touchdown. His next pass was fumbled by Jason Witten, setting up Tynes' long field goal. It got so bad that there was a mock cheer when he completed a pass for a first down early in fourth quarter. He finished 16 of 33 for 187 yards.
"It just took him a while to get going," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. "Once he did, it gave us a chance."
Kitna ended up throwing a pair of touchdown passes to rookie Dez Bryant in the final 3:17, but Dallas failed to recover onside kicks after each. New York got another field goal from Tynes after the first, then ran out the clock after the second.
Manning was 25 of 35 for 306 yards. This was the fourth time he'd thrown four TD passes.
Hakeem Nicks caught nine passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns. Steve Smith caught nine passes for 101 yards and a touchdown. Mario Manningham had the other TD catch.
Ahmad Bradshaw ran 24 times for 126 yards. Jacobs had 75 yards on 12 carries.
The craziest part about this game was how many things the Cowboys did right: A club that had only four takeaways all season snatched five. A special teams group that was getting known for giving up big plays made a huge one — a 93-yard punt return for a touchdown by Bryant. They drew only five penalties.
But they also went 0 for 10 on third downs. And Romo wasn't the only guy lost to injury. Defensive end Jason Hatcher and left guard Montrae Holland hurt groins. Holland already was filling in for injured starter Kyle Kosier, so the Cowboys had to go with Phil Costa, a rookie free agent who was making his NFL debut.
Romo had thrown every pass by a Cowboys quarterback since Nov. 16, 2008, when he returned from a broken pinkie on his throwing hand that cost him three games. He set the franchise record for yards passing in a season last year, making the Pro Bowl for the third time. In his brief action Monday night, he broke his own club record by throwing for a touchdown in his 18th straight game. He was 5 of 7 for 39 yards.
The Cowboys pulled out the stops this week to try turning things around. Jones gave an encouraging speech Monday, officials worked practices on Wednesday and Thursday and Hall of Famers Bob Lilly and Tony Dorsett were honorary captains for this game. (Hours earlier, Dorsett called the team "a bunch of underachievers.") They drummed up some loud applause by showing clips of the World Series-bound Rangers, then cutting to team icon Nolan Ryan in the stands.
Ryan's team beat the Yankees in Arlington last weekend. The Giants can take some measure of revenge back to New York.
Notes: The Giants are 2-0 at Cowboys Stadium. ... Manning is 20-4 as a starter in October, the best among all Super Bowl-era quarterbacks (minimum 20 starts). ... Bryant had four catches for 54 yards and two touchdowns, plus the long punt return. "Dez is a spectacular player," Phillips said.