By Chad Conine, The Sports Xchange
ARLINGTON, Texas — Ezekiel Elliott made his presence felt, but the Dallas Cowboys’ defense made a greater impact as it shut down the New York Giants on Sunday night in the season opener for both teams.
The Cowboys limited the Giants to 233 total yards, paving the way for Dallas’ 19-3 victory at AT&T Stadium.
Elliott, playing after an injunction filed against the NFL allowed him to start the season despite a six-game suspension for domestic violence, rushed for 104 yards on 24 carries.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott said he didn’t have to guess at Elliott’s mindset going into the game.
“I talked to him, I knew he was excited,” Prescott said. “He was ready to get out there, put some of this other stuff behind him and just go be with his team and play a good game tonight.”
The Cowboys didn’t score in the second half until 1:55 remained. Dan Bailey booted his fourth field goal, from 36 yards, for the game’s final points.
The lack of second-half offense didn’t matter after Dallas controlled the first half on the way to a 16-0 halftime lead.
The Giants opened the second half with a 68-yard drive that more than doubled their total yards to that point. New York reached the Dallas 4-yard line before Charles Tapper sacked Eli Manning for a 9-yard loss, causing the Giants to settle for Aldrick Rosas’ 25-yard field goal.
That ended up being New York’s most successful drive of the game.
“Our complementary football was nonexistent tonight, all three phases playing together,” Giants coach Ben McAdoo said. “The offense was very disappointing. We’re going to go back and look at the film and see how we can get better.”
Anthony Brown intercepted a Manning pass at the Cowboys 48-yard line midway through the fourth quarter to set up Dallas’ final scoring drive. The Dallas offense responded by grinding out 34 yards before Bailey’s field goal iced the win.
New York defeated Dallas to open the 2016 season. Then the Cowboys reeled off 11 straight wins before the Giants beat them again.
“Getting the win in the first game of the season was more important than anything,” Prescott said. “Not to beat them last year, to come back Game 1 and get that win, start the season off 1-0, it was a great night.”
Jason Witten had a productive first half as the Cowboys tight end became the team’s career receiving yards leader and scored Dallas’ first touchdown of the season.
Prescott tossed to Witten for an 11-yard gain in the second quarter that brought Witten’s career total to 11,890 receiving yards, passing Michael Irvin’s previous team record of 11,888.
Witten then capped a touchdown drive late in the first half. Prescott hit the tight end on a slant pass for a 12-yard score that put Dallas ahead 13-0 with 1:41 left in the second quarter.
Witten finished the first half with six receptions for 49 yards, and he ended the game with seven catches for 59 yards.
The Dallas defense dominated the first half, holding New York to 50 yards of total offense and just two first downs.
“We didn’t convert on third downs and there were a lot of them in the first half,” Manning said. “They weren’t third-and-longs. We couldn’t convert on those, and that hurt us. We just couldn’t stay on the field.”
Without wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who sustained a left ankle injury in the preseason and missed the Sunday game, Manning passed for 33 yards in the first half. However, the Giants quarterback wouldn’t blame the lack of production on his star receiver’s absence.
“He’s a tremendous player, but we’ve got players,” Manning said. “We’ve got to play better than that. We’ve got to do a better job of finding completions on third down.”
Dallas forced one final three-and-out before the break that allowed the Cowboys’ offense to move in for Bailey’s third field goal, this one from 42 yards. Bailey also made kicks from 21 and 48 yards in the half.
Prescott completed 24 of 39 passes for 268 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Manning was 29 of 38 for 220 yards and one interception.