Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

December 27, 2018 at 1:43 am.

Giants want to end on winning note

The last time the New York Giants met the Cowboys, these teams had different makeups and were in much different places.

The Giants were two weeks into the regular season with a new coaching staff and a roster that had been significantly turned over, a turnover process that continued even in the following weeks. Meanwhile, the Cowboys had said goodbye to both their long-time star tight end, Jason Witten, who had retired, and they had cut Dez Bryant, their No. 1 receiver in the offseason.

These days, the two NFC East opponents are still in different places. The Cowboys have locked up the NFC East title while the Giants are going home after Sunday’s game, the best they can hope for being a 6-10 record.

But Giants head coach Pat Shurmur and his players feel like the arrow is pointing up to where maybe they stand a chance at sending the Cowboys into the playoffs with a loss.

“I think we’re a better team than we were back then,” Shurmur said when asked what’s the biggest differences between his team now and his team in Week 2.

“We’ve sustained some injuries the last couple of weeks, but I do think that all teams kind of morph a little bit as the season goes on. You start to do the things you do well more. Some of the things you didn’t do well early, you don’t do anymore. And again, for guys in their first year, getting the feel for the players, so you change certainly. There’s something to be gained by watching the film because schemes pretty much are the same, but I think we’re both different teams now.”

“We’ve grown. We’ve learned from a lot of mistakes we’ve had,” added safety and special teams co-captain Michael Thomas on the biggest difference between the Giants of Week 2 and those of Week 17.

“Guys have had a lot of opportunities and we try to take advantage of it. Obviously, we didn’t convert a lot of those games into wins and been in them, competed, but there’s no prize for almost. We got to get better with that, we got to learn how to win, learn how to finish games, but that’s what this last game is for. We’re going to continue to work with each other, continue to go hard, and we’re going to improve.”

Meanwhile down in Dallas, a big reason for the Cowboys turnaround has been the addition of receiver Amari Cooper, whom the Cowboys acquired in a trade with the Raiders.

Cooper has converted 36 of 48 receptions (75 percent) for first downs since being acquired by the Cowboys. That puts him third in the league among receivers who have a minimum of 25 receptions since Week 8.

“Yeah, they’ve added a dynamic playmaker at receiver,” Shurmur said. “Certainly, their offense runs through their quarterback (Dak Prescott) and their running back (Ezekiel Elliott).

“Ezekiel Elliott gets yards when he runs the ball and the play-action feeds off of that, so when you add a dynamic playmaker on the outside, from a defensive standpoint, you have to defend everything. They’ve made big plays now with him in the lineup.”

Not that Cooper’s presence has the Giants quaking in their cleats that much. While they respect what the receiver has done for the Cowboys offense, Thomas said the defense is hard at work in formulating a game plan to limit the impact Cooper, Prescott, Elliott and the rest of the Cowboys’ offense might have on the game.

“I expect them to play their game. We’re going to go out here, we’re going to execute. Whoever lines up out there we’re going to go out there and try to put something good on tape,” he said.

“I don’t know what to expect from them — they already won the division and they’re in the playoffs, but whoever plays, we’re going to be ready for them.”

SERIES HISTORY: 113th regular-season meeting. Cowboys lead series, 65-42-2. The Giants are looking to avoid being swept in the season series for the second year in a row and the fourth time since 2012.