EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — A good start is what is on the line this time when the New York Giants play host to the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL season opener.
The stakes were much greater the last time the NFC East foes faced off to close the past regular season. New York won to claim the division title en route to the Super Bowl title. Dallas was left out of the postseason.
Tonight at MetLife Stadium, the winner will take the early upper hand in the divisional race.
For Eli Manning and the Super Bowl champion Giants, this will be a chance to silence the critics and detractors who have sounded off repeatedly after they beat the New England Patriots in February to claim their second title in five seasons.
The Giants heard it all. They were lucky to get into the playoffs with a 9-7 record. They really didn’t beat the Packers or 49ers; they were just handed the games.
The goal for Tom Coughlin’s players is to show they have constructed that bridge the 65-year-old coach urged them to build to link their late-season 6-0 run to the title to the 2012 campaign.
“The leadership we have on this football team, that’s going to be the spine of the bridge, if you will,” defensive captain Justin Tuck said. “I think we’re in a good place as far as where we want to be coming into the game.”
The Giants are confident, and they don’t care what outsiders are saying about them.
“We’ve already showed people who we are,” safety Antrel Rolle said. “We can care less about that. We leave that up to spectators. We’re just going out there and playing ball. And that is what it is all about. We can care less about what kind of recognition we are getting or who is crowning us and who is not crowning us. None of that matters coming into the 2012 season.”
Jerry Jones’ Cowboys face a much different task after an 8-8 campaign that ended with a 31-14 loss to the Giants on New Year’s Day.
The outspoken owner, who boasted to fans that his team would kick the Giants’ posteriors in Dallas when the clubs meet a second time this season on Oct. 28, knows the window for the aging Cowboys to return to the franchise’s glory years is fading fast.
“It’s a great opportunity for us is how I look at it,” Jones said of the season opener. “So very meaningful. Everybody has all the appreciation in the world for what we’re up against here, the quality of the team, so to have success up there would be very meaningful.”
New York cornerback Prince Amukamara and Dallas starting nose tackle Jay Ratliff will not play tonight.
The Giants also said Tuesday that defensive tackle Marvin Austin and offensive tackle James Brewer would miss the game with back injuries. Amukamara is out with a sprained ankle suffered in a preseason game on Aug. 24. None of the three practiced this week.
Ratliff (ankle) and rookie safety Matt Johnson (hamstring) won’t play for Dallas, while Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten (spleen) and backup safety Danny McCray are doubtful, meaning they only have a 25 percent chance of playing.
No one on the Giants is doubtful.