| IRVING, Texas (AP) -- Amani Toomer broke several tackles and sprinted down the sideline to turn a short pass from Eli Manning into a 52-yard touchdown reception and give the New York Giants an early 7-0 lead over the Dallas Cowboys in the first quarter of Sunday's NFC divisional playoff.
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For the Cowboys, this playoff game is as much for a spot in the NFC championship game as it is a fork in the road for quarterback Tony Romo's reputation. And there's a steep difference between the paths.
Get the win and it'll be the first of his postseason career, the best medicine for the sting of last year's loss in Seattle when he bungled the hold of a chip-shot field goal. Another reward: A spot in the Super Bowl play-in game against Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers, the quarterback and team he grew up watching.
A playoff win also would be a first for coach Wade Phillips, validating Jerry Jones' decision to hire him and Phillips' treat-them-like-men approach that has worked so well all season but come under scrutiny this week -- mainly because of Romo's off-field activities.
Most of all, a win would be the Cowboys' first in the postseason since Dec. 28, 1996. Ending that drought would make Jones feel even better about the $68.5 million contract he gave Romo a few months ago. Having another home game will help pay for it, too.
If Dallas loses, Romo will be 0-2 in the playoffs, Phillips will be 0-4 and the franchise-worst postseason skid will drag to 12 seasons and counting. The Cowboys' 13-3 regular season will have been nothing but a tease.
Manning, Tom Coughlin and the Giants are looking forward to this game, too, especially after relieving their own playoff pressure by beating Tampa Bay last weekend.
Manning did an efficient job en route to his first playoff win after two straight first-round losses. It also gave him some family bragging rights -- big brother Peyton didn't win a playoff game until his sixth season; this is Eli's fourth.
The win also likely helped Coughlin get a new contract. His agent said this week talks are on hold until after the playoffs, but it's always a good sign when the issue is "when", not "if." (Jones, meanwhile, held a news conference Thursday partly to shoot down talk of Phillips getting fired if Dallas loses.)
The big knock against New York is the quality of its wins. Last weekend's road win over a division champion is a good one, but not great considering Tampa Bay wound up 9-8. The Giants beat only one other team that finished with a winning record: Washington, also 9-8.
Still, it's impressive that the Giants have won eight straight road games since losing the season opener, way back on Sept. 9 -- at Texas Stadium.
Now they're back for the first postseason game between clubs that have met 91 times, the last three won by Dallas after a 4-1 streak by New York.
History favors Dallas.
The NFC's No. 1 seed has won 17 straight division-round games and teams that have swept two regular-season meetings are 11-6 the third time.
New York's strength is a pass rush that produced an NFL-best 53 sacks, yet the Giants got to Romo only twice in two games. He also threw for 592 yards and eight touchdowns.
Dallas comes in rested and healthy, with the notable exception of Terrell Owens' high ankle sprain. Even if T.O. is not at full strength, Terry Glenn is ready to go after two knee operations. Should both receivers prove to be viable threats, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett might pull out plays he hasn't called all year. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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