SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Cowboys top Giants, 19-3

cowboys_giants_dak_prescott_091017.jpg

SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Cowboys top Giants, 19-3

ARLINGTON, Texas  -- Tough guy Jason Witten scored the game's only touchdown while setting another franchise record for the Dallas Cowboys, perhaps the most prestigious yet.

Ezekiel Elliott took care of the tough yards, churning out another 100-yard game two days after learning that his six-game suspension over a domestic violence case is on hold.

While Witten and Elliott helped Dallas produce points, the Cowboys shackled a New York offense missing dynamic receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in a 19-3 victory over the Giants on Sunday night.

"You just enjoy the journey," said Witten, who began his 15th season by breaking Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin's club record of 11,904 yards. "I'm just trying to devour where I am at this moment. It's a great time in my life."

Elliott, last year's NFL rushing leader, had a rugged 104 yards on the ground and another 36 receiving in a game that he knew he would get to play regardless of a federal judge's ruling in his bid to have the NFL's punishment overturned.

"You just have to block it out," said Elliott, who could play the entire season depending on the next legal move by the NFL. "You just have to focus on being the guy I need to be for this team. I think I am good for this locker room."

Dak Prescott was turnover-free while throwing for 268 yards as the Cowboys dominated their NFC East rival that swept them during a 13-3 season that topped the NFC and was fueled by the sensational rookie years for the quarterback-running back duo. Dan Bailey kicked four field goals.

Eli Manning didn't have Beckham in his 200th straight start after his top target sprained his left ankle in a preseason game. The Giants were outgained in the first half 265-49, with just two first downs, while falling behind 16-0.

"We have plenty of players who can make plays on the offense outside of Odell," coach Ben McAdoo said. "That's no excuse."

Manning was 28 of 37 for 211 yards with an interception and connected with new receiver Brandon Marshall just once, late on a desperation drive with the outcome already settled.

Witten scored the Cowboys' first touchdown on a 12-yard catch and finished with seven catches for 59. Witten, already the franchise leader in catches, now has 1,096 receptions for 11,947 yards.

The 35-year-old Witten is the only tight end other than Tony Gonzalez with at least 1,000 catches and 10,000 yards. He broke Irvin's record on an 11-yard catch early in the second quarter.

Elliott had to work for his yards after the crowd cheered loudly when he was introduced and kept up the "Zeke" calls while he made his trademark feed-me gesture after first downs. His biggest play was a 30-yard catch-and-run, easily the most open field he saw against one of the league's best run defenses a year ago.

"I think every person (who is) a part of the Cowboys was lifted by that decision," owner Jerry Jones said of Friday's court ruling. "Although he was playing in this game no matter what, the idea that we could have him for an extended period of time was certainly inspirational."

The Giants had a nearly 10-minute drive to start the second half but settled for Aldrick Rosas' 25-yard field goal after a second-down sack of Manning, Dallas' third of the game and the first of Charles Tapper's career. DeMarcus Lawrence had two sacks for Dallas.

Anthony Brown all but sealed the win for the Cowboys when he was the first to get his hands on a throw from Manning and won a tug-of-war with Roger Lewis Jr. for the interception midway through the fourth quarter.

DID YOU SEE THAT?

Dallas receiver Cole Beasley made a crazy catch in the fourth quarter to keep a drive alive. He got his hand on a wobbly ball as he was approaching the sideline and reached behind his head with his left hand, trapping the ball against his shoulder pads and helmet as he tip-toed inbounds. Beckham seemed impressed , offering a subtle nod.

ELI'S TARGETS

With Beckham missing, running back Shane Vereen led all receivers with nine catches and had 51 yards. Rookie first-round pick Evan Engram, a tight end, had four catches for 44 yards. Second-year receiver Sterling Shepard had seven catches, but for just 44 yards. Lewis had four grabs for 54 yards.

LONG TIME COMING

Jaylon Smith made his debut for Dallas after missing his rookie year recovering from a knee injury in his final game at Notre Dame. He was second to All-Pro Sean Lee with seven tackles and forced the game's only fumble.

INJURIES

Cowboys: CB Orlando Scandrick broke a bone in his hand in the second quarter. The Cowboys are hopeful the injury won't keep him out long.

UP NEXT

Giants: Home against Detroit (1-0) on Monday night next week.

Cowboys: At Denver on Sunday.

Belichick on poor NFL offensive line play: It's hard when you can't practice

patriots_bill_belichick_083117.jpg

Belichick on poor NFL offensive line play: It's hard when you can't practice

FOXBORO -- When the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and NFLPA limited the number of padded practices that teams could organize, it was seen as a win for player safety. And it probably was. But the shortage of padded reps has had other ramifications that is hurting the on-the-field product. 

When Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about what is becoming billed as an offensive-line-play epidemic in the NFL, he told reporters on a conference call Wednesday that it's hard to expect linemen to be able to execute their techniques when the amount of time they have to practice those techniques is so limited.

"I just think in general, fundamentally it’s difficult to play on the offensive and defensive line," Belichick said. "You’re playing a contact position with pads, and you’re practicing it without pads the majority of the time. That usually develops a lot of bad habits, and a lot of the techniques that a player would have the chance to work on and improve with pads, that opportunity just isn’t there without pads. So, it’s hard to improve at those positions when, a lot of times, you’re practicing techniques that are really not the ideal technique or, in some cases, incorrect, and it just develops bad habits, especially on the offensive line.

"I think that . . . without being able to practice, favors the defensive players a little more, whereas the offensive unit has to work together and be able to block things at more of a game tempo with pads and penetration and combination blocks and things like that. It’s just hard to simulate those and hard to get the timing of those when you’re just standing up watching each other without pads on a lot."

The Patriots are in pretty good shape. They have an offensive line unit that returned all five starters from last year's Super Bowl-winning squad. They have two experienced tackles. They have three athletic and intelligent interior offensive linemen. The results in 2017 haven't been perfect, but how many teams around the league would get on their hands and knees and beg for a group like the one in New England?

Take a look at Seattle, where one of the best quarterbacks in the game resides. According to Pro Football Focus, he has the third-worst offensive line in the league when it comes to pass protection, and in two games the Seahawks have scored 21 points. 

The worst pass-blockers in the league? They currently reside in Houston, where starting left tackle Duane Brown is still holding out for a new contract. 

There are multiple factors that are impacting line play in the NFL. Coaching could be one. College players coming into the league from spread programs with no pro-style offense experience could be another. 

But practice time is right up there near the top of the list, if not right at the top, according to Belichick.

"I mean, look, we’re all coaching under the same rules, but I think it’s harder, especially at that position, to improve when you really can’t practice your skill," Belichick said. "It’s like, you go out to the driving range and hit drives and hit balls, but you can’t go on the putting green. And then, to think that your putting is going to be at the same level as your driving when you can’t really practice it, it’s not really realistic.

"But, again, all teams are operating under the same set of rules, so it is what it is. But, it’s hard. It’s hard at that position. It’s hard to tell a guy, ‘This is what you should do,’ but he really can’t go out and practice it."