50 Seasons Series
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Review each year in the history of the Dallas Cowboys, starting with the planning stages in 1959 and through the present day.
Roger Staubach had already been a Super Bowl MVP by the 1972 season, but his status as a miracle worker began in the 1972 playoffs. Exactly one month after losing 31-10 to the San Francisco 49ers, the Cowboys had to travel to San Francisco for a divisional playoff game.
After three quarters, the Cowboys trailed 28-13. Staubach replaced an ineffective Craig Morton with 1:48 remaining in the third quarter. Staubach did not have a great fourth quarter overall, but a 48-yard run by Calvin Hill early in the fourth quarter set up a Toni Fritsch field goal. Dallas still could not move the ball consistently, though, and trailed 28-16 with 1:53 remaining in the game. 49er fans started leaving at that point.
After a short punt, Dallas got the ball back at its own 45. Staubach went to work, driving the ball to the 20-yard line. With Staubach calling his own plays, he hit Billy Parks from 20 yards out to cut the 49er lead to 28-23.
The Cowboys needed a successful onside kick and got it. Backup linebacker Ralph Coleman hit Preston Riley and knocked the ball loose. Mel Renfro fell on the ball, giving the Cowboys new life.
Staubach ran up the middle for a 21-yard gain, giving Dallas the ball at the San Francisco 29. Staubach then hit Parks for 19 yards to the San Francisco 10. On the next play, Staubach hit Ron Sellers on a hook for a touchdown.
Like the 49ers would nine years later in the 1981 NFC Championship Game, San Francisco still had a chance in the waning seconds. However, Charlie Waters intercepted a John Brodie pass to give Dallas the 30-28 win.
Staubach: “IT’S JUST unbelievable. I knew we had time to score
but things just kept going wrong. But … you can’t give up. Can you?”
never been this excited. I’ve never seen us so emotional.
I guess we weren’t as emotional in the Super Bowl win because we could
see it coming the entire last quarter. This one kind of … well, burst
For several years, the Dallas Cowboys were known for strong starts and strong finishes. After beginning the 1972 season at 5-2, the Cowboys entered the second half of the season trying to catch up to the Washington Redskins.
Dallas never quite got there. Even with a late-season win over the Redskins was not enough to make up the gap, as Washington finished a game ahead of the Cowboys. It marked the first time since the NFL organized teams into divisions in 1967 that the Cowboys had not been division champions. Nevertheless, the Cowboys still qualified for the playoffs
Week 8: Dallas 34, San Diego 28
Dallas record: 6-2
This game was very nearly the worst collapse in team history. Dallas raced out to a 31-0 lead, thanks to touchdown runs by Walt Garrison and Craig Morton, as well as a touchdown pass from Morton to Mike Ditka. However, San Diego quarterback threw four touchdowns in just over a quarter. Several players in the Dallas secondary were burned on long passing plays, but the Cowboys held on for the win.
Former Cowboy Duane Thomas suited up for the Chargers. His stats: 0 att., 0 yards.
Week 9: Dallas 33, St. Louis 24
Dallas record: 7-2
The Cowboys once again jumped out to a huge lead and led 30-10 in the second half. And once again, the Cowboys watched their opponent come back. The Cardinals scored 14 second half points, but the Cowboys held on for the win. Dallas finished with 230 rushing yards.
Week 10: Dallas 28, Philadelphia 7
Dallas record: 8-2
Calvin Hill had exactly 100 rushing yards, helping Dallas to a 28-7 win over the Eagles. The Cowboys improved to 8-2 but still trailed the Redskins by a game.
Week 11: San Francisco 31, Dallas 10
Dallas record: 8-3
The 49ers avenged their losses to Dallas in the 1970 and 1971 NFC Championship Games by beating the Cowboys in week 11. The game was only 14-10 at the half, but Dallas could not score in the second half. Dallas committed four turnovers in the second half.
Week 12: Dallas 27, St. Louis 6
Dallas record: 9-3
Dallas had another great rushing game, gaining 209 yards on the ground. Calvin Hill gained 120 of those yards in the win, which gave the Cowboys a 9-3 record heading into the rematch with the Redskins.
Week 13: Dallas 34, Washington 24
Dallas record: 10-3
For the fifth time during the 1972 season (vs. Washington, Detroit, San Diego, and St. Louis), the Cowboys jumped out to a big lead, but watched the lead vanish in the second half. The Cowboys held a 28-3 lead in the first half thanks to two touchdowns by Calvin Hill and other touchdowns by Walt Garrison and Craig Morton. Washington, though, pulled to within a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Dallas, however, held on for the win.
Calvin Hill became the first 1,000-yard rusher in team history during this game.
Week 14: N.Y. Giants 23, Dallas 3
Dallas record: 10-4
The Cowboys could not win the NFC East even with a win and a Washington loss. So the Cowboys barely showed up for the season finale. Calvin Hill left the game with an injury, and Dallas only managed 132 total yards of offense.
Final NFC East Standings, 1972
N.Y. Giants, 8-6
St. Louis, 4-9-1
Box Scores (Pro Football Reference)
Game Summaries (Dallas Morning News)
1972 Cowboys (DallasCowboys.com)
The Cowboys had a number of offensive woes at the start of the 1972 season. Bob Hayes and Lance Alworth struggled, as did quarterback Craig Morton. Dallas overcame these problems with a strong running game and a couple of lesser known receivers named Ron Sellers (#88, shown above) and Billy Parks.
At midseason, the Cowboys were 5-2, though one of those losses came to the 6-1 Redskins. For the rest of the 1972 season, Dallas chased Washington.
Week 1: Dallas (0-0) 28, Philadelphia 6
The Cowboys forced four turnovers and gained 154 rushing yards in a 28-6 win over Philadelphia. Craig Morton threw two touchdowns, including one to Ron Sellers and another to Lance Alworth. Morton would have had a big one early in the game, but Bob Hayes dropped an easy one on what would have been an 81-yard touchdown.
Week 2: Dallas (1-0) 23, N.Y. Giants 14
New York receiver gained 175 yards through the air, but the Cowboys managed to pull out the win. Walt Garrison scored an early touchdown, and Dallas put the game away in the fourth quarter when Morton hit Alworth on a three-yard pass.
Week 3: Green Bay 16, Dallas (2-0) 13
Dallas held the Packers to 53 passing yards, but three Craig Morton interceptions along with two fumbles killed the Cowboys. Green Bay’s Chester Marcol hit two field goals in the second half to give the Packers the win.
Week 4: Dallas (2-1) 17, Pittsburgh 13
The upstart Steelers jumped out to a 13-3 lead, but the Cowboys came back. A Calvin Hill touchdown cut the Steeler lead to 13-10 at the half. Hill became a passer in the second half when he hit Ron Sellers on a 55-yard score in the third quarter. Dallas needed no more and held on to a 17-13 win.
Week 5: Dallas (3-1) 21, Baltimore 0
Johnny Unitas was the quarterback of the Colts, but this was an old, broken-down version of the Baltimore squad. The Dallas defense held Baltimore to 175 total yards. Calvin Hill scored two touchdowns, and Ron Sellers added a third, giving Dallas a 21-0 win.
Week 6: Washington 24, Dallas (4-1) 20
Walt Garrison scored a touchdown in the third quarter to give Dallas a 20-7 lead in the third quarter. However, touchdown runs by Larry Brown and Charlie Harraway helped the Redskins to a 24-20 win. Ron Sellers caught another touchdown, his fourth of the season.
Week 7: Dallas (4-2) 28, Detroit 24
Craig Morton threw three touchdown passes, including tosses to Billy Parks, Calvin Hill, and Mike Montgomery, to lead Dallas to a win over the Lions. It looked as if the Cowboys may blow a 21-7 lead in the game, but Morton’s TD to Montgomery was enough to give Dallas the win.
NFC East Standings After Week 7
N.Y. Giants (4-3)
St. Louis (2-5)
Box Scores (Pro Football Reference)
Game Summaries (Dallas Morning News)
1972 Cowboys (DallasCowboys.com)
The 1972 preesason began with an inauspicious start when Roger Staubach was knocked out of the Cowboys’ game against the College All-Stars. The Cowboys won the game 20-7 but lost Roger Staubach in the process when he was knocked out cold (the picture above shows QB Pat Sullivan celebrating the All-Stars’ lone touchdown; more on the 1972 college all-star game here).
Two weeks later, Staubach suffered a more serious injury when he separated his shoulder. He acknowledged after the game that he should have switched to larger shoulder pads, but he simply forgot to make the change. His injury meant that Craig Morton would jump back into the starting role, as Staubach would be out for more of the 1972 season.
The backup role presented a problem, which Dallas solved by asking Dan Reeves to rejoin the team as an active player. Reeves had retired in February due to bad knees, but he returned for one final season.
It turns out the Dallas also could have used Reeves at running back as well. Duane Thomas made more of a fuss about his contract, and the Cowboys finally got rid of him. The Cowboys traded Thomas to San Diego on August 1 in exchange for receiver Billy Parks and running back Mike Montgomery. Neither Parks nor Montgomery set the world on fire in Dallas, but they were more productive than Thomas was in San Diego. Thomas never played a down with the Chargers, but he got to watch the Cowboys play the Chargers from the bench in November. Below is a shot of Thomas on the bench during this game.
The Dallas offense had a very different look in 1972, as age also took a toll on some of the skill players. During their Hall-of-Fame careers, Bob Hayes and Lance Alworth combined had 913 receptions for 17,680 yards. In 1972, they combined for only 30 receptions and 395 yards. Former Patriot Ron Sellers led receivers in receptions with 31, thus outproducing the combined total of Alworth and Hayes.
On the bright side, Calvin Hill had a remarkable season, becoming the first member of the Cowboys to gain more than 1,000 yards rushing. He also led the team in receptions with 43.
Two other players at the end of the road were tight ends Mike Ditka (17 rec., 198 yards) and Billy Truax (4 rec., 49 yards).
Just days before the 1972 NFL Draft, Dallas running back Duane Thomas was arrested with his brother Bertrand for marijuana possession. With quite a bit of talk focused on whether the Cowboys would trade Duane, Dallas decided to pick another Thomas with the last pick of the first round of the draft.
Bill Thomas of Boston College was a surprise pick for Dallas. He did not last long with the Cowboys. He was injured in training camp and only played part of one season. Dallas traded him to Houston in 1973, and he was out of the league by 1975.
Dallas also went with a running back in the second round. The Cowboys had much better luck with Robert Newhouse, who remained with the team for 12 seasons.
The only other player worth noting in the 1972 draft was tight end Jean Fugett, who remained with the team for four seasons before being traded to Washington.
|1||Bill Thomas||RB||Boston College||Dallas, 1972; Houston,
1973; Kansas City, 1974
|2||Robert Newhouse||RB||Houston||Dallas, 1972-1983|
|2||John Babinecz||LB||Villanova||Dallas, 1972-1973; Chicago,
|3||Mike Keller||LB||Michigan||Dallas, 1972|
|3||Marv Bateman||P||Utah||Dallas, 1972-1974; Buffalo,
|4||Tim Kearney||LB||Northern Michigan||Cincinnati, 1972-1974;
Kansas City, 1975; St. Louis, 1976-1981
|4||Robert West||WR||San Diego State||Kansas City, 1972-1973; San
|4||Charlie Zapiec||LB||Penn State||n/a|
|8||Ralph Coleman||LB||North Carolina A&T||Dallas, 1972|
|10||Richard Amman||DE||Florida State||Baltimore, 1972-1973|
|11||Lonnie Leonard||DE||North Carolina A&T||n/a|
|12||Jimmy Harris||WR||Ohio State||n/a|
|13||Jean Fugett||TE||Amherst||Dallas, 1972-1975;
Grade the 1972 Draft.
My grade: C-
Picking Thomas in the first round was a stretch, and when he was injured early, he turned out to be a waste. John Babinecz was another player whose career was cut short due to injury.
On the other hand, Newhouse was a solid player for a long time. He could not match the talent of Calvin Hill or Duane Thomas, but he was serviceable.
During the post-game interviews following Super Bowl VI, one of the comments Roger Staubach made was that he wanted to start calling the plays.
Just weeks after SB VI, Tom Landry addressed the issue, saying:
I’m sure Roger would love to call his own plays. But we won’t change the pattern we’ve been winning with. If he can move in there and take over at training camp and in the pre-season games then he will call them. Otherwise, we won’t change.
The Cowboys had other concerns as well. Some key members of the championship team were beginning to show their age, and the team was starting to make plans to replace them.
One player was Herb Adderley, the former Packer who had been with Dallas for two seasons. He led the team with six interceptions in 1971, but the 1972 season would be his 12th. Charlie Waters was the leading candidate to replace Adderley.
Another player of concern was linebacker Chuck Howley, who turned 36 before the 1972 season. Dallas had a solid backup in D.D. Lewis, but Howley would be tough to replace.
Running back Dan Reeves announced his retirement in February 1972 (though he came back to play once the regular season began). Landry was stacked at running back, with Duane Thomas, Calvin Hill, and Walt Garrison.
Thomas, of course, wasn’t going to last long in Dallas.
This post is part of the 50 Seasons in 50 Weeks Series.
Relying heavily once again on its dominant defense, the 1971 Dallas Cowboys smothered the upstart Miami Dolphins and won Super Bowl VI by a score of 24-3 on January 16, 1972 at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans.
Miami only managed 185 yards in total offense. One of the most famous plays of the game, and one of the most famous defensive plays of all time, occurred on the final play of the first quarter. Bob Lilly and Larry Cole chased Miami quarterback Bob Griese for several seconds before Lilly finally recorded the sack. The Dolphins lost 29 yards on the play.
Roger Staubach won the Most Valuable Player award thanks to a solid (though not spectacular) day. He threw for 119 yards and two touchdowns. Duane Thomas led the rushing attack by gaining 95 yards on the ground. As a team, the Cowboys gained 252 rushing yards.
The full replay of the game is available as part of the Greatest Games DVD set. Here are a couple of clips.
Part of the Second Quarter (showing Staubach’s touchdown pass to Lance Alworth):
Box Score (Pro Football Reference)
Dallas Morning News Story: Super Cowboys Bowl ‘Em Over
Play by Play (USA Today)
Tom Landry came to the Dallas Cowboys as a defensive genius, and it was his defense that led the team to the top of the mountain in 1971. In two NFC playoff games in 1971, the Doomsday Defense caused a total of eight turnovers, helping the Cowboys to earn a trip to Super Bowl VI.
In three games overall, the Cowboys only allowed one touchdown. And that one touchdown came late in the divisional round matchup with the Minnesota Vikings. In three playoff games, including Super Bowl VI, the Cowboys gave up a total of 18 points.
Here is a look at the two NFC playoff games.
Divisional Round, December 25, 1971: Dallas 20, Minnesota 12
The temperature of the Dallas-Minnesota game was supposed to be around 10 degrees, bringing back memories of the Ice Bowl of 1967 (thus, the picture above of Mel Renfro and Bob Hayes). Instead, the game held on Christmas Day of 1971 was played when the temperature was a more balmy 30 degrees.
The Dallas offense managed only 183 total yards, but the offense did enough. The defense forced five Viking turnovers, including four interceptions. Dallas scored on a touchdown run by Duane Thomas and a touchdown pass from Roger Staubach to Bob Hayes. The two touchdown broke open a 6-3 game in the third quarter. The Vikings managed a safety and a late touchdown, but the outcome was not in doubt at that point.
Our defense was super. It was the best defense we’ve
played all year. The statistics may not be real impressive but we got
ahead (20-3) and laid back a little and let them have the turn-ins and
stuff like that.
1971 NFC Championship Game, January 2, 1972: Dallas 14, San Francisco 3
The Cowboys gained 172 yards on the ground on 46 carries, and the defense was again impressive, as Dallas beat San Francisco for the second consecutive season in the NFC championship game. The Dallas Morning News described the game as “a day at the office.”
Roger Staubach only had 103 yards passing, but he led the team with 55 rushing yards. Calvin Hill and Duane Thomas scored the two touchdowns, which were all the Cowboys needed. The defense held the 49ers to 239 yards of offense and forced three San Francisco turnovers.
With the win, the Cowboys were set to take on the Miami Dolphins in the Super Bowl. Regarding the game, Bob St. John wrote:
This time the Super Bowl, what the NFL is all about these days, means
the Cowboys against the Miami Dolphins, a newcomer. These are the NFL’s
two glamour teams this season and it seems a fitting match.
This post is part of the 50 Seasons in 50 Weeks Series.
After the Cowboys lost to the Bears in week 7 of the 1971 season, Dallas was two games behind the Redskins, who had already beaten the Cowboys. The Cowboys could not afford to lose to the Cardinals in week 8.
During the week before the St. Louis game, Tom Landry announced that Roger Staubach would be the principal starter. Although Craig Morton had been a quality starter, he had struggled in 1971, managing only seven touchdowns compared with eight interceptions. Staubach, by comparison, had 15 touchdowns compared with only four interceptions. A comparison of the passer ratings (using the modern calculation) of the two quarterbacks was no contest: Staubach – 104.8; Morton – 73.5.
A second development also benefited the Cowboys. Duane Thomas’ trade to the New England Patriots was nullified by the league, and Thomas returned to the Cowboys. He played in weeks 4 through 7, but he had not stood out yet. Against the Cardinals, Thomas carried the ball 26 times and had his first of two 100-yard games. Thomas finished the season with 11 touchdowns in 11 games.
The last development was the dominance of the Doomsday Defense. In the final seven games of the 1971 season, Dallas gave up more than 300 yards of total offense just one time (vs. L.A.). The defense forced a total of 24 turnovers in the final seven games, compared with only 10 turnovers committed by the offense.
Here are some resources about the 1971 Cowboys:
Box Scores (Pro Football Reference)
Week 8: Dallas 16, St. Louis 13
Dallas record: 5-3
The Cowboys saved their season by beating the Cardinals in St. Louis. The Cardinals had a 10-3 lead in the first half, but Dallas was able to tie the game in the second half thanks to a touchdown pass from Staubach to tight end Mike Ditka. With less than two minutes remaining, newly-acquired kicker Toni Fritsch nailed a 26-yard field goal, giving Dallas the 16-13 win.
Duane Thomas had 101 yards on 26 carries. And Tom Landry stayed true to his word, sticking with Staubach for the entire game.
Week 9: Dallas 20, Philadelphia 7
Dallas record: 6-3
Two Duane Thomas touchdowns were enough to give the Cowboys a 20-7 win over the Eagles. With Washington losing to the Bears, the Cowboys were only a half-game behind the Redskins.
Week 10: Dallas 13, Washington 0
Dallas record: 7-3
Dallas traveled to Washington with the NFC East lead on the line, and the Cowboys dominated in a shutout win. Roger Staubach scored the sole touchdown of the game on a 29-yard run, but the real story focused on the defense, which shut down the Redskins in the biggest game of the regular season.
Week 11: Dallas 28, Los Angeles 21
Dallas record: 8-3
The Cowboys fell behind early to the Rams, who were fighting to stay in the playoff chase. Roger Staubach threw touchdown passes to Bob Hayes and Lance Alworth, but L.A. was able to tie the game in the third quarter. Up to that point, the Cowboys had outplayed the Rams, but three L.A. turnovers helped keep the game close. Dallas took the lead for good on a five-yard run by Duane Thomas in the fourth quarter.
Rookie Ike Thomas only returned seven kickoffs in 1971, but he returned two for touchdowns. He opened this game with an 89-yard TD return.
Week 12: Dallas 52, New York Jets 10
Dallas record: 9-3
Ike Thomas opened yet another game with a touchdown on a kickoff returning, bringing back the opening kickoff 101 yards. Calvin Hill scored two receiving touchdowns and a rushing touchdown, helping Dallas to race to a 38-3 halftime lead. Duane Thomas rushed for 112 yards in the game, which was the biggest blowout of the 1971 season.
Week 13: Dallas 42, N.Y. Giants 14
Dallas record 10-3
Staubach hit Bob Hayes on touchdown passes of 46 and 85 yards, helping Dallas to a 28-0 lead over the Giants. The Cowboys put up 439 yards of total offense, marking the fifth time in 1971 that the team surpassed 400 total yards in a game.
Week 14: Dallas 31, St. Louis 12
Dallas record: 11-3
Duane Thomas scored three touchddowns, helping the Cowboys to overcome a sloppy game against the Cardinals to end the regular season. Dallas committed four turnovers, including three fumbles, but the game was never in doubt.
1971 Final Standings, NFC East
St. Louis, 4-9-1
N.Y. Giants, 4-10
1971 Playoff Schedule
Saturday, December 25: Dallas (11-3) at Minnesota (11-3)
Saturday, December 25: Miami (10-3-1) at Kansas City (10-3-1)
Sunday, December 26: Baltimore (10-4) at Cleveland (9-5)
Sunday, December 26: Washington (9-4-1) at San Francisco (9-5)
Given that the first and second halves of the 1971 regular season were completely different stories, we will cover the season in two parts.
During weeks 1 through 7, Dallas coach Tom Landry struggled with his choice of leader at quarterback. Even more so than the story of Duane Thomas, the alternation of Roger Staubach and Craig Morton at quarterback is what dominated the storyline of the ’71 Cowboys, who stood at 4-3 midway through the 1971 season.
Week 1: Dallas 49, Buffalo 37
Dallas record: 1-0
The Cowboys opened the 1971 season by beating the Buffalo Bills in a wild one. With Roger Staubach injured, Craig Morton started the game. Morton completed 10 of 14 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns, including a 76-yarder to Bob Hayes in the second quarter. Calvin Hill rushed for a total of four touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter, giving Dallas a 49-37 win.
Tom Landry’s comment after the game: “Whew. It could have been worse.”
Week 2: Dallas 42, Philadelphia 7
Dallas record: 2-0
The Eagles threw a total of seven interceptions against the Cowboys, who raced out to a 21-0 halftime lead and never looked back. Morton was solid again, throwing for two touchdowns, including a four-yarder to Walt Garrison (shown above). Calvin Hill added 80 yards rushing and another touchdown on the ground. Bob Lilly also scored by returning a fumble for a touchdown, marking Lilly’s fourth and final TD as a pro.
Herb Adderley had his best day as a Cowboy, intercepting three passes.
Week 3: Washington 20, Dallas 16
Dallas record: 2-1
In the rain at the Cotton Bowl, the Cowboys could not overcome a 20-9 deficit and lost to the Redskins. Craig Morton and Roger Staubach shared time at quarterback, but both struggled. Washington gained 200 yards on the ground, which was remarkable given that the Dallas defense gave up more than 100 rushing yards only three times all season.
Week 4: Dallas 20, N.Y. Giants 13
Dallas record: 3-1
With Morton struggling against the Giants in week 3, Tom Landry decided to start Staubach in week 4 on Monday Night Football against the Giants. Staubach led Dallas to a 13-6 halftime lead, but Landry decided to start Morton in the second half. Though the Cowboys won the game, the confusion at the QB position began.
Staubach threw a touchdown pass to Billy Truax in the second quarter, marking the only touchdown Truax scored with Dallas. Bob Hayes also caught a touchdown pass, a 48-yarder from Morton in the second half.
The game was the team’s finale in the Cotton Bowl, as the Cowboys played their next home game in the brand new Texas Stadium.
Week 5: New Orleans 24, Dallas 14
Dallas record: 3-2
Both Staubach and Morton saw action against New Orleans. Even though the Saints only managed 157 yards in total offense (compared with 300 yards for the Cowboys), Dallas lost 24-14. The Cowboys turned the ball over six times, including three fumbles and three interceptions (two by Morton and one by Staubach).
According to DMN writer Bob St. John:
This is the highlight of Saint history. The first time the team has ever
beaten the hated Cowboys. On the other hand, it might be the low-light
of Cowboy history.
Week 6: Dallas 44, New England 21
Dallas record: 4-2
The Cowboys opened Texas Stadium on October 24, 1971 by routing the New England Patriots, 44-21. Staubach started the game and took every meaningful snap. He completed 13 of 21 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns. The game was over by halftime, with Dallas leading 34-7, and Morton did not play until the fourth quarter.
Week 7: Chicago 23, Dallas 19
Dallas record: 4-3
Notwithstanding Staubach’s success against the Patriots, Landry decided to alternate his two quarterbacks on every play of the week 7 game against the Bears. The results were disasterous as the Cowboys turned the ball over seven times. The Cowboys managed 344 passing yards, but Morton and Staubach combined for four interceptions.
NFC East Standings (after Week 7)
With the loss to the Bears, the Cowboys were 4-3 at midseason and were two full games behind the Redskins.
Washington Redskins, 6-1
Dallas Cowboys, 4-3
St. Louis Cardinals, 3-4
Philadelphia Eagles, 2-5
New York Giants, 2-5