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Gramatica delivers winning kick in first game with Cowboys

Dec 4, 2006 - 12:40 AM EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Ticker) -- Coach Bill Parcells has the golden touch when it comes to making switches.

Six days after being signed by Parcells, Martin Gramatica kicked a 46-yard field goal with one second left in the fourth quarter to lift the Dallas Cowboys to a pivotal 23-20 victory over the New York Giants.

The win was the fourth in a row for the Cowboys (8-4) and moved them two games ahead of the Giants (6-6), who have dropped four straight, in the NFC East.

"It's hard to believe," Gramatica said. "The guys welcomed me with open arms so I felt right at home and I think that helps a lot when you are coming in late in a year to a team that you haven't been with."

Two major moves by Parcells helped steer the Cowboys to the top of the division. The first came when he switched from veteran Drew Bledsoe to untested Tony Romo as the starting quarterback after a 36-22 loss to the Giants on October 23

Since then, the Cowboys have gone 5-1. But Parcells didn't stop at just changing quarterbacks. Last Monday, he cut kicker Mike Vanderjagt and signed Gramatica, who was cut in preseason by New England and played briefly earlier this season for Indianapolis when Adam Vinatieri was injured.

In his first game with the Cowboys, Gramatica made 3-of-4 field goal attempts, including the game-winner.

"You know his first game back in the league for a while and that kick, you know you can't get more pressure than that for the division lead," Parcells said. "He did a good job. I told him he was making me look good."

"For a guy who hadn't been kicking with regularity, it was a difficult thing to do," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.

Gramatica was wide right from 44 yards on his first attempt as a Cowboy, but then made kicks of 41 yards and 35 yards before delivering the fifth game-winning kick of his career.

Gramatica is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' all-time scoring leader with 591 points, but was cut in 2004. Since then, he has been unable to stay with one team for any extended period of time.

"It's been a rough couple of years for me," Gramatica said. "Being out all last year and then not making any teams this year. I've got to thank the Cowboys for giving me a second chance."

The winning field goal was set up by a 42-yard pass by Romo to Jason Witten.

An undrafted rookie free agent from Division I-AA Eastern Illinois in 2003, Romo added another chapter to his remarkable season after not throwing a pass in his first three years with the Cowboys. On November 19, he outplayed two-time MVP Peyton Manning in the fourth quarter of a 21-14 win over Indianapolis. Then on Thanksgiving, Romo tied a franchise record with five touchdown passes in a 38-10 victory over Tampa Bay.

Now it was Romo's turn to direct a game-winning drive in the final minute and he responded to the challenge, rolling to his left and lofting a perfect 42-yard pass over the middle to Witten, who got behind linebacker Antonio Pierce and safety Will Demps.

"I was able to roll a little bit to the left and the backside corner started to fall off," Romo said. "So I saw Witten going to the seam and he actually turned over to the left corner, which was a great instinctive move on his part."

"He (Romo) kind of scrambled and I kept on running," Witten said. "He threw it up there and gave me a chance. I think he knew that I was going to be able to go and get it."

Eli Manning had a superb game for New York, completing 24-of-36 passes for 270 yards and two touchdowns with zero turnovers. But his performance was overshadowed by Romo's winning drive.

"I think we played better football tonight than we have in the past," said Manning, who had six interceptions in the Giants' previous three losses. "We played four complete quarters, but we had some bad plays. We played well against a good team. They are playing about as good football of anyone right now and we were a few plays away from a win."

The Giants tied the game, 20-20, when Manning hit Plaxico Burress with a five-yard touchdown pass with 1:06 left in the game. It capped a seven-play, 63-yard drive which featured a 28-yard pass from Manning to running back Tiki Barber.

Romo had passed for 10 touchdowns with just two interceptions in his previous five starts. He was not quite as sharp on Sunday, completing 20-of-34 for 257 yards with two interceptions.

"Anytime you go on the road against a division opponent you know it's not going to go smoothly," Romo said. "We made mistakes today. I know I did. You just have to have a chance to do something at the end of the game to win."

Parcells praised Romo for directing two fourth-quarter touchdown drives.

"He (Romo) did not have his best day but he got us down the field when it counted and that's all I'm going to say about him," Parcells said.

Marion Barber rushed for two touchdowns for Dallas, raising his conference-leading total to 11 rushing scores.

Barber's second touchdown - a seven-yard run - came with 3:33 left and snapped a 13-13 tie. Romo completed 5-of-7 passes for 49 yards during the drive. Terrell Owens caught three of the passes for 28 yards.

Manning then went 6-for-6 for 59 yards on the ensuing drive, capping it with his five-yard lob in the end zone to Burress.

Manning's first scoring pass was a 17-yarder to tight end Jeremy Shockey with 4:39 left in the first quarter.

But the Giants reached the Dallas 4 twice in the second half and ended up settling for field goals of 23 and 22 yards by Jay Feely.

"We let too many opportunities slip away," Manning said. "We need to do a better job of finishing off drives."

Marion Barber scored on a one-yard run with 1:28 left in the first quarter and Gramatica kicked a 41-yard field goal with one second remaining in the second quarter to give the Cowboys a 10-7 lead at the half.

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