EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Big-eyed banter and exuberant expressions rolled between tight end James Hanna, receiver Devin Street and running backs Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar just inside the Dallas locker room. The Cowboys had risen to embarrass the Giants, 31-28, Sunday night at MetLife Stadium.
But this Cowboys quartet chose to re-hash a few Odell Beckham Jr. moments.
Especially that one-handed one.
"Man, that s**t right there, I've never seen that before!" Hanna said of Beckham's mesmerizing catch that is already NFL legend. Hanna leaned his arm way back. "Man, he caught that ball way behind his head!"
The other three nodded in agreement. One of them muttered that Beckham was his size, maybe a little smaller. They all nodded at that.
It was a playful exchange which only made their night more fun. The real joy for Dallas was moving to an 8-3 record and dropping the Giants to an opposite, 3-8 mark, while giving their NFC East rivals a sixth-straight loss. The Cowboys erased deficits of 14-3 and 21-10 and 28-24 in winning at the Giants for the fourth time in their last five visits. They beat the Giants for the fifth time in their last six meetings overall.
Beckham stole the show -- but Dez Bryant stole the game.
It was Bryant's 13-yard touchdown catch from Tony Romo with 1:01 left that lifted Dallas to victory and propelled them toward their next challenge -- a Thanksgiving Day clash against the Philadelphia Eagles (8-3) for sole possession of first place in the NFC East.
The Cowboys look grown up. Where they used to shrivel, they stand firm.
Where they used to produce turnovers, they manufacture touchdowns.
Their offensive line is beastly. Their quarterback is seasoned. Their running back, DeMarco Murray, is patient, fast, slick and delivers.
Bryant seems to push things over the top.
Like Beckham, he has the "it factor" at receiver, that wow, the thing that can make teams sing. Beckham is a rookie receiver. Bryant is in his fifth pro season.
Bryant plays the game more polished now, more determined, more hungry, more confident. He looks like a player who has survived self-reflection, a re-boot. He is not afraid to play physical football nor, certainly, fast-track football. His eyes are wide open and his heart is all in it.
He epitomizes the Cowboys.
They are playing like a team that, after three consecutive 8-8 seasons, yearns to be far more than average. A team demanding it moves beyond that. A team where three years of 8-8 have resulted in mind games, built pure anguish and frustration for the Cowboys.
They are letting it out.
"That dude (Beckham), he loves the game, you can tell by the way he bounces around the field," Bryant said. "You have to give him credit. But what it boils down to for a team is staying alive. How much you want to win the game? We wanted this game. We were willing to do everything it took to win it. That's why we kept coming back. That's what makes us different.
"You are talking about a team that has some mental toughness now. It's battle-tested. And we are playing for each other. That goes a long way."
You kept hearing this message over and over in the Dallas locker room, from tight end Jason Witten to kick returner Dwayne Harris to cornerback Orlando Scandrick to Romo.
Talent mixed with desire. A longing for more than 8-8.
Romo calls the way they are playing as "being comfortable in uncomfortable situations."
The players say the message has been preached since the earliest offseason workouts. For good measure, we got a replay from Jason Garrett, the Cowboys head coach, in simply explaining how his team handles pressure.
Garrett said: "So, you are down 11 on the road at the half, it is a matter of challenging each other to stay focused. It is going to come down to your mental toughness. It is going to come down to your will and your ability to fight. I thought all of those things were demonstrated by our football team."
He is right. Dallas just looks different. Feels different. Sounds different.
Bryant added: "That's being together and having everyone's back. The standards we have for one another, you know, just basically believing in one another. I think that we showed that tonight. One thing about this football team is that we play together and we stick together."
Dallas has learned from its experiences, Witten said. From all of its failures, he insisted. They have decided to take their talent and turn it into more than 8-8.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, as he walked to his car to leave MetLife Stadium, talked about this journey. He talked about what he sees.
"Well, we've got a quarterback who knows what he is doing, who can see a lot and do a lot," Jones said. "We've got a pretty special running back. A good offensive line. The defense is really coming on. Good players, great attitude. Great coaching. A common focus, vision and goal. Fed up with being 8-8."
Team fed up. Jones fed up.
He is reminded his team is 8-3.
And that there are five Cowboys games left.
"We still haven't put that 8-8 out of the realm of possibility for this season, not just yet," Jones said. "I think we will. It's going to be pretty important that we do that and when we do that. Everybody can get back with us once we do that. Because I think that moment and the meaning of it will push this team even higher."