EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Dec. 15 (UPI) -- Tiki Barber ran for 77 yards and one touchdown in the first quarter Sunday as the New York Giants jumped to a big early advantage and cruised to a 37-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
The NFC's leader in yards from scrimmage, Barber also caught three passes for 51 yards in helping the Giants (8-6) move within a half game of Atlanta for the sixth and final NFC playoff spot with two games remaining.
"It's good to be playing strong with our team being in limbo with the playoff situation," Barber said. "It was a solid effort and it gives us an opportunity to possibly sneak into the playoffs."
"Once we got on the field and I knew the results (of the New Orleans and Atlanta games) I called the offense together at one time and then I called the defense together at another and I told them, 'This isn't over until we say it's over,'" Giants Coach Jim Fassel said.
"Obviously with both of those teams losing today and us winning, I think it puts it back in the race."
With Barber on the bench for much of the second half, Ron Dayne rushed for a season-high 80 yards and a career-best two touchdowns as the Giants came within 1:56 of recording their first regular-season shutout in four years.
Barber opened a 21-point first-quarter barrage with a one-yard run 6:24 into the contest.
On the Cowboys' ensuing possession, Dallas elected to go for a first down on fourth and three at the New York 36, but linebacker Mike Barrow sacked quarterback Chad Hutchinson, forcing a fumble that defensive end Kenny Holmes picked up and ran 50 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown with 5:36 left in the quarter.
"I just went in there and took a chance because I was anticipating the run," Barrow said. "Next thing you know it just happened that way. We needed that.
"I didn't mind being tired the next series. And to see Kenny take it to the house, it was a (University of Miami) Hurricane connection. Those are things you can't plan, they just happen."
"I saw Mike make an excellent play," Holmes said. "I saw the ball and I was able to scoop it up and make some cuts in order to get into the end zone. To jump out two touchdowns on a team, it puts them in a slump."
After the Giants forced a punt, Barber ran 60 yards to the Dallas eight, setting up a four-yard touchdown run by Dayne with 1:34 remaining in the period.
The 21 points were the most for the Giants in any quarter since Dec. 23, 2000 against Jacksonville and the most in the first quarter in 16 years.
"There's no excuses," Cowboys Coach Dave Campo said. "I think they whooped us on both sides of the ball up front, so give credit to the New York Giants. They were ready to play and they got after us.
"They took it right to us, so they put the ball in and we got into a hole we couldn't dig ourselves out of."
New York's Kerry Collins completed 13 of 27 passes for 190 yards, including six for 99 yards to Amani Toomer, who surpassed 1,000 yards for a fourth straight season. Jesse Palmer relieved Collins in the fourth quarter and snapped a streak of 1,852 pass attempts in which Collins was the Giants only passer.
Hutchinson was 16 of 40 for 161 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions for Dallas (5-9). Hutchinson got Dallas on the board with a nine-yard pass to rookie Antonio Bryant with just under two minutes remaining.
"They made a couple big plays and scored 21 points," Hutchinson said. "It's tough in the NFL to come back from that. When your get down 21 points, the defense can sit back a little bit. They don't have to press the issue as much. It allows them to have better coverage and let their linemen run loose."
"It looked like we were ready to play," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "We had a good week of practice. We recognized that we were on their home field. The best word for me to describe this is 'unexpected.'"