IRVING, Texas - The soap opera that is the Dallas Cowboys' offense gets all the attention. The defense, however, is keeping them in the playoff hunt.

DeMarcus Ware collected three sacks and the Cowboys took down Eli Manning eight times on their way to a crucial 20-8 victory last night in a game in which all eyes were otherwise on Tony Romo, Terrell Owens and Jason Witten.

With everyone watching to see how Romo would appease the two main rivals for his offensive affection, he pulled a fast one by tossing touchdowns to third receiver Patrick Crayton and seldom-thrown-to fullback Deon Anderson. Then, with 2 minutes, 16 seconds left and Dallas trying to manage the clock, rookie Tashard Choice broke off a victory-sealing 38-yard touchdown run.

Finally, the Cowboys could exhale. After a late loss in Pittsburgh and a week of locker-room turmoil, Dallas (9-5) was back in control of its wild-card chances.

"It wasn't a pretty win, but we got it done," Owens said.

The Cowboys are guaranteed a playoff spot by winning their last two games, against Baltimore and against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.

Meanwhile, the Giants (11-3) have lost consecutive games for the first time since starting 0-2 last season.