After a surprising end to his team’s winning streak, New York Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning said, “We can’t keep making mistakes. If we can do that, we can play some great football, we really can.”
Entering Sunday’s contest at the New Meadowlands stadium with the Dallas Cowboys (2-7), the Giants (6-3) had indeed played some great football during a five-game winning streak. They had played as well as the Cowboys had played poorly during their own five-game losing streak over the same time, including a relatively dominant win by the Giants in Dallas just three weeks ago.
And, then there’s that other side of the coin that Manning commented on.
The mistakes. The types which caused the Giants to lose two straight games prior to their five-game win streak, which reared their ugly heads again on Sunday, in an inexcusable 33-20 home defeat to the Cowboys.
Three costly turnovers, 8 penalties for 69 yards, and allowing big plays – seven for at least 24 yards, including three between 44 and 46 yards and another for a 71-yard score, all in addition to a 101-yard defensive score – were all too much for the Giants to overcome during a wild game that featured two power outages at the new $1.6 billion stadium, one which left everyone in the building in total darkness for about 12 minutes during the third quarter.
Unfortunately for the flat Giants, they couldn’t seem to stop the apparent extra surge of energy that Dallas seemed to have in rallying around Jason Garrett, who was coaching his first NFL game after being named the interim head coach from his offensive coordinator position, in the wake of the firing of former head coach Wade Phillips last Monday.
After the teams traded punts to start the game, the Giants went 55 yards on 10 plays to lead 3-0 on a 43-yard field goal by kicker Lawrence Tynes.
But, the Cowboys struck quickly, needing just three plays to reach the end zone, as backup quarterback Jon Kitna (13-22, 327 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, 1 sack), whom the Giants held in check on October 25th in Dallas, torched New York’s defense with a 13-yard pass to running back Felix Jones (14 carries for 51 yards and 3 catches for 85 yards and 1 TD), before hitting rookie first-round pick, wide receiver Dez Bryant (3 catches, game-high 104 yards, 1 TD) for 45 yards, and then going back to Bryant on an acrobatic 13-yard touchdown catch to the left side of the end zone, to put Dallas ahead 6-3 (the extra point was blocked) in the first quarter.
Later in the period, Kitna completed a 44-yard pass to wide receiver Miles Austin (2 catches, 68 yards), to help set up a 22-yard field goal by kicker David Buehler, for a 9-3 Dallas advantage.
The first key offensive mistake for the Giants yielded a probable 14, or at least, 10-point swing, midway through the second quarter. Miscommunication on a short red zone route between Manning (33-48, 373 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT, no sacks) and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (5 catches, 82 yards) resulted in the longest interception return in Cowboys’ history and the first career interception for undrafted rookie cornerback Bryan McCann, who raced 101 yards to give Dallas a 16-3 lead, touching off boos from a disappointed home crowd.
One play after the Giants punted, Kitna completed another big pass, for 32 yards, the only catch made on the day by tight end Martellus Bennett. That led to a 23-yard field goal by Buehler to give the Cowboys a 19-3 lead.
Although New York had outgained Dallas 134-36 in second quarter by the two-minute warning, the Cowboys had outscored the Giants 13-0 in the quarter to that point.
The Giants responded though, with their own big play when Manning connected with wide receiver Mario Manningham (game-high 10 catches, team-high 91 yards) on a 44-yard pass to start a drive that finished with a 25-yard field goal by Tynes, to pull the Giants to within 19-6 by halftime.
After the lights then went out the first time and then came back on, the big-play Cowboys made their biggest play of all three plays into the second half, as Jones took a short pass from Kitna and burned the Giants for a 71-yard touchdown, to put Dallas ahead, 26-6.
Five minutes later though, New York scored its first touchdown as Manning capped an 8-play, 58-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Manningham, to draw the Giants to within 26-13, after a transformer-induced blackout delayed the drive.
While the Giants’ offense finally found the Cowboys’ end zone, their defense still couldn’t keep the Dallas out of their own end zone.
Kitna moved the Cowboys from their own 15 yard-line into Giants’ territory with a 46-yard completion to Bryant. Three plays later, after an offensive holding penalty, Kitna completed to wide receiver Roy Williams (2 catches, 33 yards) for 27 yards, before throwing a 24-yard touchdown pass to Austin on the next play, to give Dallas a 33-13 lead with 6:27 left in the third quarter.
While the Giants last rallied from 20 points down to win in 1950, there was a feeling that momentum was turning, and that New York could pull out a win in the final quarter, especially after the Giants came right back just 1:08 later.
New York closed to within 33-20, on a 35-yard touchdown pass from Manning to tight end Kevin Boss (5 catches, 81 yards) that was set up by a 35-yard defensive pass interference call on the previous play.
From that point, the Giants forced two punts, intercepted Kitna, and Dallas missed a field goal, but New York punted, turned the ball over on downs, and committed two turnovers to close the game.
Manning completed a 19-yard pass to Boss on 3rd-and-20, but running back Brandon Jacobs (5 carries for just 17 yards) was stopped on 4th-and-1 at the Dallas 42 yard-line.
Safety Deon Grant gave the Giants yet another chance when he intercepted Kitna in the end zone with 8:37 left.
New York moved into Dallas territory, but Manning, under pressure, was flagged for intentional grounding. A bad snap then led to Manning trying to make a play and losing the ball on second down back at the Giants’ 21 yard-line with 7:12 left, instead of Manning simply falling on the ball to keep possession.
Still, the Giants weren’t quite done after they held Dallas to a missed 34-yard field goal attempt with 5:45 remaining.
From their own 24 yard-line, Manning moved the Giants to the Cowboys’ 17 yard-line with 3 minutes left, but Manning was intercepted by cornerback Alan Ball, who like McCann, recorded his first career interception.
The Giants had ten more first downs (24-14), rolled up 480 yards offense, and controlled the ball considerably more (37:51 to 22:09), but what had been the league’s leading defense (250.6 yards per game), allowed 427 total yards while the Giants increased their high season turnover total to 22.
The loss continues a disturbing trend under head coach Tom Coughlin. The Giants, who are 41-15 in the first 8 games of regular seasons since Coughlin arrived in 2004, are now 20-29 in the final 8 games of the seasons which Coughlin has been in New York.
It may not get any easier to improve upon that second-half record next week, when the Giants have to travel to Philadelphia, for an NFC East showdown on Sunday Night Football with the Eagles (5-3), who will first play at Washington (4-4) on Monday Night Football.