The same old story between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys appeared to be unfolding again as quarterback Eli Manning seemed poised to find yet another way of breaking the Cowboys’ hearts late in the fourth quarter.
This time, even five Giants turnovers weren’t enough to put New York away.
But the sixth — the most the Giants (0-1) committed in a quarter-century — was New York’s final undoing in the Cowboys’ 36-31 home victory on Sunday Night Football.
After moving his team near midfield with plenty of time left to pull out the 24th game-winning drive of his career, Manning (27-for-42, 450 yards, four) threw a screen pass behind and off of the hand of unaware running back Da’Rel Scott (five carries, 23 yards; five receptions, 51 yards), which led to a 49-yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Brandon Carr (four tackles, one interception) with 1:50 remaining.
“Just a bad break,” said Manning after the game. “We’ve got some young guys and young running backs, and we’ve just got to get on the same page.”
That goes for second-year running back David Wilson (seven carries, 19 yards), whose two lost fumbles cost the Giants dearly.
Last season’s talented but mistake prone first-round pick started his NFL career in head coach Tom Coughlin’s doghouse with an early fumble New York’s home loss to Dallas (1-0) a year ago, and he certainly didn’t do anything to endear himself anymore to Coughlin with his miscues in his latest game against the Cowboys.
In fact, the only reason Scott was in position to have the Giants’ last turnover deflect off of his hand was because Coughlin, who called New York’s first half the “worst he’d ever seen,” no longer trusted Wilson to do be anywhere on the field during crunch time.
Ultimately, something had to give for the Giants, who entered the game 4-0 on the same field since Dallas moved to their gigantic, new stadium in Arlington, Texas, but 0-5 while opening against fellow NFC East rivals.
Although Coughlin rightfully chose to focus on the negative at halftime, New York was quite fortunate to be trailing just 13-10 by that point, especially after turning the ball over on each of its first three possessions and failing to score a touchdown despite starting one drive at the Cowboys’ 1-yard line.
The Giants’ first indication of trouble came on the game’s opening play, when a Manning screen pass intended for Wilson was intercepted by defensive end DeMarcus Ware at the New York 15-yard line.
Dallas, which could only manage a field goal off of that play though, and after a 57-yard pass from Manning to wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (five catches, 114 yards) on the Giants next drive, New York quickly moved to the Cowboys’ 8-yard line. But, Wilson ended that trip with a fumble.
Later in the quarter, former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Mundy (four tackles, one interception), making his Giants debut, caught a deflected pass from quarterback Tony Romo (36-for-49, 263 yards, two touchdowns, one interception), and raced 91 yards to the Dallas 1-yard line, but a sack of Manning forced New York to settle for a field goal and a 3-3 tie.
Romo led scoring drives on each of the Cowboys’ next two drives, as Dallas, which ran 66 of the game’s first 100 plays, went up 6-3 on a second-quarter field goal before extending that advantage to 13-3 on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Romo to tight end Jason Whitten (eight catches, 70 yards, two touchdowns).
Only 65 seconds later, Manning answered that score with a 70-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Victor Cruz (five catches, 118 yards, three touchdowns).
However, after forcing a three-and-out to start the second half, the Giants’ problems continued on their opening drive of the second half. That possession started with another sack of Manning, and on the next play, a strip of Wilson, that was returned by safety Barry Church (seven tackles, one forced fumble, one touchdown) for a 27-yard score that put Dallas up, 20-10.
Although the teams then traded punts, New York muffed their return, a mistake which two plays later, turned into Romo’s second touchdown pass to Whiten (this time, for four yards), to give the Cowboys a game-high 27-10 lead.
Responding immediately, Manning engineered an 80-yard drive that he finished with a 19-yard touchdown throw to Cruz, to draw the Giants to within 27-17 late in the third quarter.
That margin grew to a 30-17 Dallas lead on a 46-yard field goal drive that spanned the third and fourth periods, before the typical Giants-Cowboys late-game drama began to unfold.
A 90-play drive in just seven plays and 3:23 ended with Manning’s third touchdown pass to Cruz (for seven yards), to trim the Cowboys’ lead to 30-24, with 8:47 remaining, and although New York punted on its next possession, the Giants’ defense came up with consecutive clutch stops to give Manning another opportunity.
Second-year wide receiver Reuben Randle (five catches, career-high 101 yards) caught a 26-yard pass from Manning to move the Giants to their own 48-yard line, approaching the two-minute warning, and even the most diehard Cowboy fans had to be fearing the type of finish they’d seen all too often against the Giants — that is, until Manning, Scott and Carr combined to write a different ending for once.
One last scoring drive, of 80 yards, ending with a Manning touchdown throw to former Oakland tight end Brandon Myers (seven catches, 66 yards, touchdown), ended the scoring, but it was too little too late under the weight of one too many Giants turnovers.
If New York can’t correct those types of issues, it could spoil their much anticipated home opener, once again pitting Manning against his brother Peyton Manning, at MetLife Stadium, next Sunday.
While Manning ironically matched the Week 1 performance of his brother in terms of completions and pass attempts, Peyton will visit the site of February’s Super Bowl XLVIII coming off an NFL-record-tying seven-touchdown performance in the Denver Broncos’ opening night blowout win over Baltimore on Thursday night.