ARLINGTON, Texas – When Graham Gano kicked a 47-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter, the depleted Giants had scored 10 consecutive points to take both a 13-7 lead and momentum into their halftime locker room.
But the Dallas Cowboys promptly reclaimed it at the start of the second half, holding the ball for 14 plays and 7:39 on a 75-yard drive that ended with Dak Prescott's third down 15-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dalton Schultz.
On their ensuing possession, the Giants advanced 20 yards in five plays to set up a fourth-and-one at their 45-yard-line. Brian Daboll eschewed the punt and decided to try to get the first down.
Unfortunately for the Giants, the play became a series of miscues. They had just 10 men on the field. Daniel Jones threw behind Saquon Barkley, who might have been able to make the catch but didn't. The ball was turned over on downs to the Cowboys, who needed just 2:05 and six plays to travel 44 yards. Schultz again wielded the dagger, scoring on a six-yard pass that stretched Dallas' lead to eight points.
The dominant third quarter propelled the Cowboys to a 28-20 victory over the Giants, who were shut out in the second half until eight seconds remained in the game. It wasn't enough to prevent them from losing a second consecutive game for the first time this season. They fell to 7-4, while the Cowboys improved to 8-3. But Dallas is essentially two games ahead because it swept the season series.
"Tough game," Daboll said. "Give Dallas credit. Tough game."
The Giants next play on Dec. 4, when they host the Washington Commanders, the second of four consecutive NFC East games. Does Daboll see the season as being at a crossroads?
"No, I see it as getting ready to play Washington," he said.
View photos from the Giants' Thanksgiving Day game against the Dallas Cowboys.
At his postgame news conference, a noticeably agitated Daboll had a simple and straightforward reason for taking a shot on fourth down in his own territory, trailing by one point.
"They kept the ball in the second half," he said. "Went down and took a lot of clock off. I thought it was a good chance to go ahead and get the first down, but we didn't get it."
Both Jones and Barkley insisted that was their responsibility.
"It was just a bad throw," Jones said. "I've got to get it out in front of him. Bad throw. Can't miss that."
"I tried to get down and secure the catch and I didn't make the play," Barkley said. "Looking back on it, they went down and scored. He trusted us to go for it on fourth down and one, and for us to make the play, and I didn't make the play there for us.
"I know outside looking in, you can point to one play and you're like, that can be the play. I try to stay away from that mindset. As you are playing, you don't want to drop it, obviously. It sticks in your head a little longer. But we still had an opportunity to go down and make more plays. And there were so many more plays throughout the game that we didn't capitalize on, too. I'm sorry I didn't capitalize on that. But I will continue to do better in other situations for the team."
Wide receiver Darius Slayton said, "We had the play. That play worked; we just didn't execute the play."
The Giants' chance for success there might had improved had they had the full complement of 11 players on the field. But they had just 10.
"Can't happen," Daboll said twice.
Several defensive players were also displeased with their performance. The Cowboys scored touchdowns on each of their first three second half possessions. They gained 430 yards, including 169 on the ground, converted seven-of-11 third-down opportunities and possessed the ball for 34:09. Most galling for the defenders was that Dallas scored on all four trips into the red zone, where the defense had excelled most of the season.
"It was unacceptable," defensive lineman Leonard Williams said. "I think how many yards they had in the rushing game was unacceptable. How many times we let them convert on third downs was unacceptable, and four-for-four in the red zone was unacceptable on our defensive side. For the most part, I felt like we were playing well, but those three areas, situationally, we're going to have to tighten up on. We're going to have to watch film and figure out what exactly was happening. We're going to have to do a lot better on those third downs."
The Giants were not close to full strength. The players inactive because of injury included offensive linemen Jon Feliciano (neck), Evan Neal (knee/illness), Joshua Ezeudu (neck) and Shane Lemieux (toe) and cornerbacks Adoree' Jackson (knee) and Fabian Moreau (oblique), plus tight end Daniel Bellinger (eye). The team is still missing safety Xavier McKinney (fractured fingers).
That placed Nick Gates, Jack Anderson and Tyre Phillips into the starting lineup on offense and Cor'Dale Flott, Nick McCloud and Jason Pinnock on defense.
"I think you miss all your good players that aren't out there," Daboll said. "But I thought the guys competed that were in there. It was a tough game; we started out (strong). I thought it was a good first half. We just didn't get much going in the second half. And then they had the long drive. We didn't convert on the fourth down. We ended up getting some more. So, guys competed. We just didn't do enough."
They did early. Graham Gano opened the scoring by kicking a 57-yard field goal, tying the record for the longest in Giants history. But even that was bittersweet, because Jones' 24-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Hodgins was taken off the board because of Phillips' penalty for illegal man downfield.
The next two scores were on the first play (Ezekiel Elliott's six-yard touchdown run) and last play (Gano's 47-yarder) of the second quarter.
The Giants won the first half, but the Cowboys dominated the second. After Schultz's second touchdown, the Giants punted, commencing another long Cowboys scoring drive. That one covered 80 yards in 10 plays and took another 5:51 off the clock. Rookie tight end Peyton Hendershot scored on a two-yard run as Dallas' lead ballooned to 28-13.
The Cowboys had a chance to add to their lead, but Brett Maher was wide right on a 46-yard field goal attempt with 1:11 remaining. Richie James scored the Giants' late touchdown, but CeeDee Lamb recovered Gano's onside kick, ending what little suspense remained.
"Every time we lose, it sucks," Barkley said. "You get that nasty feeling in your stomach. That pain in your stomach. Especially when there are a lot of things you can go back and if you change it, you change the outcome of the game. You have to give hats off to them, they were the better team today. We have to take this time to get ready for Washington."