*Eli Manning was back as the Giants starter as the team fell to the Cowboys, 30-10, Sunday at MetLife Stadium: *
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – In the big picture, it was another desultory defeat in a lost season. But for Giants fans, it had one meaningful moment.
The Giants' 30-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys included many of the elements seen far too often this year. There was the offense that struggled to score points, held back in part by too many dropped passes. The defense was again susceptible to big plays, most notably three completions of at least 50 yards, two of them touchdowns, including an 83-yarder. The Giants again struggled in the fourth quarter, when they were outscored, 20-0, in their first game under interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo. They are now 2-11, and have only three games left in this forgettable season.
But the fans who came to MetLife Stadium had something to cheer about, though the most emotional applause occurred before the Giants took a snap, when Eli Manning took the field to a standing ovation from fans thrilled that he was once again the starting quarterback. Manning didn't play last week in Oakland, ending his streak of 210 consecutive regular-season starts. One of Spagnuolo's first acts when he received his new duties last Monday was to re-install Manning as the starter.
"That's where I want to be," Manning said at his postgame news conference. "I wanna go out, be there with my teammates, try to get a win, be there for the fans and do my part. Hopefully, the coaches believe I gave us the best chance to win at quarterback. I thought we did some good things today; competed. Three and a half quarters right in the mix. We have to find ways to finish stronger in the second half, and at the end of games."
Regarding the fans' obvious delight in seeing No. 10 line up to start the game, Manning said, "My focus is trying to get the play and figure out what the Cowboys are doing. I appreciate it. I appreciate all of the support the fans have given me for 14 years and these last weeks, especially. I appreciate them coming out today and cheering me on and cheering on the Giants."
Manning did what he could, completing 31 of 46 passes for 228 yards, including a one-yard touchdown to tight end Rhett Ellison in the second quarter. He threw interceptions on the Giants' final two possessions, when the outcome had been decided.
Manning's longest pass was a 35-yarder to rookie tight end Evan Engram, who escaped detection near the Dallas sideline on the Giants' touchdown drive. But his second-longest completion gained 16 yards, and just four of his 31 successful throws picked up more than 10 yards.
And then there were the drops, a season-long plague. Sterling Shepard and Roger Lewis, Jr. each dropped catchable balls on third down when the score was tied, 10-10.
"I've got a lot of respect for our receivers," Manning said. "They work hard, they practice hard, they do everything we ask them to do. I understand, hey, drops are part of the game. They're running the right routes, hitting the right spots, have confidence they'll make the next one, and make plays for us and a couple of them made some outstanding plays for us."
Manning said he felt no different driving to the game today than he did during his 14-season streak. He did express regret in whatever role he might have played in the dismissal last week of head coach Ben McAdoo.
"I just looked at it as, hey, it's another opportunity to go play and win a football game," Manning said. "So obviously, the last few weeks have been difficult with losing my starting job and losing your head coach. Those things are hard and they are personal, and hurt. I don't like losing a head coach, I take that personally. That's on me for not doing my job. I don't like losing my starting job. That's personal, also, and that's because I haven't played well enough and we're not winning games. I appreciate Spags giving me an opportunity to get to start this week and see if we could get us a win, and I'm sorry we didn't play well enough to get that win."
Spagnuolo was not prepared to say definitively whether Manning will start next week's home game vs. Philadelphia, but he's certainly leaning that way.
"I'm not going to comment on that right now," Spagnuolo said. "That would be my gut feeling. Look, without looking at it and evaluating, but Eli Manning is the quarterback right now."
The game was close until midway through the fourth quarter. Each team kicked a field goal on its opening possession, and then threw touchdown passes 29 seconds apart in the second quarter – Manning's short toss to Ellison, and Dak Prescott's 50-yarder to Dez Bryant, who caught a 10-yard throw, shook himself free from cornerback Brandon Dixon, and raced 40 yards untouched to the end zone.
After a scoreless third quarter, Dallas took charge in the fourth. Prescott found Cole Beasley for a 54-yard catch-and-run, and on the next play, hit tight end Jason Witten in the end zone for the touchdown that gave the Cowboys a 17-10 lead.
The Giants punted on their next possession, and three plays later, running back Rod Smith evaded linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, caught a short pass from Prescott, and turned it into an 81-yard touchdown. Manning then threw a pass that was tipped at the line by Chidobe Awuzie and intercepted by linebacker Sean Lee. That quickly led to Smith's 15-yard touchdown run with 2:57 remaining.
"I'm going to put a little bit of that on me," Spagnuolo said of the Cowboy's big finish. "I didn't like a couple calls I had in the fourth quarter that resulted in bad plays for us defensively. I don't want that to be on the players."
The Giants' only solace is that this awful season has not resulted in a fractured locker room.
"I think the team has done a great job of staying together," Manning said. "It'd be easy to complain, and to bark at each other, and say it's not fair and that one side's not doing their part, but we haven't fallen into that trap. We have some high character guys on this team that are working hard every week, doing their absolute best, and I appreciate that. I appreciate the effort, work, enthusiasm to go win a football game. Again, we played hard today against a good team. We just have to find a way to finish these games."[