EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - The lights went out in the New Meadowlands Stadium Sunday evening, which was only fitting, because the play of the home team had turned the mood in the building dark.
The Giants gave up too many big plays, made too many mistakes and never generated any momentum in losing to their NFC East rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, 33-20.
The loss ended the Giants' five-game winning streak and dropped them to 6-3. If Philadelphia wins in Washington Monday night, the Giants and Eagles will be tied atop the division entering their showdown next Sunday night in Lincoln Financial Field.
The Giants' three-game winning streak vs. Dallas, which included a 41-35 victory on Oct. 25, also ended.
"We didn't play well enough to win," Coach Tom Coughlin said. "We didn't execute the way we've been executing. We gave up big plays. We didn't make as many big plays. We hung in there. We gave it a good effort at the end, but it was too little too late."
In every corner of the locker room, his players used different words to express the same thoughts.
"They made plays and we didn't," cornerback Terrell Thomas said. "We were in position, and we didn't come to play tonight. We got out-executed and outplayed. That's not Giants football. It was a tough loss for us."
"We just didn't come to play," running back Ahmad Bradshaw said. "We had a lot of intensity last game versus the Cowboys, and we didn't bring it to this game."
"Turnovers and penalties, and boy did we just hurt ourselves," tight end Kevin Boss said. "I felt like we were in it the whole time. And every time we tried to close the gap they would answer and we would make mistakes. You are not going to win ballgames like that."
The Cowboys, playing their first game for interim head coach Jason Garrett, are 2-7.
Jon Kitna – Dallas' starting quarterback because Tony Romo is injured – completed only 13 passes, but they accounted for 327 yards and three touchdowns. He threw scoring passes of 13 yards to Dez Bryant, 71 yards to Felix Jones and 24 yards to Miles Austin. Bryan McCann returned an interception 101 yards and David Buehler kicked two field goals for Dallas.
Eli Manning threw touchdown passes to Mario Manningham and Kevin Boss, and Lawrence Tynes kicked a pair of field goals for the Giants.
But what many people will remember about this game is the new stadium being abruptly plunged into total darkness. After a partial loss of light early in the third quarter, all of the stadium's lights, scoreboards and video board suddenly went off at 6:12 p.m., with 10:57 remaining in the third quarter. The game was halted for eight minutes as the boards and lights gradually came back on. The outage was blamed on two feeders to the stadium.
When the lights were on, the Giants hurt themselves with an uncharacteristic series of mistakes and poor plays. The unfortunate litany includes…
*Giving up seven Kitna completions of 24 or more yards after allowing only nine in the first eight games. That included passes of 44 and 45 yards after the Giants surrendered only three passes of more than 40 yards all season.
"The quarterback seemed to have time to throw and they made some big plays down the field on us," Coughlin said.
*Hakeem Nicks pulling up on a route in the end zone, enabling McCann, a rookie from SMU, to pick off Manning's pass and run the length of the field for the touchdown that gave Dallas a 16-3 lead.
"(Nicks) stopped to run the slant," Coughlin said. "You can't do that. You have to continue to run the route, run through the defenders, do whatever you have to do. Unfortunately…that's a basic principal. If you've got the slant called, you've got to run the slant."
*A Nicks' drop on a pass from Manning that would have picked up a first down on second-and-20 in the fourth quarter.
"(I) tried to cut upfield trying to make a play," Nicks said. "Should have looked it in."
*Two plays after the Nicks' drop, Brandon Jacobs was stopped short of a first down on fourth-and-one.
*The Giants got the ball back when Deon Grant intercepted a Kitna pass in the end zone. That led to what appeared to be a 48-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Nicks. But the play was nullified by Kevin Boothe's holding penalty.
"The explanation that I got was he beat me inside and I cut him, and he (the official) said that I reached out and grabbed him down," Boothe said. "That's what he saw, that's holding, but I didn't think that I held him. I thought I cut him."
It went from bad to worse on the next play, when Manning was unable to control Rich Seubert's low snap. Instead of falling on the ball, he tried to pick it up, but Anthony Spencer recovered for the Cowboys.
"I guess I have to jump on it," Manning said. "I was trying to pick it up and maybe try to throw it away. We had a screen called and maybe there's a running back near me and I could just throw it at his feet or something. Live and learn. Sometimes you are kind of in these desperate situations. If it was the first quarter, you just jump on it and you punt, no problem. When it is the fourth quarter and you are down a couple scores it is a tough situation."
*The Giants still had life when Buehler's field goal attempt sailed wide right. Manning led the team to the Cowboys' 17-yard line, but his pass for Manningham was intercepted by safety Alan Ball at the six-yard line. The Cowboys then ran the final 2:45 off the clock.
After playing so well in last week's 41-7 romp in Seattle, the Giants seemed shocked that they played so poorly on their return home.
"It is alarming," defensive tackle Barry Cofield said, "and I'm sure we'll get in the classroom tomorrow and get on the field next week and really refocus."
"Sometimes you play lights out, literally, and sometimes you just don't have it," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "Today I don't think we brought the energy that we had brought the last five games, for whatever reason I don't know. I don't know that we were complacent and thinking that we were going to come in here and show up and beat the Cowboys again and thinking that they were just going to lay down. I don't know what it was, but this wasn't the football team that we had put on film the last month and a half."
Some of the stadium lights went off after the first play of the second half, causing a three-minute delay. Although full lighting was not restored, play resumed. Two plays later, on third-and-10 from the Cowboys' 29-yard line, Kitna flipped a screen pass to Jones, who caught the ball at the 25 and raced untouched through the Giants' defense for a 71-yard touchdown and a 26-6 Cowboys lead.
"That was just a great call," Tuck said. "They caught us in a blitz, they ran a screen opposite our blitz and when that happens you have to run to the football and it is just tough. That was a damn near perfect play call for what we had called. Like I said, you give Dallas credit. It would be easy for me to stand up here and make excuses about calls or the lights going out or whatever it may be, but the simple fact is we didn't play well enough to win the football game."
The Giants responded with their first touchdown of the game on a five-yard pass from Manning to Manningham, who got open in the center of the end zone on a first-and-goal from the five. The score capped an eight-play, 58-yard drive that began with a 20-yard pass down the middle to Manningham.
But as had been the case in the first half, the Giants could not maintain the momentum. On the ensuing drive, they put the Cowboys in a seemingly difficult third-and-22 situation. But Kitna coolly hit Roy Williams streaking down the left sideline for a 27-yard gain. On the next play, Kitna fired to Austin, who caught the ball at the goal line and stepped into the end zone for 24-yard touchdown and a 33-13 Dallas lead with 6:27 remaining in the third quarter. The Cowboys drove 85 yards in only six plays to the score.
The Giants responded with their own impressive drive, going 73 yards in only two plays – plus a 35-yard pass interference penalty on McCann, who tripped up Nicks as he was going for the ball. The penalty gave the Giants a first down at the Dallas 35-yard line. On the next play, Manning threw to a wide-open Boss, who caught the ball at the 20 and outran all of the Cowboys to the pylon. The score cut the Giants' deficit to 33-20 with 5:19 remaining in the third.
The Giants twice faced fourth-and-one situations with a chance to slice into the Cowboys' lead in the fourth quarter. They punted on the first one and Matt Dodge's kick sailed into the end zone for a touchback. On their next possession, Coughlin elected to try for the first down from the Cowboys' 42, but Jacobs was stopped for no gain.
Long pass completions on consecutive drives, a successful replay challenge and McCann's long return helped give Dallas a 19-6 halftime lead.
On the second play of the Cowboys' second possession, Kitna threw a 45-yard pass to Bryant, who got behind Thomas and Antrel Rolle and advanced the ball to the Giants' 13-yard line. On the next play, Kitna threw to Bryant on the left side of the end zone. Bryant, covered by Thomas, went to the ground and the officials ruled that the pass was incomplete. Garrett challenged the ruling and after review, referee Bill Leavy said Bryant caught the ball, reversed the call and awarded Dallas a touchdown. But the score remained 6-3 when Buehler pulled the extra point attempt wide left.
The Giants went three-and-out on their next possession and after Dodge's 31-yard punt, Dallas began its next series at its 36-yard line. After Jones picked up a first down on a 12-yard run, Kitna threw deep down the middle to Austin, who caught the ball for a 44-yard gain to the Giants' eight.
But this time the Giants' defense kept the Cowboys out of the end zone. Osi Umenyiora sacked Kitna for a three-yard loss on third down and Buehler came on to kick a 22-yard field goal that extended the Cowboys' lead to 9-3 just 34 seconds into the second quarter.
The Giants' offense initially seemed to feed off the defensive stand, moving from its own 40 (where it took possession when Buehler's kickoff bounced out of bounds) to the Dallas two-yard line. But disaster struck on third and two, when McCann picked off Manning's pass in the end zone and sprinted 101 yards for a touchdown that gave the Cowboys a 16-3 lead with 7:34 remaining in the second quarter. McCann was on the field because both of Dallas' starting corners, Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins, had left the game with injuries.
"The corner just kind of sat on the route, sat on the slant route and I should have fought back across his body a little bit harder to get to the ball," Nicks said. "That's on me."
It was the first time a Giants opponent returned an interception for a touchdown since Nov. 2, 2008, when Jenkins picked off a Manning pass and brought it back 23 yards for a score in Giants Stadium.
The Giants again punted on their next series and another long pass, this one a 32-yarder from Kitna to Martellus Bennett, gave Dallas a first down at the 12. The defense kept the Cowboys out of the end zone for a second time and Buehler's 23-yard field goal increased the Cowboys' advantage to 19-3 with 3:04 left in the half.
Faced with a 16-point deficit, the Giants responded with their best drive of the half – but still couldn't get into the end zone. Manning's 44-yard pass to Manningham gave the Giants a first down at the Dallas 30. The Giants got as far as the seven, but Manning's passes on second and third down fell incomplete, forcing Tynes to kick a 25-yard field goal.
Tynes' 43-yarder had given the Giants a 3-0 lead with 5:04 left in the first quarter.