EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - The Giants were their own worst enemies on Sunday and it cost them a victory.
They outgained the Tennessee Titans by 200 yards (471-271) but were shutout in the second half and went down to a 29-10 defeat, their first in the New Meadowlands Stadium. The reason was a perfect storm of mistakes that crippled their chance to win a game in which they performed well enough to win.
All their good work was undone by turnovers, penalties and special teams play that Tom Coughlin called "horrible." The offense gave away the ball three times, including twice deep in Tennessee territory. The penalty total was 11, including an inexplicable five personal fouls, which Coughlin said was a first in his 15 years as an NFL head coach. The special teams missed two field goals, including one after being pushed back by a delay of game penalty (okay, the other was a 53-yarder), allowed a momentum-changing kickoff at the start of the second half and provided no help in the return game.
"The oldest axiom in football is the first thing you have to do is keep from beating yourself before you can beat the opponent and we didn't do that," Coughlin said. "It was a very disappointing loss, the players are very disappointed; we are all understand that we beat ourselves today.
"We gave a game away that we should have won, and I'll take the responsibility for that."
"We beat ourselves today," said defensive end and team captain Justin Tuck. "If you watch the tape without the penalties, you would say we were up 35-nothing maybe or something like that. But that's why you play the whole game. They did a great job of capitalizing on our mistakes. That's football. The team that doesn't turn the ball over, doesn't commit stupid penalties, that's normally the team that puts itself in the best position to win. And they did that today."
Ahmad Bradshaw scored on a 10-yard run and Lawrence Tynes kicked a 50-yard field goal for the Giants, who fell to 1-2.
Tennessee, 2-1, scored on Chris Johnson runs of one and eight yards, Vince Young's 13-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Britt, Rob Bironas' field goals of 48 and 22 yards and a safety.
Eli Manning and Bradshaw personified the Giants' day. Manning completed a career-high 34 passes and threw for 386 yards, his second-highest total as a pro. But he threw interceptions – one of them left-handed -- on the Giants' first two possessions on tipped balls and led the Giants to just one touchdown.
"It was frustrating," Manning said. "It was just so many sloppy things that happened. It is just tough to think about some of the mistakes that happened. Not blocking the right guy on certain things, tipped balls, fumbles, interceptions, penalties, and there is not really an answer for it. It is a day where you are doing a lot of good things and you can look back on the day when we watch the film tomorrow and we'll see a lot of plays, 'Hey that is a great job, it is a great job,' but it is the bad plays that are killing us. We are just having too many negative plays. It comes down to being more consistent. We have the playmakers to do good things, but if you are going to make mistakes, if you are going to screw up so many things, it gets cancelled out."
Bradshaw rushed for 88 yards and scored the Giants' only touchdown on a 10-yard run. But his penalty for a chop block in the end zone gave the Titans a safety and the lead for good and his fumble on the Tennessee five-yard line deflated the Giants when they already trailed by nine points.
"We beat ourselves," said Bradshaw, echoing a refrain throughout the locker room.
* *And then there were the penalties. Coughlin removed Kareem McKenzie from the game after his second personal foul. Safety Antrel Rolle was also taken out after he threw a punch late in the game.
"I got struck twice, and I struck back," Rolle said. "There was no explanation about it. I'm a ballplayer, and that means I'm fiery. He struck me twice, and I definitely struck him back. I wasn't ejected, but the coaches pulled me out probably to calm me down. I understand that. It's a game of emotions. That guy took two strikes at me, and I made sure I struck him back."
"I think that anyone who had two personal fouls in a game would be upset from the onset, before even being taken out of the game," McKenzie said.
The teams were tied at halftime, 10-10. Another special teams breakdown enabled Marc Mariani to return the second half kickoff 45 yards to the Tennessee 48-yard line. It didn't seem like a particularly big play at the time, but the Giants never really recovered from it.
"They (the special teams) have been horrible and they continued that way today," Coughlin said. "You know where the double team is coming – and this is a thing that really bothers me – is everybody knows where the double team is coming from, anywhere 90 (Jason Pierre-Paul) is gets the double, so realize that. Here the guy comes out right down the sideline and gives them excellent field position."
Although the Titans didn't score, they punted from the Giants' 38-yard line. When Michael Griffin caught Brett Kern's punt at the one-yard line, Tennessee had the field position advantage. They soon had the edge on the scoreboard as well.
The Giants seemed to escape when, on third-and-10 backed up next to their goal line, Manning threw a 43-yard pass to Mario Manningham. But the long gain was nullified when Bradshaw was penalized for a chop block. Since the infraction occurred in the end zone, the Titans were awarded a safety and jumped ahead, 12-10, a lead they never relinquished.
"He was our center's guy and I jumped over from the MIKE (linebacker) because the center took my guy, and I went to chop block him," Bradshaw said. "By the time I was in the air, I didn't know whether he had his hands on him or not. They called the penalty. I didn't see the flag, it was behind me. Once I saw the flag, I figured that it had to happen that way."
Tennessee kept the pressure on after taking possession on its own 49 following Matt Dodge's short free kick. The Titans covered the 51 yards in six plays as Young, who seldom passed in the first half, threw five times. On third-and-seven from the 13, Britt got a step ahead of Corey Webster in the end zone and caught Young's pass for a 19-10 advantage with 7:43 remaining in the third quarter.
The Giants rebounded impressively, until they got close to the goal line. Bradshaw runs of 20 and 22 yards and an unnecessary roughness penalty on Jason Babin helped give the Giants a first-and-goal at the Titans six. But on the next play, Bradshaw was trying to get into the end zone when Griffin knocked the ball out of his hands. Alterraun Verner recovered for Tennessee at the five. But the Titans took possession at the 20 after David Diehl was flagged for unnecessary roughness.
"They got their hand on it when I cut back, and I just lost it," Bradshaw said.
"There was a score coming with momentum," Coughlin said. "There's the ball on the ground."
And there went the game. The Titans went three-and-out after the fumble and the Giants moved 49 yards to give Tynes a chance to cut into Tennessee's lead. But what would have been a 39-yard field goal attempt was pushed back to 44 yards because of the delay of game penalty. The kick was wide right.
Tennessee added three points on Bironas' 22-yard field goal with 7:50 remaining in the fourth quarter and seven more on Johnson's eight-yard run with 4:02 left. The final quarter was notable for the two personal fouls called on McKenzie and the one Rolle was flagged for.
"There's no excuse for that said," Tuck said. "We've just got to do a better job of keeping our emotions in check and going out there and playing the game. We'll get them back during the whistle. I think the referees did a great job of seeing the retaliation. They didn't do a good job of seeing the initial (infraction)."
The Giants rallied from an early 10-point deficit to tie the score at halftime, 10-10. It was the Giants' first halftime tie since Nov. 8, 2009 vs. San Diego, when the teams were knotted, 7-7.
In the half, Manning completed 17 of 20 passes for 188 yards - the three that weren't completed were interceptions that were tipped and another pass that Mario Manningham dropped. Young, meanwhile, threw only four passes, completing three for 32 yards.
Bradshaw's touchdown run with 36 seconds remaining in the second quarter tied the game at 10-10. Appropriately, the run was 10 yards long. Working out of a shotgun, Bradshaw took a handoff, cut right and outran several Tennessee defenders to the corner of the end zone for the touchdown.
The Giants drove 63 yards in nine plays following a Titans punt. Manning picked up a first down on a two-yard quarterback sneak, but the big play was a 20-yard pass from Manning to Manningham, who did a terrific job of keeping his feet inbounds on the left sideline on the 10-yard line. Bradshaw scored on the next play.
Tynes had put the Giants on the scoreboard with his 50-yard field goal with 4:12 remaining in the second quarter. It was Tynes' second-longest field goal in his four seasons with the Giants. He kicked a 52-yarder last Nov. 26 at Denver.
After the Titans took a 10-0 lead, the Giants moved 38 yards in eight plays, including Manning passes of eight yards to Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks.
Johnson's one-yard touchdown run gave the Titans a 10-point cushion with 8:43 remaining in the second quarter. Tennessee drove 57 yards after Tynes was wide left on a 53-yard field goal attempt. Johnson rushed for 36 yards on nine carries on the drive, the longest a 12-yard run. Young also threw a 17-yard pass to Nate Washington.
Terrell Thomas' pass interference penalty gave the Titans a first down at the three-yard line. Johnson gained a single yard on each of the next three plays, fighting his way over the goal line on the last attempt.
The game began poorly for the Giants. Manning threw interceptions on each of the first two offensive series. Both balls were tipped, one by the Giants and the other by Tennessee (in the end zone).
On the fourth play of the game, Manning's pass caromed off the hands of his intended receiver, Hakeem Nicks, and sailed right to defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks at the Titans' 49-yard line. Tennessee advanced the ball 21 yards in six plays before Bironas came on to kick a 48-yard field goal for the game's first points.
The Giants moved the ball 81 yards on their next possession, but came away with no points following another interception. Kevin Boss' 54-yard catch-and-run gave the Giants a first-and-goal at the nine. Moments later, it was third down from the two when Manning, under a heavy rush, tried to flip a pass left-handed to Boss, who was in the front of the end zone. But the ball was tipped in the air by linebacker Will Witherspoon and caught by diving cornerback Jason McCourty for a touchback.
"I know he thinks he's trying to make a play," Coughlin said. "We would have come away with at least three (points)."
"I am not very good at throwing left-handed and it was a bad decision on my part," Manning said. "Just saw Kevin Boss open and was trying to get him the ball. That is one of those things where everything is telling you to try to get him the ball, but you just have to know you can't afford to have a turnover there and especially can't afford to float it in that situation. Sometimes you have to know when to stop competing a little bit, just say, 'They got us,' and either throw it with your right hand or don't throw it and take the sack and get the field goal."
On Sunday, poor decisions and poor plays like that left the Giants saddled with another defeat.