By Michael Eisen
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants' first taste of the 2012 season was bitter.
"Take a bite out of humble pie is basically what it is," coach Tom Coughlin said.
The Giants' 24-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys Wednesday night in MetLife Stadium certainly left a sour feeling in their collective stomach. Seven months to the day after they won Super Bowl XLVI, the Giants were hoping to take a strong initial step toward another successful season. But their only lead was 3-0 and they trailed by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter on their way to becoming the first defending champion to lose an opener in 13 years (Denver, 1999).
If any of the Giants were still enjoying that championship feeling, it ended with this loss.
"There won't be any blowing smoke up their rear ends as far as that," Coughlin said. "Last year is last year and this year is this year. Every team is a new team, every year is a new year. We have our work cut out for us. It's a great challenge for us now."
As always, Coughlin was more concerned with tangible deficiencies. The Giants were outgained, 433-269. They dropped too many passes, with Victor Cruz the primary culprit. After starting a series first-and-goal at the one, the Giants settled for a field goal. Rookie David Wilson lost a fumble after the Giants gained 58 yards on a first-quarter drive. The defense gave up too many big plays.
All of that caused Coughlin, in the opening statement in his postgame news conference, to call the loss both "very, very disappointing" and "very, very frustrating."
He was not alone.
"I think you never want to lose to a division opponent," defensive end Osi Umenyiora said. "The quickest way to the playoffs is through your division and we're one down on them. But we'll find a way to fight back. We've done it before."
"You can't take anything away from the Cowboys," safety Antrel Rolle said. "I think they were just a little bit more effective at what they presented today and you have to get up and bounce back from that."
Tony Romo threw three touchdown passes, including strikes of 10 and 40 yards to Kevin Ogletree, who scored the first two touchdowns of his four-year, 32-game career, and a 34-yarder to Miles Austin that put the Cowboys comfortably ahead in the fourth. Dan Bailey kicked a 33-yard field goal for Dallas.
For the Giants, Ahmad Bradshaw scored on a 10-yard run, Eli Manning threw a nine-yard touchdown pass to former Cowboy Martellus Bennett and Lawrence Tynes kicked a 22-yard field goal.
The game had many turning points from the Giants' perspective, but perhaps none as crucial as a strange sequence in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys led, 17-10, when they drove from their own 18 to the Giants' 14. But back-to-back 10-yard penalties pushed them back to the 34, where they faced a first-and-30. The Giants seemingly had the upper hand, but on the next snap, Austin juked his way past cornerback Justin Tryon – who took over for the injured Michael Coe, who was filling in for the inactive Prince Amukamara – and caught Romo's pass before Rolle could get over from his safety position and sprinted to the end zone for an unlikely touchdown that gave Dallas a 24-10 lead with 5:57 left.
The Giants responded with a 12-play, 79-yard drive that ended with Manning's touchdown pass to Bennett with only 2:36 remaining. But the Giants left themselves with too little time on the clock and when the Cowboys picked up a first down on Romo's 13-yard pass to Ogletree (on third-and-10), the Cowboys clinched the game with two minutes remaining.
Ogletree caught eight passes for 114 yards.
"He just made some plays and we didn't," cornerback Corey Webster said. "No particular reason. We have to always keep the ball in front or inside. We just have to go back to the drawing board, we'll learn from our mistakes and we keep on getting better."
Bailey's field goal increased Dallas' lead to 17-10 with 40 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Cowboys drove 65 yards in seven plays prior to the kick. The one that most hurt the Giants was a 48-yard run up the right side by DeMarco Murray, who was almost brought down by Mathias Kiwanuka and then Justin Tuck, and ran into a teammate, before taking off up the sideline. He was finally brought down at the Giants' 25 by Rolle.
Dallas got as far as the Giants' six, but Linval Joseph sacked Romo for a nine-yard loss, setting up a third-and-15 pass that was incomplete. Bailey then kicked the field goal.
Bradshaw's touchdown pulled the Giants to within 14-10 with 5:11 remaining in the third quarter. On first down, Bradshaw took a handoff and started running up the middle before shifting left, where he stepped past rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne and into the end zone.
The Giants' nine-play, 89-yard drive was highlighted by Domenik Hixon's sensational leaping catch of a Manning pass for a 39-yard gain just prior to the touchdown. On third-and-four from the Dallas 49-yard line, Manning threw long pass down the middle, where Hixon out-jumped and then out-wrestled safety Mana Silva for the ball.
Ogletree's second touchdown extended the Cowboys' lead to 14-3 with 10:24 remaining in the third quarter. On second-and-10 from the Giants' 40, Ogletree lined up on the right side, evaded Webster with a double move and caught Romo's pass at the 12-yard line before stepping into the end zone.
"I'm being an aggressive cornerback and I bit on the double move and he was open right over the top," Webster said.
Dallas took the second-half kickoff, which was a touchback, and marched 80 yards in nine plays. DeMarco Murray's four-yard run gave the Cowboys a first down on a third-and-one from the Dallas 40. Two plays later, Romo connected with Dez Bryant for a 16-yard gain. After an incompletion, Romo threw his second touchdown pass to Ogletree.
Romo's 10-yard touchdown pass to Ogletree with 1:01 remaining in the second quarter gave the Cowboys a 7-3 halftime lead.
On second-and-five, Ogletree lined up in the left slot and delayed before running to the right. He got behind linebackers Chase Blackburn and Jacquian Williams and was alone in the end zone when he caught Romo's pass.
The score capped a seven-play, 73-yard drive following a Giants punt (Dallas actually traveled 78 yards because of a false start penalty before the first snap). The big play came immediately following the two-minute warning when, on third-and-one, Romo hit Bryant streaking up the right sideline for a 38-yard gain to the Giants' 15. Bryant got behind Webster and was brought down by safety Kenny Phillips.
Romo and Ogletree did the rest, first hooking up on a five-yard pass and then the touchdown.
Tynes' short field goal accounted for the only first half points for the Giants, who squandered a first-and-goal opportunity.
Michael Boley set up the possession when he intercepted a Romo pass for Ogletree and returned it 51 yards to the Dallas two-yard line. A penalty for a horse collar tackle moved the ball a yard from the goal line. Bradshaw lost three yards on two carries to push the ball back to four. On third down, Manning threw incomplete in the end zone for Victor Cruz, who appeared to get hit by Orlando Scandrick before the ball arrived. Tynes then came on to kick the field goal.
"Obviously, you'd love to get a touchdown in that situation," Manning said. "You're on the one-yard line, you feel that you can pound that in, but we didn't get that. We had a pretty good third down call and had an opportunity – Victor was trying to get off – it was a pretty physical play on Dallas right there. That's the part we've got to execute better. We had three opportunities to score, we've got to get in the end zone on one of them."
The Giants now have 10 days to make corrections and improvements before hosting Tampa Bay on Sept. 16.
"We know we've got to keep fighting," Bradshaw said. "We know we've got a great team. Defense, they were playing strong early and our offense just has to complement them with it. We had a lot of mistakes. Things we can just go back to the books and make up, but we feel confident that we still have a great team. This loss is just a wakeup call for us and we'll get ready next week."