The Giants did all they could to keep the Jaguars fans in their seats as long as possible at EverBank Stadium on Friday night.
The Giants squandered leads of 17 points in the second quarter and 10 points in the fourth – largely due to muffing two punt returns, allowed the game-winning points with two minutes remaining and came up short as time expired on their final possession.
The result was a 32-31 defeat in a game everyone in the locker room believed they could have won.
"It was very disappointing to come here and be up 24-7 and lose the game," Coughlin said. "We have a lot to learn from this and a lot to improve upon."
The Giants do have a lot to build on. Their rushing attack averaged 4.8 yards a carry, top draft choices David Wilson (team-high 43 rushing yards and a 48-yard kickoff return) and Rueben Randle (two catches, including a touchdown) were impressive, as was tight end Martellus Bennett (team-high three receptions), and the defense registered six sacks of three Jacksonville quarterbacks.
But Coughlin had trouble looking past the two misplayed punt returns. The first, by rookie Jayron Hosley, led to a Jacksonville touchdown in the waning moments of the first half and the second, by receiver Jerrel Jernigan, set up a Jaguars field goal in the fourth quarter. Jacksonville also muffed two punts, but recovered each of them.
"You catch a punt twice and you're not going to be in that position (to lose the game)," Coughlin said.
Keith Toston's nine-yard run and Jordan Palmer's two-point conversion pass to rookie tight end Matt Veldmann were the game-winning points.
The Giants, needing only a field goal to win the game, took possession at their own 18 with 1:55 remaining and all three timeouts. Third-team quarterback Ryan Perrilloux ran the offense and was pressured every time he dropped back. He seemed to put the Giants in field goal range with an 18-yard pass to Joe Martinek with two seconds left, but Perrilloux was penalized for an illegal forward pass because he let go of the ball beyond the line of scrimmage.
"I was just trying to move the ball and get us in a position to win the game," said Perrilloux, who played the entire fourth quarter and completed six of seven passes for 59 yards, including a six-yarder to Randle for the Giants' final touchdown. But he was sacked three times. "Right there at the end it's tough sometimes when you're scrambling and your eyes are down the field. You lose track of where you are on the field sometimes. But overall I think it was a good first outing."
"We had the ball near midfield and needed to get to the 35 to try a long field goal," Coughlin said. "That's where we tried to get to. If Ryan had had a little protection, he could have gotten the ball into somebody's hands or even out of bounds.
"Obviously, we didn't block anybody with the group late in the game. They put some incredible pressure on the quarterback. He really didn't have time to do anything."
In addition to Randle's touchdown, the Giants scored on D.J. Ware's two-yard run and David Carr passes of 12 yards to Bennett and five yards to Isaiah Stanback, who made an incredible one-handed catch. Lawrence Tynes kicked a 31-yard field goal.
The Jaguars scored on Blaine Gabbert's three-yard touchdown pass to Cecil Shorts III, Chad Henne's two-yarder to Brian Robiske, scoring runs of seven yards by Montell Owens and Toston's late touchdown, Scobee's field goal and the two-point conversion.
The Giants' starters played the first quarter – three series for the offense, two for the defense. The offense gained 37 yards and punted on its first series and 35 yards on its second before kicking a field goal (a possession set up by David Wilson's 48-yard kickoff return) and 29 yards and a touchdown following a fumble recovery by Justin Tuck.
Eli Manning completed four of eight passes for 60 yards.
"I thought there were some good things," Manning said. "We had a nice third down conversion (on an 11-yard pass to Bennett). We converted on that turnover and went down and got a touchdown. Those are the types of things you do in the preseason that you want to carry over to the regular season. There are still a lot of things we can do better. We missed some opportunities. There will be plenty to look at on the tape to see how we can improve. I thought guys executed well. They were in the right place, did the right things. That's what you want to see your first time out."
The first-team defense didn't start as well, surrendering an 89-yard, 13-play drive on Jacksonville's first possession. The Jaguars converted four third downs on the series, including a 29-yard pass on third-and-seven and Gabbert's touchdown pass to Shorts, who beat Prince Amukamara on the play.
"The touchdown, that was just a mental error," Amukamara said. "It's the preseason, so I need to get those out of the way now. I've got to correct those mental errors."
The fortunes of Shorts, Amukamara and the defense were reversed on the first play of Jacksonville's second possession. Shorts gained 10 yards on a reverse but had the ball stripped from his hands by Amukamara, who started at right corner. Tuck recovered on the Jaguars' 29-yard line and Ware scored five plays later to give the Giants their first lead at 10-7.
"I think as a defense we came out a little tentative," Tuck said. "It's the preseason, and we don't have a lot of film on this team with their new coaching staff, so I think that's why we played that way, and they did a great job against us. But then we were able to settle down a little bit and play our game. It was big for Prince to force that turnover. I like the way our guys played for this being a first preseason game in these hot Florida conditions. I think our conditioning was good. Guys were flying around the ball. So that's something to build on."
The backup defenders picked up their own takeaway when Adrian Tracy sacked Gabbert for a 10-yard loss and forced a fumble that was recovered at the Jacksonville 47-yard line by Jason Pierre-Paul (who was playing with the second teamers). Ware's 16-yard run up the middle immediately preceded Bennett's touchdown.
Stanback's touchdown increased the lead to 24-7 with 2:40 remaining in the second quarter. It appeared they would take that lead into the halftime locker room until Hosley failed to catch Bryan Anger's punt. Robiskie's touchdown with just 24 seconds left cut Jacksonville's deficit to 24-14.
After the Jaguars closed to within 24-21, Randle's touchdown pushed the lead back to 10. But Jernigan made the same mistake as Hosley, igniting a series of events that eventually led to the Giants' defeat.
"So we start," Coughlin said. "We didn't start very well, but we start."
As Coughlin and everyone else on the Giants know -- and proved again last season -- it's not how you start but how you finish.