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Giants look for answers after offense struggles again

ARLINGTON, Texas – The second game of the Giants' 2018 season was in many ways an unappealing repeat of their season opener.

An offense so dormant in the first half demonstrated much more life in the second half. The Giants again scored just one touchdown. Saquon Barkley reprised his role as the statistical standout. The opposition even scored 20 points for the second week in a row.

Unfortunately, all of those similarities extended to the Giants' postgame emotions. They trudged off the field with the same feeling of disappointment following their 20-13 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in AT&T Stadium. Coupled with last week's 20-15 defeat at home to Jacksonville, the Giants have lost each of their first two games for the second season in a row.

"We certainly didn't do enough in terms of offense to – we didn't score enough points, especially early," coach Pat Shurmur said. "And then the game gets twisted like that and you got to pass it more than you want to. Just didn't make enough plays, so here we are, we're 0-2."

"Just not good enough," quarterback Eli Manning said. "We didn't execute well enough. When we did get some first downs we made, but seemed to be going backwards a few plays later. We got into some third and longs and tough situations. We just got to find ways to stop going backwards and stop hurting ourselves and execute at a high level."

The Giants' lone touchdown was an 18-yard pass from Manning to tight end Evan Engram. But only 1:27 remained in the game, and the score cut the team's deficit from 17 points to 10. Aldrick Rosas field goals of 28 and 38 yards accounted for the Giants' other points.

Dallas scored on Dak Prescott's 64-yard touchdown pass to Tavon Austin on the game's third play, Ezekiel Elliott's six-yard run in the fourth quarter and field goals of 37 and 29 yards by Brett Maher.

One week after scoring on a dazzling 68-yard run in his NFL debut, Barkley, the second overall choice in this year's NFL draft, set a franchise record with 14 receptions (for 80 yards). It's safe to say he was underwhelmed by the achievement.

"Don't matter at all to me," he said. "We didn't win today, so don't matter to me."

Barkley's primary job, of course, is to run the ball, and there he came up short, gaining just 28 yards on 11 carries. The Giants rushed for 35 yards.

"Got to give respect, got to give credit where credit is due, so definitely much respect to the Cowboys defense, they played a heck of a game," Barkley said. "We got to continue to get better on the side of the ball as a team and find a way to figure out and do well."

The passing game was a bit more productive. Manning completed 33 of 44 passes for 279 yards. But he was sacked six times.

Odell Beckham, Jr., was the focus of Dallas' pass defense and finished with just four catches for 51 yards.

"They'll keep you in front of them, not let you make any big plays," Beckham said "It's just finding a way to make plays underneath or whatever it is, we need to find it soon.

"They just outplayed us. Plain and simple. They just came out and beat us."

Especially in the first half. Against Jacksonville, the Giants gained 95 yards in the first two quarters (and 229 in the second half). In Dallas, their first-half struggles multiplied. They gained just 45 yards and earned just two first downs, both on Manning fourth-down quarterback sneaks.

The Giants didn't cross the 50-yard line once in the half. On one six-minute possession, Manning completed six passes for 34 yards, converted both of those fourth downs … and the Giants still punted from their own 49.

They trailed at halftime, 10-0.

"Sometimes you have halves like that where it's not going great," Manning said. "But you just keep hanging in there, keep trying to buy some time and move around, just knowing, 'Hey, you're maybe one play away from changing the game or hitting a big one.' We did hit a nice one (a 37-yarder) to Cody (Latimer) and it got down to the (three)-yard line, get a penalty and go backwards (and ultimately kick a field goal). It's just stuff like that where you can't afford to have the plays where you're going backwards and the sacks early in the down where you put yourself in a bad situation."

The Giants found themselves in such a scenario just 1:34 into the game, when cornerback Janoris Jenkins slipped, Austin got behind him, hauled in Prescott's pass at the Giants' 25-yard line and outraced the secondary to the end zone for an early 7-0 lead.

Rosas' first field goal cut the deficit to 13-3 with 4:31 remaining in the third quarter. But as Manning noted, even that was bittersweet, because a first-and-goal situation deteriorated after Rhett Ellison's first-down holding penalty.

Dallas increased its lead to 20-3 before the Giants scored 10 points – and recovered an onside kick - in the final 1:27. But it was too little, too late.

"You got to give them credit," Shurmur said of the Cowboys. "They did a good job tonight and we didn't do anything well enough on offense to win this game. We'll get back to work, get it fixed and move on from there."

The Giants return to Texas next week to visit the Houston Texans, who are also 0-2.

"(This is) when the captains and leaders step up," Jenkins said. "Everybody comes up, practices harder, plays harder, practice faster, play faster. Just play with a chip from now on. We understand we have 14 more games, and right now, every game counts. That's how you have to look at it, and you just have to continue to play."

The Giants know they must begin to play well – the sooner the better, or this same story could repeat itself.