EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The football gods clearly have something against the Giants this season.
On Sunday, they ran the ball better than they had all season, got a second consecutive four-touchdown performance from their quarterback, and engineered a historic comeback – and still suffered another excruciating loss.
This time, it was to the Carolina Panthers, who improved to 14-0 when Graham Gano kicked a 43-yard field goal on the game's final play to send the Giants to a 38-35 defeat. It was the third time this season the Giants lost on a final-play field goal, and the fifth time on an opposition score with no more than seven seconds remaining.
Asked if all these defeats are "stomach punches," coach Tom Coughlin said, "Sometimes lower."
This one really hurt because the Giants trailed 35-7 before improbably scoring four consecutive touchdowns to tie the game at 35-35 with 1:46 remaining. According to the Elias Sport Bureau, it was the first time in their history the Giants had rallied from a 28-point deficit to tie a game. But once again, they couldn't close the deal, or "finish" in Coughlin's parlance. As was the case in many of those losses, the defense was unable to get a late-game stop. The Panthers drove 49 yards in seven plays to set up Gano's game-winner.
"In the end, that's a loss and although we fought, we fought hard, at the end, we still lost," defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins said. "We didn't do enough. We had a chance to get off the field at the end when the score was tied, and we've got to come through in that situation."
"You're thinking that the offense is cooking right now, and you want to try to get them the ball," cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. "You've got three timeouts left, but they just drove the ball right down and got a field goal. We've definitely got to do better at that."
The loss left the Giants needing considerable help to win the NFC East. They fell to 6-8 on a day when Washington, which owns a tiebreaker advantage, improved to 7-7. Philadelphia, the other division contender, plays Sunday night.
Despite falling into a deep hole, the Giants gave themselves a chance to win through a variety of contributions. They rushed for a season-high 161 yards, including 107 by Rashad Jennings, who scored on a 38-yard touchdown run. Eli Manning threw four touchdown passes for the second time in seven days (though he did throw a fourth-quarter interception on a tipped pass). Rodgers-Cromartie blocked a field goal attempt, and Kerry Wynn recovered a fumble.
Manning's scoring pass, a 14-yarder to Odell Beckham Jr. on fourth down, tied the score with 1:46 remaining.
"Proud of the way the guys fought back," Manning said. "It wasn't easy out there. But we've just got to say, 'Hey, we've got to get one score, and we'll see what happens.' We were able to put some good drives together, had a couple nice plays. Got it to 35-14, and the defense got some stops. (We had) another big drive, and Rashad breaks a long one, and so all of a sudden now we've got a little bit of momentum with some time and were back in the game."
But the Giants negated many of their good deeds with mistakes and missed opportunities. Beckham dropped a certain touchdown pass on the Giants' first possession. Rodgers-Cromartie had only open field in front of him when he couldn't handle a Cam Newton pass in the second quarter. Jennings' fumble led to the touchdown that gave the Panthers a 14-7 lead. If the Giants scored the two touchdowns they should have had, and prevented the one they gave away, it's a different game.
And while this doesn't exactly make them unique, they couldn't stop Newton, who threw for five touchdowns and ran for 100 yards, including a 47-yard scamper that was the longest run by a quarterback against the Giants since the 1970 merger.
Finally, there were the penalties. Although the teams seldom face each other, there was plenty of bad blood between the teams. Beckham was flagged for three unnecessary roughness penalties. The player guarding him, cornerback Josh Norman, got two.
"We had discussed prior to the game going in what the expectation would be, and he thought that that was all behind him, but he did lose his composure," Coughlin said of Beckham.
"Thought throughout the course of the game he regained it, but I wouldn't speak for him and I wouldn't make an excuse for him. People do from time to time drop a ball, even people who have his ability. He was on his way to the end zone on that first play, as well. I'll talk to him about it and I'm not going to discuss it anymore. Whatever we have to discuss, we will discuss in private."
Coughlin admitted he considered removing Beckham from the game so the second-year pro could clear his head and calm down.
"It was a consideration," Coughlin said. "In fact, it was a strong consideration. But it didn't happen. … I wanted him to play the game. He had to learn. He's got to learn at some point how to deal with some things on the field.
"I'm not willing to deal with the penalties. I'm not willing to deal with anything. I want him out there to win the football game. Again, he's a player on our team and he made some mistakes today, but I'm hoping he will recognize that and get over it."
Beckham caught six passes for 76 yards, ending his team-record streak of consecutive 100-yard games at six. He was not interested in discussing his game-long tussle with Norman.
"It is unfortunate that we lost," Beckham said. "It is what we have been dealing with all season as far as finishing games, and it hurts to lose games like that. It hurts to have to watch a game-winning field goal go up two times against undefeated, great teams (including the loss last month to New England). It is unfortunate and kind of in the way of our season."
The Giants still have two games remaining, next Sunday night at Minnesota, and at home against Philadelphia. But the sting of this loss will linger.
"It's always a crush to lose," Coughlin said. "It's difficult to lose in those circumstances right there. But we'll find a way to keep fighting. That's what we'll do."