EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.**
– The Giants-Atlanta Falcons game Sunday included 135 offensive plays, and little debate which one provided the game-changing moment.
It occurred with 4:27 remaining in the third quarter. The Giants led, 20-10, and had a third-and-two at Atlanta's eight-yard line. They were on the doorstep of scoring a touchdown that would have expanded their lead to 17 points, or at worst, kicking a field goal to make it a 13-point game.>> GIANTS VS. FALCONS HIGHLIGHTS
The Giants did neither. Eli Manning was sacked by Kroy Biermann, who forced a fumble that was recovered by Paul Soliai at the nine. The Falcons drove 91 yards to make it 20-17, and later took the lead with just 1:14 remaining on Devonta Freeman's two-yard touchdown run. The Giants were scoreless in the fourth quarter and fell to 0-2 with a disheartening 24-20 loss.
As they did last week in Dallas, the Giants were unable to hold a 10-point lead in the final quarter.
"Finishing the game, getting the game done and finished the way we want it to, obviously we're struggling with that," coach Tom Coughlin said.
Coughlin likely would not have uttered that quote had the Giants retained possession and padded their
lead near the end of the third quarter. But the fumble – the Giants' only turnover in two games – ignited a frustrating series of events. Most notably, the Giants scored no more points. They punted the next two times they had the ball, and went out on downs on their final, frustrating offensive series.
"The unfortunate thing, the most disappointing thing for me is from that point on, I didn't see any offense," Coughlin said. "I don't know what happened there, but we didn't really, until the last series when we got the ball to midfield with the (pass interference) penalty, we didn't press beyond after that sequence at the end of the third quarter."
"I should have recovered that fumble, it was right by my legs," said Justin Pugh, who moved from left guard to tackle after Ereck Flowers left the game with an ankle injury. "It just could have saved us. I saw it hit and went to go get it and just couldn't get my hands on it."
Manning played an otherwise outstanding game, completing 27 of 40 passes for 292 yards (including touchdowns of 67 yards to Odell Beckham Jr. and 10 yards to Larry Donnell) and, for the second week in a row, no interceptions. But he never saw Biermann approaching him from behind, and the turnover was the turning point, despite the chances the Giants later had.
"A lot things could've happened in the drives after that," Manning said. "The next drive we actually had a pretty good drive going, we were driving down there (from their own 20 to the Atlanta 39-yard line), we got to the third-and-two, they called a timeout, we came into the huddle and we had a run play and we didn't get it, we got stopped right there (Rashad Jennings lost a yard running up the middle). So that was a costly third down; one and a half, two yards. We've got to convert right there."
On the next series, the Falcons called timeout as the Giants prepared for a third-and-seven on their own 39. But the Giants were penalized for delay of game, sending them back five yards. On third-and-12, the play
clock almost expired again before Manning's pass to rookie Geremy Davis gained just five yards, forcing another punt.
"I thought I got the ball snapped, so that's on me," Manning said. "Can't afford a penalty there. We had deep coverage trying to get to a better play in those circumstances. Same thing on the next play, just checked it late to a different play trying to get a first down."
"There's really no reason for that," Coughlin said. "There was plenty of time when we were out over the ball, plenty of time, and I think, the only reason I can offer is, he's changing the protection around and he loses track of the clock. But to go from third-and-seven with a legitimate chance and, quite frankly, a good play called at third-and-12 - and at that point of time, let's face it, we had lost Flowers and they had their ears pinned back, because you know we were throwing the ball, throwing the ball, throwing the ball."
The defense shares responsibility for the defeat. Atlanta, after all, gained 402 yards, including 346 through the air, and converted 11 of 17 third down opportunities. Matt Ryan completed 30 of 46 passes, including 13 to Julio Jones for 135 yards.
That duo set up the game-winning touchdown on a 37-yard pass down the left sideline that put the ball at the Giants' one. Jones got a step on Prince Amukamara on the play. Freeman scored two plays later.
"The last play to Jones, surprise, surprise," Coughlin said. "I didn't see the middle part of the play, but he just ran by him. It was just a go route, I think, he just threw it up in the air and he went and got it."
"Julio is one of the best wide receivers in the game," Amukamara said. "And I feel like I'm starting to be one of the best in the game. It was good on good, he just made a play. It was a good throw and catch."
The Giants had one last chance to enjoy such successes of their own, taking possession at their own 20 after a touchdown. On second down, they advanced to the 50 when Robert Alford was flagged for interfering with Beckham. Manning overthrew a leaping Donnell on first down, couldn't get the ball to Jerome Cunningham on second down, and was short on a pass to Preston Parker on third down. The Giants last offensive snap was another pass that Parker got his hand on, but couldn't control.
Now the Giant face a short week. They host Washington Thursday night.
"We need something to bring us together, get a break and make our breaks and start playing better," Manning said. "(We need to) get the win and see if we can build up that momentum."
Photos from the Giants Week 2 matchup with the Atlanta Falcons