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Late game decisions haunt Giants in loss to Cowboys

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ARLINGTON, Texas– A popular NFL axiom is that head coaches and quarterbacks are awarded too much credit when a team wins and absorb a disproportionate share of the blame when it loses.


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On Sunday night in Dallas, the Giants suffered an agonizing 27-26 season-opening loss to the Dallas Cowboys in AT&T Stadium. And coach Tom Coughlin and quarterback Eli Manning each essentially said, "blame me."

Coughlin cited a play-calling decision he made late in the game, and Manning said the fault was his execution on the fateful play.

And while Coughlin and Manning were admirably willing to take the heat, the responsibility for this defeat is shouldered by many. The Giants, after all, held a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. But they gave up two Tony Romo to Jason Witten touchdown passes in the final 5:08, the last an 11-yard game-winner with only seven seconds remaining.

On Sunday night in Dallas, the Giants suffered an agonizing 27-26 season-opening loss to the Dallas Cowboys in AT&T Stadium. And coach Tom Coughlin and quarterback Eli Manning each essentially said, "blame me."

Coughlin cited a play-calling decision he made late in the game, and Manning said the fault was his execution on the fateful play.

And while Coughlin and Manning were admirably willing to take the heat, the responsibility for this defeat is shouldered by many. The Giants, after all, held a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. But they gave up two Tony Romo to Jason Witten touchdown passes 

That concluded a drive in which the Cowboys moved 72 yards in only six plays and 1:27 – without owning a timeout. They faced just one third down, on the touchdown. That was the final appearance for a defense that allowed 436 yards and did not sack Romo as he threw for 356 yards.

The Giants' offense managed just 289 yards and one touchdown, and held the ball for at least five minutes just once in nine possessions (not counting the impossible situation the unit found itself in after Witten's final catch).

But to Coughlin and Manning, the game was decided in a few critical moments prior to the Cowboy's offensive possession.

After Witten's first touchdown lifted Dallas to within 23-20, the Giants put together one of their best possessions of the game, moving from their own 20-yard line to the Cowboys' 20. Manning then threw a 16-yard pass to Odell Beckham Jr., giving the Giants a first-and-goal at the four.

Rashad Jennings ran for two yards and then one, leaving the ball three feet from the goal line. The Cowboys used their final two timeouts after each play, giving Coughlin time to contemplate what to do on the critical third down. A run would have bled perhaps 40 more seconds off the clock. But the decision was made to pass the ball. Under pressure from linebacker Sean Lee, Manning rolled right before throwing the ball out of the end zone. The play took just six seconds to complete. Josh Brown's fourth field goal increased the Giants' lead to 26-20. But Romo and the Dallas offense had 1:34 to work with.

"It's my fault at the end of game," Coughlin said. "There is nobody else to blame but me. The decision to throw the ball there on third down was not a good decision. It should have been a run, whether we scored or not. The clock would have at least given us the opportunity to take a few more seconds off. We wouldn't have had the points, but we could've run the ball and the clock would've run and we could've taken a timeout and kicked a field goal. And it would have taken at least another 40 seconds or so off the clock. So that was a bad decision on my part. There's nobody else to blame but me."

Not so, said Manning. The 12-year veteran said he should have made more prudent decisions once the ball was snapped.

"(We were) trying to get it to two scores and I had bad clock management those final three plays," Manning said. "I thought they had used their last timeout on that play to Odell when we got the first down. I thought that they only had one timeout left.  I guess since there was a penalty (Dallas was flagged for being offside), even though we declined it, for some reason that stops the clock. I didn't think that was the case, so bad clock management there and I thought we could run out the clock or get it way down and then on third down, (I) can't afford to throw it away. I've got to sit in there and take the sack and then run off the 40 seconds.

"I've got to know the circumstance and just don't take a chance and take that sack and go on to the next … get a field goal and leave just a little bit of time left on the clock."

"I've got to know the circumstance and just don't take a chance and take that sack and go on to the next … get a field goal and leave just a little bit of time left on the clock."

Coughlin said he considered taking another crack at the end zone on fourth down.

"There was, but why would you let them get to midfield to kick a field goal to tie?" he said. "That was my only thought there, to come away with something."

The decisions and execution would have been moot had the defense risen up to stop Dallas' offense. But as Coughlin said, "The drives toward the end of the game were, quite frankly, knives through butter. It was too easy."

In the game's final eight minutes, the Cowboys had two offensive possessions. They gained a total of 148 yards and took a combined 4:20 to complete. Dallas faced just two third-down situations in those two series, each of which ended with a Romo touchdown pass to Witten.

"That's not the reason we lost," Coughlin said. "They shouldn't have had the time to even do that, had we done it properly." 

"As the lead dog of the team, he's got to say that," defensive end Robert Ayers said. "But on defense, we had a chance to win the game. So he can take one-third of it. On defense, we let them go 80 yards or whatever they went, so that part is on us. Coaches coach, players play. He made some decisions, and players have got to back him up. It's tough, but it is what it is."

Romo completed 80 percent of his passes (36 of 45) and was never sacked. But the Giants did intercept two of his passes. And the defense, specifically Trumaine McBride, forced a fumble that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie returned 57 yards for a touchdown.

"I was happy with how hard we worked," cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "But I still feel like in the second half, the Cowboys were scoring, to

be blunt, at will. Just like they did in that two-minute, and just like they did, I think, on the first possession of the half. One of our goals is to always stop the first possession of the half. That gives us momentum. We didn't do that today."
Offensively, the Giants gained only 289 yards and scored one touchdown.

"I thought we had a couple of good drives," Manning said. "They did a good job getting some pressure, keeping everything in front of them. They weren't letting us get down the field much.  Missed a couple of throws on some third downs, a couple in the green zone that could have extended some drives and possibly led to touchdowns.  I've got to play better. I've got to make the throws that are there and stand in there and get completions."

 Manning echoed Coughlin, who took responsibility for his decisions in the post-game locker room and when he met the media moments later.

"It says a lot about him," Jennings said. "It's not his fault, though. Like I said, players make plays. He doesn't."

"We have to make plays to get the ball in the end zone," guard Geoff Schwartz said. "At the end of the game, it doesn't really matter what plays are called, we have to do it. We just didn't do it at the end. We've got to score a touchdown there. Things would have been different, obviously."

For the Giants, that was a painful truth.

Photos from the Giants Week 1 matchup with the Cowboys

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