The curtain went up on the Giants' 2011 season today and they did not perform to the standards they expected of themselves.
They wasted two leads, were shutout in the second half, converted only one third-down opportunity, made costly mistakes in all three phases and, most importantly, lost to the Washington Redskins in FedExField, 28-14, their first opening-day defeat since 2007.
The loss ended the Giants' six-game winning streak against the Redskins and their five-game streak in Washington.
Afterward, some of the harshest reviews were delivered in the Giants' locker room. For many, the disappointment was exasperated by playing poorly on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which were remembered in a poignant pregame ceremony.
"We don't live in a bubble as professional athletes," defensive tackle Chris Canty said. "We're affected by what happens. What 9/11 means to us, what it means to our fans, what it means to our city, what it means to this country – we represent the red, white and blue. And to go out there and put on that kind of performance is just unacceptable for us. It's unacceptable in every regard.
"We have to have more purpose than we showed on game day, we have to have more purpose than we showed in practice. That's what it's going to take because obviously we didn't get the job done today."
"We shot ourselves in the foot," tackle Kareem McKenzie said. "They made the plays and we didn't. We made too many mistakes. The number of penalties we committed (eight) is uncharacteristic of this team based on what we've done in the past against the Redskins. We didn't have a good day on the offensive side of the ball. We have to play better."
Tom Coughlin will certainly do all he can this week to ensure that happens.
"It's our first game, I liked their effort," he said. "I had no problem with that at all. But the execution, particularly the offensive execution, and the ability to defend the pass off of play action was disappointing."
The Giants played without Pro Bowl defensive end Justin Tuck (neck), who arrived at the stadium hoping to play but was declared inactive after being examined by team doctors. He joined defensive starters Osi Umenyiora, Jonathan Goff and Terrell Thomas, who are all sidelined with knee injuries. Goff and Thomas are on injured reserve and will miss the season.
"We won't make any excuses about that," Coughlin said. "We came down here, we were very well prepared and our guys were excited about playing. We knew the significance of the day and we wanted to pay our respects by the way in which we played. As I said, other than a couple of things that took place in the first half, it was highly competitive. We did not play the same way in the second half, obviously. Offensively we didn't do a thing – we didn't score a point. That was very disappointing."
Tuck hopes to play next Monday in the home opener vs. St. Louis.
"The plan is to wait one more week," said Tuck. "I wanted to play this week. I'm still not 100 percent, but I wanted to give it a go. The doctor said, 'We would rather have you out one week than re-aggravating it and going through this process again and be out for a month.' It was a precautionary thing."
The Giants were also without tight end Travis Beckum, whose hamstring became tight late in the week.
"He's our third down tight end," Coughlin said. "He's the guy that took all of the snaps for the whole week. That was part of the confusion with the two-minute drill at the end of the game (which included a delay of game penalty). We had a tight end in there who hadn't really had much work, trying to do the best he could and the execution wasn't what it should have been."
Tim Hightower rushed for one touchdown, Rex Grossman threw scoring passes to Anthony Armstrong and Jabar Gaffney and Ryan Kerrigan returned an interception for Washington's touchdowns.
Eli Manning and Ahmad Bradshaw rushed for touchdowns for the Giants in the first half. But Manning threw the pick that turned into the game-winning touchdown, a Lawrence Tynes field goal attempt was blocked, Antrel Rolle committed a penalty that aided the Redskins, the Giants rushed for only 75 yards – 62 yards less than their 2010 average – and succeeded on one of 10 third-down chances.
"Our third downs were atrocious again," Coughlin said. "I think our inconsistency and our lack of third down production - you're not going to keep the ball if you can't do something with it on third down."
The game turned permanently in the Redskins' favor on the third play of the second half. The teams were tied at halftime, 14-14, and the Giants received the second-half kickoff. On third-and-10 from the 18, Eli Manning threw a short pass to his right for Hakeem Nicks. But Kerrigan, the outside linebacker who was Washington's first-round draft choice this year, jumped up as McKenzie attempted to cut-block him, batted the ball, caught it and quickly covered the nine yards in front of him to the end zone to give the Redskins a 21-14 lead.
"He just did a good job and a good move to avoid the cut – to jump up and tip it up," Manning said. "It was a good play by him – not a whole lot I can do about that."
"It was (a) blitz," Nicks said. "We audibled to a little screen pass and the defensive end jumped up and made a good play on the ball."
The Giants had a great opportunity in the fourth quarter, after Jason Pierre-Paul's second sack forced a fumble by Grossman that was recovered and returned 13 yards to the Redskins' 27 by Michael Boley. The momentum quickly stalled when Bradshaw lost two yards on third-and-one. Tynes came on to try a 38-yard field goal attempt, but it was blocked by Brian Orakpo.
"I felt like I hit it like I hit all of my kicks," Tynes said. "They are not always going to be real high. Steve (Weatherford, his holder) said I hit it good and that it sounded good to him. We will look at film tomorrow. Anyway you look at it, it is a miss."
"There was penetration on the left side and the ball was not elevated very well," Coughlin said. "It takes little then to block it, but that can't be an issue. Obviously, Lawrence has been out of action for awhile and we need to work on that. But that can't be a problem. We just won't let that be a problem."
Washington took possession on its 30. On third-and-nine from the 45, Grossman threw to Fred Davis for seven yards. The Redskins would have punted, but Rolle hit Davis while the tight end was on the ground and was penalized 15 yards for unnecessary roughness. That gave Washington a first down at the Giants' 33. Six plays later, Grossman threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Gaffney that essentially clinched the game with 5:04 remaining.
"You're not supposed to go helmet-to-helmet as a defender," Coughlin said. "It looked like he was trying to cover the guy up. I don't know that there was any intent there. I was very surprised when the penalty was called. Of course, it was way across the field."
"I don't think I lowered my head at all, but the call was made and you have to get up and play again," Rolle said. "Next time, we have to take him down before he gets there and it won't happen. I don't think it was helmet-to-helmet. We definitely made contact with him after the initial hit. I definitely didn't lead with my helmet. I have never led with my helmet on any tackle and to say that is crazy. There is nothing I can do about it. The call was made."
Grossman's six-yard touchdown pass to Armstrong with only 37 seconds remaining in the second quarter created a 14-14 tie.
On second-and-one, Armstrong lined up alone on the left side, got a step on cornerback Aaron Ross and caught the ball in the end zone just before he stepped out of bounds. The Redskins traveled 80 yards in only five plays, all of them Grossman completions to different receivers. The longest was a 39-yarder to Gaffney, who slipped past Ross and was tackled by Deon Grant.
That moved the ball to the Giants' 15-yard line. After Grossman hit Hightower for a nine-yard gain, Armstrong scored the touchdown.
Bradshaw's touchdown – also a six-yarder – gave the Giants a 14-7 lead with 2:48 remaining in the quarter. On first and goal from the six, Bradshaw took a handoff and ran to the right side, where he found daylight thanks to rookie fullback Henry Hynoski's block on Kerrigan.
The score concluded an eight-play, 85-yard drive that began with Manning's 24-yard pass to Mario Manningham. Manning and Manningham later hooked up for an 11-yard completion, plus a 17-yarder to Nicks and Brandon Jacobs ran for 14 yards on the play immediately preceding the touchdown.
Hightower's one-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter tied the score at 7-7. Grossman's 18-yard pass to Armstrong gave Washington a first-and-goal at the one. On the next play, Hightower ran wide to his left and beat the closest Giants defenders to the goal line.
The Giants scored the only points of the first quarter on Manning's two-yard touchdown run. The score was set up by Nick's 68-yard catch-and-run. Nicks got behind Kevin Barnes, caught the ball on the Redskins' 25 and wasn't brought down until he was at the two. The 68-yarder tied fpr the longest reception of Nicks' career. He also had a 68-yard reception on Dec. 13, 2009 vs. Philadelphia.
On the next play, Manning scrambled to his right and stepped into the right front corner of the end zone for the Giants' first score of the season. It was the fourth rushing touchdown of Manning's career and his first since Sept. 4, 2008, also in a season opener vs. Washington.
No one even mentioned that in the postgame locker room because of the disappointments that followed.
"We have to do our part," Manning said. "We have to keep the ball longer and help out our defense. We've got to win the time of possession and sustain drives. We have to find a way to put more points on the board."
The sooner the better.