No one gets sympathy for self-inflicted wounds, particularly an NFL team whose generosity toward an opponent results in defeat.
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The Giants opened their 2013 season by failing to take care of the ball and themselves. They committed six turnovers that led to 24 Dallas points – including two Cowboys defensive touchdowns – and lost in AT&T Stadium, 36-31.
"We turned the ball over five times and muffed a punt," coach Tom Coughlin said. "Six times we gave the ball away tonight. Six times - that's my fault. I'm totally, totally disappointed and embarrassed by that kind of football. That's sloppy, sloppy football. We have control over ourselves. We have to recognize situations that are going to lead to those kinds of things and then you can't turn the ball over. You can't win turning the football over. That's the bottom line. There are a lot of other things that we can fix…we're going to fix that, too."
It would serve them well to do it quickly, because Peyton Manning and the high-scoring Denver Broncos visit MetLife Stadium next week.
The six turnovers tied the Giants' single-game high in Coughlin's 10 seasons as coach. They lost the ball six times at Baltimore on Dec. 12, 2004 and at Green Bay on Dec. 26, 2010. The Giants lost those games, too.
What happened in Arlington was a reversal from the norm these teams established a year ago. The Giants had one takeaway, on Ryan Mundy's second career interception, and were minus-5 for the night. In 2012, they were fourth in the NFL at plus-14. The Cowboys, meanwhile, had only 16 takeaways in 16 games last year and their differential was minus-13, leaving them tied for 27th in the league.
"It was a total disregard of the carelessness for the ball and lack of understanding of that's how you lose," Coughlin said. "You're not going to win anything with minus-5 in turnovers. There's just no way."
Remarkably, the Giants almost found a way. Despite their difficulty taking care of the ball, they had a chance to win the game when they took possession at their own 17 with 2:41 remaining. All that was needed was for Eli Manning to execute one of his stirring fourth-quarter comebacks. A pass to Rueben Randle gained 26 yards. On first down from the 48, Manning threw to the right for running back Da'Rel Scott, who entered the game when David Wilson was removed following two fumbles.
But for the second time, Manning was picked off on a screen pass. They ball bounced off Scott's arm and right to cornerback Brandon Carr, who returned the ball 49 yards for the touchdown that sealed the deal for Dallas.
"It was just a bad break," said Manning, who threw four touchdown passes in addition to his three interceptions. "We had a screen called and I thought he would just sit there, I would try to pop it to him, he would make a little move. Unfortunately, it's off his arm, I guess, intercepted. It was just a bad break on that one. You've got some young running backs and some young guys, and we just have to get on the same page. You know there are going to be mistakes and different things to fix every week. You just hope that the mistakes aren't costly ones and end up being turnovers. You just can't afford those."
"It was a miscommunication," Scott said. "I could have sat for him and given him a better target.
"It is a terrible feeling, seeing that, and then them taking it back for a touchdown. It hurt a lot. We had a chance to win. We'll fix things, for sure."
The first play of the season was a harbinger of what was to come. Manning dropped back to throw a screen pass to Wilson, but the ball was picked off by defensive end DeMarcus Ware, leading to a Dallas field goal.
"Our screens weren't real good to us tonight," Manning said.
The Giants committed turnovers on each of their next two possessions as Wilson lost a fumble and Manning was intercepted by safety Will Allen. Neither of the miscues led to a Cowboys score.
But on the Giants' second snap of the third quarter, defensive tackle Nick Hayden pried the ball from Wilson's arm. Safety Barry Church scooped it up to give Dallas a 20-10 lead. That was the last play of the night for Wilson, who infrequently played on offense for weeks after fumbling in the opener last year vs. Dallas.
"That's a tough situation to be in," Wilson said. "God doesn't give you more than we can handle. Everything happens for a reason. He's going to bring me through it and I'm just going to keep working hard. That's the bottom line. There's nowhere to go but up from here."
Wilson was asked if he was surprised to be pulled from the game. "In that situation, the coaches make the decision," he said. "I can't blame them for that."
Coughlin said Wilson must improve at protecting the ball.
"All we talked about all week long was they were coming to strip the ball," Coughlin said. "They are a good ball-stripping team. We can be better. He can get better at that. He can run with two hands on the ball just like anybody else.
"They (the running backs) are not going to play unless they hang onto the ball. It's demoralizing to the whole team. He's a talented young man. We'll get him right even if he has to run around the field with two hands on the ball."
Later in the third quarter, the Giants forced Dallas to punt. But Chris Jones' kick inexplicably hit the upper arm of Trumaine McBride and was recovered by the Cowboys' DeVonte Halloman. Two plays later, Dallas had a 27-10 lead after Tony Romo threw a short touchdown pass to Jason Witten.
The Giants rallied and were within striking distance when Manning's pass for Scott became the Giants' final critical mistake of the evening.
"We played hard," Coughlin said. "We believe in each other. We fight for each other. There's no finger pointing. It's a good team. We have good leadership. The captains are good. They are saying the right things in there.
"But it doesn't ease the pain of giving the game away. That's exactly what I thought we did. So, I'll take responsibility for that. I lose those games. That was sloppy. It should have never happened, but it did."
The Giants' task is to make sure it doesn't happen again.