The Giants are defending champions, but it doesn’t mean they’re without their warts.
And unfortunately for them, their deficiencies cost them at inopportune times in a 24-17 loss to the division rival Cowboys.
Despite winning the Super Bowl last season, the Giants (0-1) had a knack for coming out flat in regular-season games they should’ve been up for. Last night wasn’t any different.
The Cowboys (1-0) totally dominated Big Blue’s defensive front, as running back DeMarco Murray finished with 131 yards on 20 carries.
Overall, the Cowboys dominated the tempo, outgaining the Giants 433 yards to 269, and in time of possession, 34:07 to 25:53.
Head coach Tom Coughlin said he was troubled by the way his team came out flat, losing a game that is usually tailor-made for the defending champs to kick off the season with a primetime win.
“We took a bite out of humble pie today,” said Coughlin. “It brought us back down to earth. No more blowing smoke up their rear ends. No more celebrating last year. This is a great challenge for us.”
The biggest challenge was trying to slow down a Dallas attack that scored 17 points in the second half. Murray only had 20 of his rushing yards in the first half but exploded for 111 in the second.
Not to be outdone was Dallas’s passing game, which was working behind an offensive line that had never started a game together. Quarterback Tony Romo was efficient as he went 22-of-29 for 307 yards. Romo connected with reserve wideout Kevin Olgetree on a 40-yard touchdown — one of two he scored in the game — and also with Miles Austin on an acrobatic 35-yarder with 5:57 left in the game that seemingly broke the will of New York.
The Cowboys didn’t even need All-Pro tight end Jason Witten, as their aerial attack was fueled by the supporting cast and big runs from Murray. Witten, who suffered a lacerated spleen in the preseason, shockingly played but only had two catches for 10 yards and was targeted just three times. Ogletree had eight catches for 114 yards and two scores, while Austin finished with four receptions for 73 yards and a score. Dez Bryant was cumbersome for the Giants’ patchwork secondary, as he notched four catches for 85 yards, including a streaking 38-yard reception down the right sideline to victimize starter Corey Webster. The trio of Cowboy wideouts worked the sidelines to perfection all night but also did a majority of their damage with quick slants.
Coughlin said the secondary as a whole didn’t play well, as it lost third-stringer Michael Coe to a hamstring injury at the start of the fourth quarter. Coe was already filling in for the injured Prince Amukamara (ankle), who was taking over for the injury-plagued Terrell Thomas (ACL), who is out for the season on injured reserve.
Coughlin was dismayed afterwards at the plight of his unit, specifically Webster.
“Corey is better than that. He’s strong-willed and competitive but it’s a shame he got beat on a double move and then a go-route. I don’t know if there was a lapse in him but he’ll bounce back,” said Coughlin. “They just made plays. [Ogletree] has played well against us before. He’s their third receiver and he did it to us before.”
Conversely for the Giants they did little offensively, as Eli Manning went 21-of-32 for 213 yards and a late score to tight end Martellus Bennett. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw tallied a team-high 78 yards on 17 carries but a large chunk of his total came on a 33-yard run. He also scored a 10-yard touchdown run at the 5:11 mark of the third quarter but was mainly a non-factor.
Bradshaw’s understudy, rookie David Wilson, was even less effective as he only registered four yards on two carries. Wilson also fumbled on his second-career carry, at the 6:43 mark of the first quarter, when linebacker Sean Lee popped the ball loose after a jarring collision. The first-round pick never got another touch in the game.
“All the physical mistakes are easier to correct instead of the mental sometimes,” Manning said. “That’s stuff that we can go back on and work on and correct.”
Manning added it was more disconcerting to him that the offense failed to put the ball in the end zone after starting a drive from the Cowboys’ 2-yard line, following a Michael Boley interception and 51-yard return.
“We had three opportunities to score and we didn’t. You have to put it in from there,” Manning said, adding he’s already tired of seeing his team trying to make late comebacks. “We had a chance even at the end but they converted on a third-and-long to put it away. As long as we’re not making mistakes and keeping it close we’ve won a lot of games that way. [But] you’d hope it wouldn’t have to come to that though. … We just ran out of time.”
Big Blue notes
»They weren’t saying “CRUUUUZ” nearly as much on Wednesday night as in games past, as the dynamic wideout had his share of blunders. Cruz, who finished with six catches for 58 yards, also had three drops. He had seven all of last season. Coughlin said he thinks he knows the reason for the drops last night: “Victor has had, on occasion, some concentration lapses where he’s dropped the ball while trying to run before catching the ball. He’ll fix that.”
»The Giants’ fourth cornerback on the depth chart, Coe, could miss some time with an injured hamstring. Coe was already filling in for the backup corner, Amukamara, so this could be a crushing blow to a unit that has had its share of injuries in the secondary the last two seasons. Coughlin didn’t sound too optimistic: “There’s another corner we’re staring at being down. [Injuries have] rubbed salt in us. … Hopefully the competitive fire will have us coming out swinging next time.”
» Coughlin didn’t want to use excuses, giving credit to the Cowboys’ defense for “neutralizing our weapons.” He added that Dallas “beat us, no excuses.” But he did acknowledge some shortcomings he felt the replacement officials had: “You have guys in position trying to do the very best they can. And you can yell from the sidelines all you want but that’s what it is.”
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.