Despite darkness, Giants see the light
After looking like NFC's best, Sunday's snooze may be wake-up call Big Blue needed
Not long after that, an animated and upset Perry Fewell was seen having a not-so-pleasant conversation with head coach Tom Coughlin following Miles Austin' all-too-easy 24-yard touchdown catch that gave the Cowboys a stunning 33-13 lead in the middle of the third quarter.
The power might have gone out twice at the New Meadowlands on Sunday night, but there was no shortage of electricity on the Giants' sideline.
After enjoying about a month and a half of football bliss with five straight wins and dominant play, the Giants reverted to their 1-2 selves and looked completely unraveled at times in their shocking 33-20 loss to the Cowboys.
Players and coaches shared words with one another in an attempt to fix what was a disaster. But the only thing that got fixed on this night was the power. When the lights came back on in the third quarter, the Giants still looked like a team playing in the dark.
"We weren't doing what we were supposed to do," fumed Grant, who was still angry long after the Cowboys won only their second game of the season. "We weren't being ourselves. We weren't being the New York Giants defense. I don't know who we were."
A team that entered the game with the No. 1-ranked defense and the second-best offense in the NFL looked outmatched by a team that had nothing left to play for this season.
The Giants are playing for the NFC East and a top seed in the playoffs, but instead they looked like the Cowboys of the past three weeks. They couldn't get out of their own way with costly turnovers and penalties. Eli Manning threw a pick-six when his pass into the end zone intended for Hakeem Nicks, who stopped short on a slant, was taken back 101 yards for a touchdown by Bryan McCann in the second quarter to put the Cowboys up 16-3. The interception wasn't Manning's fault, but it pretty much turned the game.
In the third, the Giants had a chance to make a statement down 19-6. The power went out after Dallas' first play of the half and the Giants had a few minutes to collect themselves and take control of the game. But with not all the lights back on, Jones took a short screen to the left and sprinted his way into the end zone for a 71-yard score that completely caught the Giants off guard.
That's when Grant was seen yelling at his teammates.
"I don't think anything came loose," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "I know from a distance it kind of looks like guys are fussing and fighting. It was constructive conversation."
The power went out again, this time for eight minutes, and the Giants regrouped and scored to cut the deficit to 26-13. But the Giants couldn't hold Dallas on a third-and-22 before Jon Kitna hit Austin for a 24-yard touchdown strike.
That's when a television camera caught an emotional Fewell trying to explain what had gone so wrong to Coughlin.
"I wasn't pleased with what was going on," Coughlin explained when asked about the sideline discussion with his defensive coordinator. "That is exactly what we were trying not to do. We were talking about it and it doesn't matter whether it was animated or not. It had nothing to do with what was going on. I was trying to figure out what happened."
The Giants were still only down 13 in the fourth, but Manning had a 48-yard touchdown pass to Nicks waved off by a holding penalty by Kevin Boothe, who was inserted into the starting lineup due to injuries. Following a fumble after a bad snap by Rich Seubert, the left guard playing center for only the second game this season, Manning then threw an interception at Dallas' 6-yard-line with 2:55 left to end any comeback.
The Giants might have been able to survive all this had they not left their defense behind in Seattle last week.
Fewell's unit surrendered 400-plus yards of total offense for only the second time this season, and the Cowboys, a team that might as well have been allergic to running the ball coming into the game, became the first opponent to rush for 100 yards against the Giants since Week 3.
The Giants couldn't stop the pass, much like the team that was shredded by Peyton Manning in the second week of the season. And they made plenty of mistakes, just like when they gift-wrapped a win to Tennessee under an avalanche of killer penalties in Week 3.
Fortunately, they still control their season. At 6-3, the Giants are still in contention for the NFC East and a top seed in the conference. And they have the talent and experience to avoid one of those second-half swoons the Giants have become accustomed to experiencing in the past.
But Sunday's defeat stripped the Giants of that aura of near-invincibility that they had built in their winning streak. After looking like the best the NFC had to offer, Coughlin's team was exposed by a backup quarterback leading a team with nothing really left to play for. And that might not be such a bad thing for the Giants.
"I am actually not mad, not sad about this game; I am actually kind of glad in a way," Tuck said. "Maybe this is a wake-up call we can use. Maybe this is a chance for us to kind of look at ourselves and say 'We aren't as good as we thought we were.'"
The Giants are typically not as good as they appear at times, and not as bad as they can sometimes look.
The lights may have gone out at the stadium, but not on the Giants' season. This stunning loss only dimmed things temporarily. The Giants can shine brightly again next week if they beat Philadelphia and Michael Vick in what will be their biggest game of their season.
That's why Tuck wasn't furious after the loss.
"I think we are poised to bounce back from this," Tuck said. "I am glad this happened."
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