By Curt Macysyn
Consistency has eluded the New York Football Giants all season, and that elusive quality most likely cost New York a chance at the NFL playoffs this year. The much maligned Tony Romo led the Cowboys on a late scoring drive, and Dan Bailey converted a 35-yard field goal as time expired to lead Dallas to a 24-21 victory over the Giants in the New Jersey Meadowlands.
Both teams were fired up and held an impromptu face off at mid-field before the contest even started. Emotions continued to run high throughout the game as evidenced by the fact that the teams combined for 22 penalties, including several avoidable personal foul penalties. But Dallas was able to calm its nerves and rally for victory even after the Giants had tied the game with under five minutes remaining when Eli Manning hit Louis Murphy with a four-yard touchdown strike, and Andre Brown scored a two-point conversion to knot the score at 21-21.
Ultimately, the Giants were done in by mistakes and inconsistency, which has been the story of their 2013 campaign. An early turnover that came in the form of a fumble, by the normally reliable Victor Cruz, was returned for a touchdown by Dallas safety Jeff Heath. In addition to the turnover touchdown, New York could not convert two first half drives in the red zone into touchdowns and settled for Jeff Brown field goals.
But with a razor-thin margin for error because of these self-inflicted mistakes, ultimately the Giants could not overcome these challenges, so their opportunity for a post-season party most likely came to an end in a cold and windy MetLife Stadium.
Offense Grade: C+
The Giants rushed for a season high 202 yards, with Andre Brown gaining a career-high 127 yards on the ground, as New York averaged 6.7 yards per carry on the afternoon. Brandon Jacobs rushed for 75 yards with a gaudy 8.3 yards per carry average. Jacobs had a 37-yard run in the second quarter, which was the longest carry for New York this season. The G-men consistently found running lanes in the Dallas defense, and they were able to climb back into this game mostly on the ground.
With wide receiver Hakeem Nicks missing the game with an abdominal strain, Eli Manning struggled through his own inconsistencies. Manning was only 16-30 for 174 yards. The veteran quarterback did not throw an interception, and he had two important touchdown passes. His first score, a 27-yard pass, to tight end Brandon Myers came on fourth down, late in the third quarter. Manning also hit Louis Murphy with a four-yard strike late in the fourth quarter to tie the game.
But Manning’s completion percentage was only 53.3 percent, and at times, he missed open receivers. Outside of Victor Cruz, Manning does not have much chemistry with his other receivers, leaving his options limited in the passing game. Kevin Boothe had to substitute for an injured Jim Cordle at center, and the offensive line had difficulty consistently protecting Manning in the passing game. All of these are reoccurring themes for New York.
The Cowboys were missing Sean Lee, their top tackler, so any enthusiasm about the running attack, should be tempered as well.
Victor Cruz had only two catches on four targets in the game, and he did appear to suffer from the absence of Nicks on the outside. If the Giants do not have their three top receivers in the game, the offense suffers because Louis Murphy and Jerrel Jernigan are not taken seriously as threats in the passing game.
Defense Grade: C
Statistically, this game was even; as time of possession, total yardage, first downs, and even penalties were incredibly close between the two teams. But when it counted the most, the Giants defense could not contain the Cowboys, as Tony Romo hit five different receivers on the game-winning drive.
In the air, Dez Bryant had 102 yards receiving on the afternoon, and tight end Jason Witten caught two touchdown passes from Romo.
Recently, the Giants defense had been able to limit the opposition’s running attack, but not on this Sunday. DeMarco Murray gashed Big Blue for 86 yards on the ground with a 6.1 yards per rushing attempt average. Change-of-pace back Lance Dunbar had 20 yards on three carries, as New York surrendered 6.3 yards per rushing attempt to the Cowboys.
Cullen Jenkins was able to sack Romo twice from his defensive tackle spot, but once again, the defensive front was mostly invisible for New York. Jason Pierre-Paul had one tackle on the afternoon and no quarterback sacks. Mathias Kiwanuka was credited with a single assist and was flagged for two personal fouls in the game. One of Kiwanuka’s ill-advised penalties nullified a fumble recovery by the Giants and was clearly a momentum changer.
Antrel Rolle was able to intercept Romo and stall a Cowboys drive at the New York 36-yard line, but he also had a late hit out of bounds that set up the Cowboys third quarter touchdown.
Special Teams: B+
Punter Steve Weatherford had an outstanding afternoon, with five punts for a 54.6 average. Weatherford had one punt downed inside the 20-yard line, and the Cowboys averaged only 3.8 yards per punt return. In a game where field position was critical, Weatherford did his best not to put the Giants defense behind the eight ball.
Josh Brown converted two field goal attempts in as many tries, and the kicker has been perfect since two early season misses. On a cold and blustery afternoon, Brown did the best he could in limiting Cowboys field position after kickoffs.
Rueben Randle had one punt return for 16 yards, which would have been a longer return, except for an illegal block penalty. Randle is coming closer to breaking a return for a touchdown, but may be becoming too valuable a receiver to risk in the return game.
Michael Cox showed good instincts and speed on a 30-yard kickoff return in the third quarter. Cox may not have the game breaking speed necessary for a kickoff return specialist, but he appears to be a sure-handed option on special teams.
Cowboys special teams ace Dwayne Harris injured a hamstring in the second quarter and did not return.
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Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past two seasons for Examiner.com. Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Curt has followed and covered the New York Metropolitan sports scene for 35 years. He attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, NJ and is a graduate of Rutgers University, New Brunswick. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.